Interview: Osama Al Bar
What needs to be done to reach the goal of 30m annual Umrah visitors to Makkah by 2030?
OSAMA AL BAR: Makkah already handles more than 12m Umrah visitors from outside Saudi Arabia and more than 8m domestic visitors per year, so it has already met the 2020 goal of 20m Umrah visitors. For Hajj, work is in progress to increase the housing capacity of Mina with a number of projects. With the completion of the first phase of this capacity expansion the Kingdom will be ready to receive 4m pilgrims, and further expansion foresees 6.7m pilgrims in 2030. The capacity of hotels and furnished flats is so huge that we can accommodate 3m people every night with amenities such as transportation, catering, power, water and sewerage. Now we are working on making improvements to the roads and the Makkah metro system in order to address the mass transportation bottleneck.
The First, Second and the Fourth Ring Roads have reached 70% completion on average and should be completed in 2018, with work having just started on the Third Ring Road. We are working concurrently on Makkah’s public transportation system. A Saudi-Spanish consortium will provide 600 buses for the first phase, 120 of which will work though 12 dedicated routes within and outside of the centre of the city. That project will start in the first quarter of 2019. We are in the final stage of reaching an agreement with a consortium to execute the Makkah Metro and hope to finalise the contract in 2018. The Makkah-Medina high speed train service is almost finished from a technical point of view, and we expect the commercial launch in the first half 2018. The final critical point for Makkah is the capacity of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. The expanded airport will have the capacity for more than 30m passengers per year and the commercial launch is expected to be in the second half of 2018. One of the most important things that the Makkah region can concentrate on is Hajj. At present there are about 2m pilgrims coming from outside of Saudi Arabia. If we do a little work to increase the housing capacity in Mina, we could double that number to 4m. The governor of Makkah, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, in his role as consultant to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is working on the Makkah region Development Authority’s Al Masha’er Development. The project proposes an increase of Mina’s housing capacity to 4m by 2020, and to 6.7m by 2030. This is critical as the number of Muslims all over the world increases, and they increase in income and mobility – spanning from Muslims in North America to Indonesia.
How can the Umrah Plus visa be better capitalised?
AL BAR: We can do a lot. Saudi Arabia is not a small country and is almost a subcontinent, featuring beautiful mountains, beaches, deserts, volcanoes and ancient sites such as Al Hijr (commonly known as Mada’in Saleh) and Darb Zubaydah, the ancient Hajj route from Baghdad. This was highlighted with the announcement of the Red Sea project, which will contain both seaside and mountain areas, including historic sites. These kinds of attractions will make the Umrah Plus programme more successful.
The vision for Makkah is to improve and develop visitor centres to teach the cultural significance and history of Jabal Nur, Hira Cave in Jabal Thawr, Ayn Zubaydah and the Hijra Road in Makkah and Medina. These centres are expected to create up to 200,000 jobs in Makkah and Medina by 2020.
What are the primary goals of the newly announced developments in Al Faisaliah?
AL BAR: Al Faisaliah will prove very important in supporting the cities of Jeddah and Makkah, which gives it a strong and sustainable economic footing. Adjacent to both, it will be a healthy driver of urban expansion for both of these cities. With investment in Al Faisaliah’s infrastructure, we will be able to shape the expansion of the Makkah region in a sustainable, organised way.
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