Travel TrendsPent-up savings during Covid are translating into lavish spending patterns among Malaysian pilgrims.

Umrah travel's back, bigger and more lavish than before

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Pilgrims from Malaysia are showing a strong pent-up demand for Mecca travel in 2022.
Pilgrims from Malaysia are showing a strong pent-up demand for Mecca travel in 2022. Photo Credit: Gettyimages/Aviator70

As revenge travel picks up around the globe, Umrah travel is booming, with Saudi Arabia witnessing a massive spike in the number of pilgrims since relaxing Covid restrictions since March this year.

With the ease in pandemic rules in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia too has been sending a record number of pilgrims for Umrah since 2021. “Now with no PCR test, people are more confident of going to Umrah,” says Haji Ahmed Shukri Abd Rahman, CEO of Samrah Travel, who anticipates a banner year in 2022 for Umrah and Haj travel.

Umrah specialists say that both demand and supply side factors are driving demand for umrah packages, which are currently priced between RM4,990 to RM6,990 (US$1,140 to US$1,590).

On the demand side, there are pent-up savings due to Covid-19 travel bans in 2020 and 2021, including extra money from the Employees’ Provident Fund withdrawals which was part of the Malaysia government’s stimulus package during the pandemic.

The pent-up savings are translating into lavish spending patterns as compared to pre-Covid, say outbound agents.

“In the past, pilgrims would prioritise their Umrah in the first 10 days or last 10 days during Ramadan. Recent trends show that they’re not only performing Umrah during Ramadan, but bringing their entire family and staying at five-star hotels,” says Mohd Syafiq bin Mazlan, umrah manager at MKM Ticketing, Travel & Tours.

They are also willing to fork out for luxury and to pay premium prices for flights. “Two days before Eid ul Fitri, one particular flight had its business class full with only 90 pilgrims in the economy cabin, and flight tickets were extremely difficult to get at this time,” adds Mohd Syafiq, noting that many chose to spend Eid in the Holy Land.

Umrah demand has been supported by the Saudi government’s special privileges for Malaysian tourists as well. One key move was to replace the Umrah visa with a tourist visa.

“Previously, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah required agents to book accommodation through the Umrah visa’s application, Umrahme. This affected Umrah package prices as hotel prices were more expensive,” notes Samrah Travel's Haji Ahmed.

"With the tourist visa, agents can book hotels direct which impacted Umrah package prices favourably."

Malaysia is one of only two Muslim-majority Asian countries to receive this privilege (the other is Brunei). Not only did the visa make Umrah travel bookings easier, it is also more flexible – offering pilgrims a three-month visa and a stay in Saudi Arabia of up to 90 days, whereas the previous Umrah visa was only valid for 30 days.

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