x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pilgrims are paying more for Haj packages

Demand is pushing up the prices of Haj packages to Mecca by as much as 50 per cent compared with last year.

Demand is pushing up the prices of Haj packages to Mecca by as much as 50 per cent compared with last year, say tour operators.

Last year fears of swine flu and travel restrictions issued by the Saudi authorities and other countries dampened demand, triggering a fall in the prices of hotel rooms and packages.

"This year prices have increased approximately 50 per cent," said Nasser al Nuaimi, the chairman of Nasser Travel in Abu Dhabi. "Last year there was the flu problem and the finance problem."

Mr al Nuaimi said this year he had sold Haj packages for up to Dh75,000, (US$20,420) including flights, transport and accommodation for the pilgrimage, compared with Dh50,000 last year.

Mr al Nuaimi said the number of visas Saudi Arabia issued to the UAE for Haj this year was not enough to meet demand, prompting a sharp price rise.

Mohammed Sohail at Al Hamar Haj Services in Dubai said his packages were 22 per cent more expensive at Dh55,000 compared with Dh45,000 last year.

"The demand is higher than last year because there are no restrictions from the outgoing countries and the Saudi authorities," said Chiheb ben Mahmoud, the senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels in the MENA. "There's probably the fact that all the players in the chain would like to recoup past losses."

Mr ben Mahmoud said the Saudi authorities had varying quotas on the numbers of visas they issued.

Data from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the US show 1,613,000 pilgrims from overseas participated in Haj last year, down from 1,729,841 the previous year.

Hoteliers in Mecca said business was difficult last year, but they were seeing an improvement.

"This year it's very positive," said Hany Khorshid, the general manager of Al Marwa Rayhaan hotel in Mecca. He said prices at the hotel, part of the Rotana Hotels chain, were up 30 per cent on last year.