Umrah mecca saudi
Muslim worshippers perform the Umrah pilgrimage walk between the Marwa and Safa hills at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The last record was set in 2019 with 8.55 million pilgrims from outside the Kingdom. Image Credit: AFP file

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Tawfiq Al Rabiah, revealed that the kingdom welcomed a record 13.55 million Umrah pilgrims in 2023, representing a staggering increase of 58 percent, or five million more pilgrims, compared to 2019.

Speaking at the 3rd annual Hajj and Umrah Services Conference and Exhibition at Jeddah Superdome, Dr. Al Rabiah highlighted the growth in religious tourism under the patronage of King Salman. The four-day event has drawn ministers and leaders from over 80 countries.

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“The last record was set in 2019 with 8.55 million pilgrims from outside the Kingdom. Last year, the number has impressively surged to 13.55 million, the highest in the history for foreign Umrah pilgrims,” Dr. Al Rabiah stated. He attributed this success to the Saudi government’s extensive efforts in enhancing facilities and services.

This year’s conference, an international gathering of significant scale, is set to include the signing of Hajj agreements with various participating countries. Dr. Al Rabiah also said a notable increase in service providers, with more than 35 companies involved in Hajj services this year, up from 20 last year.

The minister emphasised the kingdom’s investment of over SR5 billion in infrastructure development at holy sites. He highlighted that more than 40,000 workers in the Hajj and Umrah system have been trained last year, with an ambitious goal to train over 120,000 people this year.

In addition to infrastructure and training, Dr. Al Rabiah spoke about Saudi Arabia’s efforts in raising awareness among pilgrims and establishing an awareness center in cooperation with the General Authority of Endowments.

A significant development highlighted was the permission granted to expatriates from Gulf countries to get electronic visas for Umrah. Furthermore, Dr. Al Rabiah announced a 32 per cent increase in direct flights to the kingdom, expanding from 164 to 216 destinations, alongside efforts to develop historical sites to enhance the pilgrims’ experience.