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Umrah trips to Saudi Arabia are up for another surge in the final days of Ramadan. This is already reflected in the airfares from UAE. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The Umrah packages for pilgrims travelling by bus from the UAE to Saudi Arabia are seeing a price surge closer to Eid Al Fitr. Not surprisingly, airfares to Saudi airports near Mecca have shot up too for those deciding late to head on the religious trip. Those planning to travel to the Kingdom to perform Umrah during the last 10 days of Ramadan will most probably have to spend over Dh2,750 (cost per person on a twin sharing basis) for an Umrah bus package, compared to the Dh1,700 before the start of Ramadan. The school Spring break in the UAE coinciding with Ramadan has also been a key driver for the increase in pilgrim numbers - and by extension the cost of travel, said Afi Ahmed, Managing Director of Smart Travels. “Umrah packages are costly at the moment. Many also enjoy sightseeing in Saudi Arabia after finishing their pilgrimage - and that is driving up rates.”

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Demand highs for bus travel

Ten-day Umrah bus packages for adults are priced at Dh2,100 (four-bed sharing), Dh2,250 (three-bed sharing), and Dh2,650 (two-bed sharing). In comparison, air travel packages are priced at Dh4,800 for adults, Dh3800 for children and Dh2,100 for infants.

Some agencies also offer packages for Dh 1,800. Bus packages are from Dh 2,650-Dh3,650, and airfares to Dh5,200 during the final 10 days of Ramadan. The prices are significantly higher compared to 2019’s, said Basheer Manu, Sharjah Manager, Al Yarmook Hajj and Umrah and Travels.

Manu said his agency in Sharjah takes an average of 150 people for the Umrah pilgrimage every week, and these numbers will go up during the last phase of this year’s Ramadan. “We organise a bus to Saudi every Wednesday from Sharjah, and the frequencies will increase after April 12,” Manu said, adding many travellers prefer a bus for Umrah as airfares to Riyadh and Mecca soar. “The bus package includes a seat in a luxury bus, hotel reservation, and Juma prayers at Masjid-Al-Haram. The airfare from Dubai to Madinah alone is Dh1,401 (for departure on April 19).” Ease of visa access Malik Naseer, Head of Operations at Cozmo Travels, said, “Umrah demand this year is very high as it has become easier to get visas to Saudi. Services are being provided digitally, and revert times have drastically improved. Moreover, individuals taking visit visas do not need to apply for separate Umrah visas.”

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With Saudi Arabia easing travel restrictions, hotels in Mecca are seeing peak occupancy, with limited available room for those making last-minute travel decisions. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Limited supply of hotel rooms

Occupancy rates at hotels close to the Grand Mosque (Masjid al-Haram) have hit 100 per cent causing room rates to skyrocket. Rooms are unavailable for those making last-minute bookings, according to Umrah operators and other travel agents in the UAE. Manu said: “Most of the bookings being made now are for hotels at least three- to five kilometres away from the Grand Mosque.”

For example, the DoubleTree by Hilton Makkah Jabal Omar (1.2 kilometres from the Masjid al-Haram) charges Dh5, 942 for a twin guest room during April 20–27. The three-star hotel Hotel Manazel Al Talayis Hotel (located 3.8 kilometres from the Grand Mosque) charges Dh 1,708 for an Economy triple room during the same dates.

Pre-Ramadan, the same rooms were priced at Dh3, 743 and Dh1, 233, respectively. Some five-star properties are charging Dh10,000 for a one-week stay in Saudi Arabia.

Business travel to Saudi drive airfares While there is an intense demand for religious travel to Saudi Arabia, business travel is also driving the demand and, subsequently, airfares to the Kingdom. Husain Iqbal, GSA at Sharaf Travel, said, “Travellers from UAE to Saudi Arabia who go on short trips must pay between Dh3,000-Dh5,000 in a low-cost carrier. “The air ticket prices towards the Kingdom are high. Return tickets cost a fraction of the price. For example, Economy flight tickets to Riyadh cost Dh 2,500 at the moment. The return fare is Dh500.”