Jeddah: Muslims are gathering from all over the world in the holy city of Makkah to perform the Hajj next week and seeing the increasing number of pilgrims, massive investment is being made for more accommodation and better infrastructure in two holy cities of Makkah and Madina in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
According to the figures, number of pilgrims visiting the most sacred sites of Islam is increasing rapidly each year which has attracted heavy investment in real estate sector of the kingdom in order to cater to the accommodation needs of the pilgrims.
Muslims are obliged to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the fifth pillar of Islam, to Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they have financial and health resources. While fewer than 100,000 pilgrims performed Hajj as recently as 1950, the number has escalated in recent decades, reaching 2.9 million in 2011.
When factoring in Umrah, a shortened form of Hajj that can be performed at any time of the year, the number of people making pilgrimages to Makkah each year is predicted to rise to 13.8 million by 2019, says John Podaras, Director Middle East & North Africa for Christie + Co.
The main reason for this rapid growth is the steady rise in the number of Muslims worldwide and it has been estimated that it will grow by 35 percent to 2.2 billion in 2030.
As Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah is responsible for providing safe and comfortable accommodation for pilgrims, and in shouldering this duty he has launched numerous multi-billion projects in recent years to prevent some of the tragedies that have occurred in the past due to overcrowding during Hajj.
Among the more notable improvements has been the expansion of the Jamarat Bridge in Makkah in 2008, which has helped to reduce crowding during the stoning of the pillars. Stampedes at the ritual have led to many deaths, such as in 2006 when at least 345 pilgrims were martyred.
Another important investment has been the Makkah Metro that links Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah with the holy city. The first phase opened in 2010, and authorities say the automated metro will carry up to 80,000 passengers an hour during Hajj this year. Makkah is also set to benefit from the $11.9 billion Haramain High-Speed Railway project, which will link the holy city and Madina to Jeddah, an entry point for many pilgrims, to relieve road congestion.
Huge expansions taking place in the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina will also raise capacity for pilgrims in these places of worship.
Podaras said that the steady rise in the number of visitors to these holy cities is a boon for hoteliers, and virtually all hotel companies are vying to add more properties in these locations.
“In many ways the Makkah and Madina accommodation market is in the unusual situation of almost unlimited demand as evidenced by the existence of a quota system for visas from most countries and the growing numbers of Muslims worldwide, he said.