Smart tech paves way for ‘holistic Hajj’

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

JEDDAH: Smart technology is being adopted to help pilgrims at all stages of their religious journey in Saudi Arabia, according to Marwan Al-Sulaimani, Ministry of Hajj and Umrah director-general.

Technological advances will smooth pilgrims’ progress from the moment they arrive in the Kingdom until they gather at Mount Arafat, he told Arab News on the opening day of the Saudi Smart Cities Summit and Expo.

The two-day forum will highlight the role of sustainable technologies in “Smart Makkah,” an ambitious plan to incorporate advanced tech in many of the country’s major cities.

More than 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide “dream of experiencing Hajj and Umrah,” Al-Sulaimani said.

“The ministry is looking at the Hajj and Umrah experience as a holistic picture because it is an emotional and religious journey.

“Pilgrims think about this experience years before they arrive. It takes a lot out of them emotionally and financially to come here,”

he said.

“They dedicate themselves to it. We are trying to share with these guys from the moment they make the ‘niya’ (intention) until we send them back, and we want them to go back and share the story of their experience with their relatives, and excite everyone else to come.”

Earlier the ministry said that it hopes to increase the number of pilgrims to 15 million by 2022 and 30 million by 2030 in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Al-Sulaimani said that the ministry is working with all stakeholders to ease pilgrims’ experience and improve services every year.

“Hajj is very complex because it’s served by the traffic department, Civil Defense, hospitals and the immigration department. The whole country comes together to serve in Hajji. So in one way or another, the Hajji (pilgrim) has his own experience with the health ministry because he has to go to the hospital, he has to go through immigration, and deal with our customs, the traffic department, the private sector and bus companies.

Technological advances will smooth pilgrims’ progress from the moment they arrive in the Kingdom until they gather at Mount Arafat.

“It is a holistic experience that has to be designed in teams and then linked together,” he said.

“Before you design the smart city and smart system, you have to design the smart process and incorporate the stakeholders smartly because in a city there will be a municipality, a health department and so on,” said Al-Sulaimani. “We have to collaborate across one view, one process, to make life easier.”

He said that a smart system has to be reviewed frequently “as a part of a complete journey.”