Bangladeshi Hajj, Umrah operators lose Tk300 crore of business

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Bangladeshi travel agents, Hajj and Umrah operators have lost about Tk300 crore in business opportunities as the Saudi Arabian government has barred non-resident foreign citizens from the pilgrimages this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On June 22, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah of Saudi Arabia decided that due to Covid-19, there would be Hajj in 2020 (1441 H) for only a limited number of pilgrims from various nationalities who already reside in Saudi Arabia .

According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, 137,198 Bangladeshis were supposed to go for Hajj this year.  In 2019, around 120,000 performed Hajj.

Of the Bangladeshis supposed to go for Hajj this year, 120,000 were to travel under private arrangements and the rest under government supervision.

The per person cost for Hajj this year had been set at Tk3.58 lakh.

On average, an operator makes a profit of about Tk25,000 per person performing Hajj, and Tk10, 000-15,000 in case of Umrah. With 120,000 people having been expected to go for Hajj who will not be going anymore, this amounts to a total loss of about Tk300 crore.

“It is catastrophic for us on economic grounds as well as social and religious terms. People who were aspiring to perform Hajj this year are shocked and disheartened,” said ASM Ibrahim, who wanted to take 168 pilgrims to Mecca this season.

“Since February, the business has been going through a tough time as there was not a single client even during Eid-ul-Fitr, the peak season for Umrah, due to Covid-19. We have to bear the expenses of office rent and pay wages to staff despite having no income,” added Ibrahim, vice president of the Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB).

He said the losses are unrecoverable and Hajj agencies may be compelled to downsize.

“For the first time, 27 people had registered with my organization and everything was fine. But due to the ban caused by the pandemic, I am deprived of the business opportunity,” Md Omar Faruk, manager of Bushra International told Dhaka Tribune.

He also said he did not earn anything from Umrah as no one was willing to travel then either, because of the pandemic. He urged the government to provide support if the situation is prolonged.

HAAB leaders demanded a fund of Tk1,500 crore to support the sector during the ongoing crisis.

There are about 1,000 tour operators and agents approved by the government of Bangladesh. Around 120,000 people are involved with the sector directly or indirectly.

According to the General Authority for Statistics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 2.5 million pilgrims performed Hajj in 2019, with 76% of them from outside Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages contribute $12 billion to Saudi Arabia's economy, which is about 20% of non-oil gross domestic product, and 7% overall.

Up to 30% of the private sector income in Mecca and Medina is derived from the pilgrimages, according to the Mecca Chamber of Commerce and Industry.