Hajj again only for people within KSA
Private hajj agencies and Biman Bangladesh Airlines will lose huge revenue for the second consecutive year as the Saudi government has decided not to allow anyone from abroad to perform hajj amid the pandemic.
Around 1,250 members of Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (Haab), a platform of private hajj agencies, will be deprived of an estimated revenue of Tk 2,500 crore, and Biman Bangladesh Airlines Tk 800 crore due to this decision, officials said.
Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual pilgrimage to its citizens and residents of the country and set a maximum limit of 60,000 pilgrims for this year, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported yesterday.
Only those aged between 18 and 65 and vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to take part in the rituals, the report added.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Religious Affairs Faridul Haque Khan yesterday in a statement said pilgrims from outside Saudi Arabia would not be able to perform hajj this year due to the global pandemic situation.
This would be the second consecutive year in Saudi Arabia's modern history that the hajj will be held without the participation of Muslims from outside the kingdom.
Only 10,000 Muslim residents of Saudi Arabia were allowed to perform hajj last year, down from the 2.5 million Muslims from around the world in 2019, according to media reports.
Sources at Biman said the national flag carrier had earned Tk 798 crore in 2019 by transporting Bangladeshi pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.
"Operation of hajj flights is one of the major sources of Biman's yearly income. The latest Saudi decision will badly affect the revenue income of the national flag carrier," Biman Managing Director and CEO Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal told The Daily Star yesterday.
Talking to this correspondent, Haab President M Shahadat Hossain Taslim said the Saudi government's decision came as a big blow to the private hajj agencies as they would not be able to earn Tk 2,500 crore by sending pilgrims to the Gulf country.
He said the private agencies' estimated revenue loss related to hajj and umrah was around Tk 6,100 crore last year.
Some 1.30 lakh Bangladeshis performed hajj in 2019. Of them, 7,000 were sent by the religious affairs ministry and the rest by private hajj agencies, sources at the ministry and Haab said.
This year, some 63,000 Bangladeshis had completed registration for hajj. The ritual is likely to be held on July 18, subject to sighting of the moon.
Haab leaders said several lakh people and many related industries, including textiles, leather, hotel, and medical centre, would also be badly affected by the Saudi decision.
They said around 50,000 more people, who deal with the Bangladeshi pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, would be affected as well.
The Saudi authorities on February 26 last year suspended performing umrah by pilgrims from abroad to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Although umrah can be performed round the year, most Bangladeshi pilgrims perform the ritual during the November-April period, sources at Haab said.
Eyaqub Sarafati, senior vice president of Haab and also the managing director of Air Touch Limited, said his agency used to send around 1,200 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia each year to perform umrah and hajj.
"But my agency could not send a single pilgrim to Saudi Arabia since early last year due to the pandemic, leading to a revenue loss of around Tk 9 crore," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Costs of umrah packages ranges from Tk 80,000 to Tk 2.3 lakh per person.
Mizanur Rahman, proprietor of Shamim Travels, said around 300-400 pilgrims used to fly to Saudi Arabia each year to perform hajj under the arrangement of his agency.
However, the firm could not send a single pilgrim last year and the situation would remain unchanged this year due to Covid-19. This would lead to huge revenue loss for the agency, he added.
Haab sources said around 2.5 lakh Bangladeshis perform umrah each year under private management.
Almost 45 percent of umrah pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia during the lunar months of Rajab, Shaban and Ramadan, making it the busiest season after hajj for agencies economically dependent on religious tourism, according to Turkish state-owned media outlet TRT World.
Performing hajj, a week-long Islamic ritual, at least once in a lifetime is a must for financially capable Muslims.