x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Religious travel strong in downturn

The nation could build tourism by catering to pilgrims during the haj, the head of a religious-travel trade group says.

ABU DHABI // The nation could build tourism despite the global economic collapse by catering to pilgrims during the haj, the head of a religious-travel trade group said. People who travel for religious reasons do so despite economic problems, said Kevin Wright, the president of the World Religious Travel Association. The annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia brings in US$1.8 billion (Dh6.6bn), according to the kingdom's Supreme Commission for Tourism.

Mr Wright said in a press release that even countries that do not have major religious sites could benefit. For example, he said Abu Dhabi International Airport accommodated nearly 15,000 pilgrims last year, increasing its passenger traffic to Saudi Arabia by 34.5 per cent. "The potential for everyone in the region to benefit is astounding." "Religious tourism is recognised as one of the most resilient markets in the industry," Mr Wright added.

The haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Any Muslim who is financially able to do so is required to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. jgerson@thenational.ae