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.
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.