- Title: Saudi Arabia seeks Islamic tourism boost in test for heritage, tradition
- Date: 4th September 2017
- Summary: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (SEPTEMBER 2, 2017) (REUTERS) AERIAL VIEW OF GRAND MOSQUE AND MECCA MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (SEPTEMBER 3, 2017) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CRANES AT CONSTRUCTION SITE VARIOUS OF BUILDING UNDER CONSTRUCTION/SITE MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PILGRIMS WALKING NEAR GRAND MOSQUE VARIOUS OF TWO PILGRIMS SEATED AND EATING MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (SEPTEMBER 3, 2017) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF SHOP SELLING DATES OWNER OF SHOP AWAD AL-ARSHANI ARRANGING PRODUCTS NAME OF SHOP READING (Arabic): "DATES OF THE TWO HOLY MOSQUES" (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) OWNER OF SHOP, AWAD AL-ARSHANI, SAYING: "These hotels and buildings around the mosque will bring more business, God willing." VARIOUS OF PILGRIMS ON STREET SAUDI SECURITY IN STREET MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) TUNISIAN PILGRIM, FAWZI MOUMEN, SAYING: "All that I care about is to come to the Grand Mosque and make my pilgrimage. I don't want anything more." REPORTER ASKING: "What will be good offers for tourism trips?" TUNISIAN PILGRIM, FAWZI MOUMEN, SAYING: "I am not interested. For me, I just want to make my pilgrimage and go back home directly." VARIOUS OF PIGEONS MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA (SEPTEMBER 3, 2017) (REUTERS) EXTERIOR OF SOUVENIR SHOP CUSTOMERS INSIDE SHOP PRODUCTS IN THE SHOP (SOUNDBITE) (English) AMERICAN PILGRIM, ALI IBRAHIM, SAYING: "I think it is a great idea. I think there is a lot more to see here than only the pilgrimage, I think if there is a project to promote more the cities and some of the cultural aspects of the country that will be great, a great information for a lot of people around the world who want to know more about Saudi Arabia, what the kingdom has to offer." SALESPERSON AT SOUVENIR SHOP, MOHAMAD YOUNIS, TALKING TO CUSTOMER (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SALESPERSON AT SOUVENIR SHOP, MOHAMAD YOUNIS, SAYING: "There is an increase in the number of tourists this year and the business is good." VARIOUS OF CRANES AT CONSTRUCTION SITES VARIOUS OF TUNNEL AND TUNNEL SIGN
- Embargoed: 18th September 2017 13:00
- Keywords: pilgrims haj annual gathering of Muslims Mecca's Grand Mosque expanding tourism visa restrictions hotels
- Location: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA
- City: MECCA, SAUDI ARABIA
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Economic Events
- Reuters ID: LVA0016X6JL8N
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A few steps away from Mecca's Grand Mosque, a dozen empty towers rise into the sky above the holy city visited by millions of Muslim pilgrims every year.
Cranes and international hotel logos adorn the site, heralding the $3.2 billion Jabal Omar complex that is being built to bring hotels, restaurants and luxury malls to the pilgrimage experience.
Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's economic reform programme, announced a year ago to diversify the economy away from oil.
Long before last year's reform announcement, they began investing tens of billions of dollars in mega-hotels, public transit and a Grand Mosque expansion in Mecca.
The $15 billion Abraj al-Beit golden clocktower complex, completed in 2011 with seven towers of hotels and malls, already looms over the mosque.
Joining it soon will be 40 new towers from the Jabal Omar development, begun in 2008, and the $3.5 billion Abraj Kudai complex, which will be the world's largest hotel and come complete with four rooftop helipads.
The haj, a journey every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform once in a lifetime, is a profound experience for those who undertake it.
It is also big business for Saudi Arabia. The haj and the year-round lesser pilgrimage, umrah, generate $12 billion in revenues from worshippers' lodging, transport, gifts, food and fees, according to BMI Research.
The investments are welcomed by small shop owners and many of the pilgrims.
But there are still big questions about how Saudi Arabia will cater to its most active tourism market, especially as the kingdom eschews tourist visas.
Pilgrimage visas currently bar travel outside the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Authorities plan to relax the restrictions, but have not specified to what extent and have raised the visa cost for return pilgrims to more than $500.
Most of the kingdom's tourism development so far targets the affluent end of the market, while the biggest and fastest-growing pilgrim populations come from modest means.
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