Saudi Arabia has announced its readiness to receive a million pilgrims for this year's Hajj, with new technology to help streamline the process.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques said 10,000 male and female employees would be working to serve pilgrims arriving in the kingdom.
Authorities completed security, plans and programmes for Hajj on Monday.
This year, the government has imposed stricter measures upon Hajj operators to ensure pilgrims are provided with the best accommodation and services they have paid for.
In an interview with Arabic newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat, Abdel Fattah Mashat, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah, said the government would monitor service providers during Hajj. Penalties would be applied, with compensation to be made to pilgrims directly, for services that were not provided.
New technology will ease the passage of pilgrims from abroad, Mr Mashat said. Those from the US, Canada, Australia and Europe were able to apply for Hajj through an online portal, eliminating intermediaries within the system.
He said “this contributed significantly to reducing prices” by more than 30 per cent, as well as enhancing “transparency and justice” in the selection of pilgrims.
The agency has unveiled smart applications and electronic platforms to help pilgrims have the best possible experience, and these have been of benefit to more than 160 million people so far, it said.
A total of 2,000 electric vehicles will be available for people with disabilities and the elderly at the Grand Mosque.
About 250 electric umbrellas have been placed in the courtyards of the Prophet’s Mosque to protect pilgrims from direct sunlight.
This will allow more than half a million worshippers to perform prayers in the courtyards in “a moderate atmosphere”, Saudi Press Agency reported.
The electric umbrellas are supported by air conditioners and fans that spray light drops of water into the air — all part of an automated system to absorb thermal energy and reduce temperatures.
According to SPA, cold marble was installed in the Prophet’s Mosque and its courtyards to keep the temperature of the floors and tiles moderate, regardless of the weather, for the ease and comfort of pilgrims.
More inclusive Hajj
This year, the sermon of Arafat will be translated into 10 languages. Pilgrims can use the Arafat Sermon app for a live translation.
Sheikh Abdulrahman Al Sudais, the President of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, launched the “We welcome you on the ground in your languages” campaign for Hajj pilgrims on Sunday.
There will be 100 guides communicating in 23 languages at the Two Holy Mosques. They will be there 24 hours a day.
At the airport, the General Directorate of Passports will be able to verbally communicate with pilgrims in 13 languages, including English, Farsi, Urdu, Turkish, Portuguese, Spanish, Bengali, Indonesian and Japanese.
Your AI assist
Last year, pilgrims who visited Makkah’s Grand Mosque received guidance from four-wheeled robot guides that spoke 11 languages.
With 21-inch touchscreen “faces”, the AI robots drove around the mosque, answered questions and gave guidance on the different obligatory rituals worshippers have to perform.
The agency aims to distribute three million bottles of Zamzam water a day at the Grand Mosque, and a million bottles at the holy sites during Hajj.
During last year's Umrah season, robots roamed the site between 8am and 5pm, giving out bottled water from the well under the mosque.
The Hajj and Umrah lounge complex at King Abdulaziz International Airport has been equipped with 20 air-conditioned lounges to provide a comfortable waiting area for pilgrims as they wait for buses that will transport them to the holy sites. Each lounge can accommodate 300 passengers.
There are 116 bus stops and the car park can accommodate the occupants of 26 aircraft. There is a fully equipped health centre with three 24-hour Saudi Red Crescent ambulance teams. The health centre can handle up to 45,000 passengers a day.
Saudia airline has unveiled a luggage service for pilgrims travelling on international flights. Saudia passengers can use it free of charge and gain access to the service through WhatsApp or email.
The service collects baggage from pilgrims' accommodation in Makkah and Madinah 24 hours before their departure and delivers it to the correct airport before their arrival.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Information unveiled the official logo for this year's Hajj pilgrimage.
The logo consists of four circles in green and a black cube in the middle, symbolising the Kaaba, with the Quranic verse: “Enter it in peace [safety]”.
Hajj is expected to begin on July 7. The pilgrimage lasts three days but most pilgrims extend their stay to pray in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.