The number of Egyptians performing the religious rite of the Umrah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the Islamic calendar through the early days of the month of Ramadan has reached 821,000, according to Basil El-Sisi, Chair of the Economic Council of the Egyptian Travel Agents Association. He expects that the number of Umrah pilgrims will reach 100,000 during the month of Ramadan alone.
El-Sisi predicted the number of Egyptian pilgrims to reach 920,000 by the end of Ramadan in light of widespread interested in Umrah trips throughout the holy month.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia, Egypt sends the highest number of pilgrims to the Kingdom each year to perform the rite of the Umrah.
An official of the Religious Tourism Sector at Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism said that the current Umrah season will be the largest over the past years with an increase of 100,000 pilgrims over last season.
During the months of Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadan more than 40% of Egyptian Umrah pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia, the official said.
Umrah rates increased by 10-15% this season as compared to last year due to a higher exchange rate for US dollars and Saudi riyals against the Egyptian pound, the official said.
He stated that pilgrims’ expenditures account for approximately 60% of total Egyptian tourists’ spending abroad. The Hajj represents 7%.
The number of Egyptian Hajj pilgrims amounts to 79,000 annually, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism.
Egyptians spent approximately EGP 4bn to perform the Umrah and the Hajj this year increased to approximately EGP 4bn compared to EGP 3.5bn last year.
He expressed his fear of Umrah pilgrims overstaying their visas during visits to Saudi Arabia: “The economic situation is the main reason behind instances of this. The phenomenon has increased significantly in recent years and caused an issue that escalated to the point of imposing fines on Saudi agents and Egyptian companies.”
Umrah and Hajj are the main activities organised by Egyptian tourism companies in light of a decrease in foreign tourism traffic to Egypt over the past three years.
The number of tourists visiting Egypt decreased to approximately 9 million tourists during 2013 compared to 11.5 million in 2012. This led to a 41% decline in tourism profits to $6.5bn, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Last year Egypt asked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase Egypt’s shares in the Hajj during the coming season, although the official said: “We have not received a response from the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia regarding increasing Egypt’s share to 100,000 Hajj pilgrims due to expansion projects currently being conducted on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.”