Umrah: A piligrimage at the cost of a leisure trip

Business International Social and Religious

The increasing package costs for Umrah have made it inaccessible for many Muslims across the country.

Yakub Ali, a resident of a small town called Sankrail, about 22 kilometres away from West Bengal’s capital city Kolkata, decided to take his family of four, on a 15-day Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca in late December. It was going to be his second trip to the holy city.

Only this time, Yakub, who had completed his Haj pilgrimage in July 2019 at a total cost of Rs. 3 lakhs, was astonished by the prices of Umrah packages. “I had to pay Rs. 4.2 lakhs just to take my family to a 15-day Umrah. I remember the time when the packages used to cost only around Rs. 50,000,” he said.

There are more people like Yakub across India. Medina’s hotel crisis, coupled with the hike in flight costs, has led to a sharp increase in Umrah packages across India. This has led to travel agencies registering a decline in footfall over the past few months. 

Syed Ahmed, owner of the Syedina Tours and Travels, located in Kalasipalya, Bengaluru, said his company has witnessed a sharp decline in departures, as he had to increase the package cost for Umrah from Rs. 60,000 pre-pandemic to Rs. 1.1 lakhs in March this year.

This increase has led to the company registering a sharp 70 percent decline in footfalls. “Before the pandemic, we used to have up to 10 group departures per month. A group usually consists of up to 30-50 people. But in recent months, the number has gone down to three groups a month,” Ahmed said.

Sargif, a Mumbai-based travel agent who guides Umrah travellers across Saudi Arabia, said the increase in package costs is hardly surprising. “Umrah package costs can be highly volatile and depends on multiple factors, including the situation in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“In this case, prices are going up because the flight costs have increased exponentially. But more importantly, the hotel accommodation costs, especially in Medina are skyrocketing because of recent demolitions of hotels undertaken by the Saudi government as part of the Al Rua Medina project,” he added

Omar Faruk Travels – the travel agency that was used by Yakub – has increased the price of Umrah from Rs. 1.05 lakhs in late December 2022 to Rs. 1.15 lakhs in early March this year, the agency’s proprietor confirmed.

The Al RuaMadina is a real estate project that was unveiled by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The project was undertaken as part of the Saudi 2030 development project, and in an attempt to increase Medina’s Umrah pilgrim capacity to 30 million inthe coming years.

Another travel agency – Sultan International Group – located in Jayanagar, has endured a similar fate. “Our packages before the pandemic used to be around Rs. 65,000. But that figure gradually increased to Rs. 85,000 in early 2022 and as we speak, it is Rs. 97,000,” said Sultan, the owner of the agency.

“Before the pandemic, my company used to send one group every day. But the business has completely died as we are barely able to send even one a month. Over the past six months, we have been able to send only six groups for Umrah,” Sultan added.

Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims, and Medina. Unlike Haj – a mandatory 40-day pilgrimage for every Muslim who is physically and financially able to make the journey, Umrah can be undertaken any time of the year. It is far shorter and usually lasts up to 15 days.

Sargif saidthat Al Rua Madina project is not the only factor to be blamed for the increase in hotel prices. He further explained that Saudi hotel prices depend heavily on a demand-supply basis and therefore, they can change their rates drastically on a day to day basis.

“For every Saudi Arabian Riyal you used to spend on a hotel before the pandemic, you now have to spend four Riyal,” he said. Syed Ahmed of Syedina Tours attested to the claim, adding, “Hotel prices have increased fourfold and there are instances where people are being forced to pay 400 SAR per night for hotel accommodations.”

Abdul Rehman is a cab driver from Bengaluru, who offers namaaz five times a day. Going to Haj or Umrah has always been his desire. “Who would not want to visit the holy city, even if it is an Umrah trip? But given the current situation and the rising prices, procuring the funds is almost impossible for me,” he said.

Musafir Tours, a Hyderabad-based travel agency, said there is hope yet for aspiring Umrah-goers. “The prices are extremely high right now and they can go up to as much as Rs. 1.8 lakhs, during the last week of the holy month of Ramadan, when Umrah is considered to be the most rewarding,” he said.

Musafir Travels, though, offers another perspective, adding that two years of the pandemic has, in fact, driven up demand, along with prices. “People are eager to go to Umrah, after being unable to do so over the past few years. This has caused demand to go up – not necessarily in India but across the world. It is another factor behind the sharp increase in packages.”

 “However, after Ramadan, the prices could go down, possibly even below Rs. 80,000. This is once again because of the demand that will eventually falldown while the availability of hotels could increase as the Saudi government complete their projects in Medina,” he added.

Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia used to average over two million pilgrimages per year, but that number came down to zero during the pandemic. But after reopening its borders, the country registered one million pilgrimages in 2022.

Anas Ali
I follow the Bundesliga, politics, Greek mythology and old videos of Jon Stewart. Writing about something or the other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *