Egyptian travel agents suspend Umrah trips

Saudi hike of visa fees for repeat pilgrims is anticipated to slash number of visitors from Egypt

16:14 October 16, 2016

Cairo: Egypt’s Association of Travel Agents, a non-governmental union, has suspended pacts for the Umrah or lesser pilgrimage journeys from the mostly Muslim country after Saudi Arabia hiked up pilgrimage visa fees.

The union said in a statement this week it had temporarily halted all Umrah-related activities until mechanisms for applying the Saudi decision becomes clear.

Last month, Saudi Arabia announced levying 2,000 Saudi riyals (Dh1,958) in visa fees for Muslim visitors who previously performed the Haj or the Umrah in the kingdom, which is Islam’s birthplace.

The move was part of an austerity package unveiled by the oil-producing kingdom to shore up its finances dented by a fall in crude prices.

“We appeal to the Custodian of Holy Mosques [the Saudi monarch] to consider aspirations of millions of Egyptians who yearn for visiting the Holy Grand Mosque by lifting the financial burden from their shoulders,” the union said in the statement released on Saturday.

The union voiced concerns that ordinary Egyptians will be “negatively affected” by the Saudi move.

“The Saudi fees are hefty for the majority of Egyptians who want to perform the Umrah, as most of them are limited incomers,” Basil Al Sissi, an official in the Chamber of Travel Agents, said in media remarks.

He expected a drop by half in the numbers of Egyptians wishing to do the Umrah.

“These fees are exaggerated and equal the cost of most Umrah programmes.”

Egypt with a population of 91 million is among the top Muslim countries whose nationals go to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage.

Around 1.3 million Egyptians performed the Umrah last year, according to official figures.

At least 30 per cent of the Egyptian pilgrims are estimated to have done the Umrah at least once.

The Saudi levy comes as Egyptians feel the pinch of measures taken by their government to heal the country’s ailing economy.