Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that the 2020 Islamic pilgrimage (Hajj) will be limited to a small number of locals and residents of other nationalities already in the country.
The Saudi decision was made due to the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic.
In response, the Egyptian Travel Agents Association (ETTA) noted, on behalf of Egypt’s tourism companies, its full support for the Saudi decision.
Yasser Sultan, ETTA General Assembly member and General Manager of Egyptian Valley Tours, told Daily News Egypt the decision was expected. The pandemic poses difficulties for Saudi Arabia, due to the risks associated with hosting over 2.5 million pilgrims.
Sultan praised the decision despite its economic ramifications for Egypt’s tourism industry. He noted that the country’s tourism companies on their own face losses of about EGP 1bn due to the cancellation of the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. Each pilgrimage also adds an EGP 500m each in extra expenditure.
“Egyptian aviation companies’ losses due to the Hajj cancellation amount to about EGP 2.5bn, as in previous years, they received around 100,000 travellers annually in the Hajj season, with flight tickets costing between EGP 20,00 to EGP 35,000,” he said.
Sultan said that, at the end of each Hajj season, most Egyptian tourism companies paid a deposit at Saudi hotels for the new season, to maintain the company’s services to its customers.
“Egyptian companies have not yet restored Umrah reservations funds, and Hajj reservation funds will also take time to be retrieved,” he said.
Ihab Abdel-Aal, ETTA General Assembly member and Chairperson of Blue Moon Tours, agreed with Sultan that Umrah and Hajj reservation funds have not been restored.
Although he noted Saudi Arabia’s delayed decision on the Hajj, which has delayed companies retrieving their deposits on hotel accommodation for the pilgrimage, he praised the decision, adding that citizen health remains the number one priority.
“Tourism companies will face problems with customers who reserved for the pilgrimage season, as the companies are yet to retrieve deposits back from hotels,” he said.
Abdel-Aal suggested that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities should issue a press statement and clarify with citizens who have already made deposits for the Hajj that the money will be retrieve once it is returned to companies from the Hajj authorities.
Amari Abdel Azim, former Head of the Tourism and Aviation Division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said the Hajj season provides significant income for Egyptian tourism companies. Although the total costs are yet to be seen, he revealed that, last year, 1,860 Egyptian companies participated in the Hajj season.
Also, he praised the decision stating that he was expecting it as it is a must to be taken.
Abdel Azim said that most tourism companies depend on the Hajj, Umrah, and the cost of flight tickets for their revenues. With all three sources having ground to a total halt, he estimates that tourism and aviation companies are losing about 90% to 95% of their revenues due to the global health pandemic.
Ashraf Shiha, a member of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ Higher Committee for Hajj and Umrah, told Daily News Egypt, that the tourism sector has been expecting there to be no Hajj season since the onset of the pandemic. As a result, no deposits were taken from companies.
“There is a general material loss for those who organising all aspects of the Hajj, not only in Egypt, but the biggest gain is preserving health and safety,” Shiha said.