Hajj Expo 2023: How tech is transforming pilgrimage

Return to pre-pandemic capacity announced during three-day event in Jeddah

Hajj worshippers circle the Kaaba in Makkah during last year's Hajj. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A return to pre-pandemic numbers of pilgrims was the big announcement as Hajj Expo 2023 was launched at Jeddah Superdome in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

The event brought together Hajj service providers, including hospitality experts, ministers, consuls general, artists, caterers, researchers, paramedics, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Dr Tawfiq Al Rabiah, Minister of Hajj and Umrah, announced that the number of Hajj pilgrims would return to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic, without age restrictions.

Priority registration was also set for domestic pilgrims who have never performed the pilgrimage.

Easing of regulations

The Saudi government will reduce the cost of medical insurance for pilgrims.

Umrah health insurance will decrease from 235 to 88 riyals (from $62 to $23) and Hajj pilgrims' health insurance fee will go down from 109 to 29 riyals.

This year the Hajj package prices start from 3,984 riyals, a big decrease from 2021, when the first basic package started from 12,000 riyals.

Sheikh Abdulrahman Al Sudais, General President of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque, said: “We are now working to facilitate the technical process in the Two Holy Mosques, and we want a train that serves people with special needs.”

The event was also attended by Prince Khaled Al Faisal, governor of Makkah, and other government officials.

The event hosts 200 exhibitors in total and is open to the public until January 12.


Hajj in Numbers: Five facts

  • Hajj has been performed since the time of the Prophet Ibrahim.
  • While Hajj is considered a huge gathering in the Muslim world, more than 400 million people may travel to celebrate Chinese New Year. The Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, the 50-day Hindu festival, can being together 220 million worshippers. During American Thanksgiving, 50 million people travel to spend the holiday with loved ones.
  • Saudi Arabia is committed to scale up to 6 million pilgrims by the end of the decade as part of its Vision 2030. In 2019, the kingdom hosted at least 2.5 million pilgrims without incident.
  • The Saudi Arabian Hajj tourism market is likely to be worth more than $350 billion by 2032.

Tech-driven pilgrimage

The Ministry announced on Tuesday its plans to launch a smart card with the aim of enhancing pilgrims’ experiences via electronic solutions. The Nusuk foundation will work with the General Authority of Awqaf to implement the smart card system that will contain users’ personal, residential and health information linked to an electronic app.

The exhibition is also hosting the Hajj Hackathon Challenge, which aims to bring together creatives, tech innovators and business developers to develop ideas and solutions that will help improve services for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

Last week, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that early registration for pilgrims from within the kingdom is open through the ministry's website and the Nusuk application. “We aim to improve the quality of services, and enhance the experience of the pilgrims,” said Husam Adel, a local Umrah service provider.

“We are here to showcase the latest initiatives launched by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah,” said Mohammad Hanif, an official at the event.

“You can see the latest technology from new apps, AI is used across the holy sites in Makkah, Madinah, Mina and Arafat as well as the golf carts and ambulances in the exhibition.”

Private companies showcased new ideas at the exhibition.

“We have guests from around the world. We just spoke to groups from South-east Asia and Africa to tell them more about our online platforms and how we can make their journey easy and holy sites accessible to them through the new apps and companies in the kingdom,” said Awatif Mohammed, a Saudi marketing officer at the event.

A Saudi start-up is showing off its Tawkeel application that helps Muslims across the world to “delegate rituals” on behalf of others.

“We offer Umrah albadal [in exchange] for people who have disabilities or can't travel due to financial reasons or for someone close to them who passed away,” said a spokeswoman.

The app enables users to track the person who is performing the rituals through the app. “They can ask them to recite certain prayers or track them on the app,” said the spokeswoman.

Tawkeel representatives at the exhibition in Jeddah. Mariam Nihal / The National

Each year the ministry takes into account every pilgrim's experience to measure the performance of Hajj service providers.

“We are trying to measure the level of guest satisfaction, as the pilgrims are the guests of God,” said Jumana Alsabban, a customer service representative at the ministry.

Jumana Alsabban and Shurouq Medhwahi of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Mariam Nihal / The National

“We find the companies that excel to give them an award. It could be special services, those who provide knowledge for Hajj and so on,” she said.

Tuwaiq ambulance showed a vehicle that can carry up to 10 patients in the event of an emergency. Paramedics on board said oxygen, medicines and access to emergency devices were available on the special unit in preparation for Hajj.

Paramedics Lina Kamal and Aisha in the Tuwaiq ambulance. Mariam Nihal / The National

“Part of our focus is on transportation infrastructure and to get roads ready, as we are working on completing ring road projects,” said Saleh Al Rasheed, chief executive of the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites. “More than 25km of the total ring roads have been completed, and we will soon finish linking the First Ring Road with the Masar project and the Makkah Reconstruction and Development project.”

A virtual reality immersive experience gives a glimpse of the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, which can only be visited by Muslims. The National

Hajj season is due to begin on June 26.

Last year, access was restricted to pilgrims aged 18 to 65 who were fully vaccinated or immunised against the coronavirus and did not suffer from chronic diseases. In 2020, numbers were limited to 1,000 pilgrims from inside the kingdom, but last year, one million foreign pilgrims were welcomed.

Updated: January 11, 2023, 10:38 AM