As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, an increasing flow of Umrah pilgrims has led to a revival of hotels and businesses in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.
The hotel, restaurant, transportation, food and commercial sectors have all benefited from the influx of pilgrims, with clothing, gifts and Zamzam water among the most in-demand goods. This has been facilitated by steps taken to make the holy cities more accessible to pilgrims, including the lifting of COVID-19 and age restrictions, an extension of Umrah visas to 90 days, and the reversal of the need for male guardianship. The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah reported that 4 million Umrah visas have been issued so far this year. A new unified government platform was launched in September to provide services and information to pilgrims and visitors, part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 objectives to enrich the religious and cultural experience of pilgrims.
Although the hospitality sector in Saudi Arabia was among the hardest hit industries due to the pandemic, reports from hospitality data provider STR indicate that it is now recovering. Colliers International expects Makkah and Madinah to see the addition of 110,000 rooms by 2030 to cater to pilgrims, with over 1 million rooms expected across the Gulf Cooperation Council region by 2026. When accounting for planned mega projects, the consultancy estimates that 50,000 further hospitality professionals will be required by 2030. Saudi Arabia has identified tourism as a major sector to focus on in its post-recovery plan, with the Minister of Tourism announcing $6 trillion worth of investment opportunities in the travel and tourism sector through to 2030 at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh. The World Tourism Organization listed Saudi Arabia as top of the G20 countries for the flow rating of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022.