The virus outbreak has dissuaded travellers, despite no advice from the WHO to restrict travel or trade.
Asia Pacific outbound bookings for March and April are 17.1% behind last year’s numbers during the same period, according to Forward Keys, and flight bookings from Asia Pacific have stalled by 10.5% for March and April.
Nabeel Shariff, a founder of the Muslim-friendly online travel agency Rihaala.com, confirmed an activity slowdown on the platform. “We have seen a 35% drop in enquiries compared to last year,” he told Salaam Gateway.
But the interest in pilgrimage packages remains robust. “With the Rihaala platform offering ‘do it yourself’ umrah options, they have never been more popular in searches for us,” said the UK-based Shariff.
He does not see hajj travel being affected this year.
“I would expect pilgrims to still visit for hajj 2020 in line with numbers seen in the past few years; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”
2,489,406 pilgrims performed the hajj last year, 1,855,027 of whom came from outside Saudi Arabia.
GlobalData’s Kumar shares Shariff’s view, saying the demand for hajj is much higher than the supply.
“Saudi Arabia can manage the numbers through the quota system in place. As far as hajj tourism is concerned, I don’t see much change happening,” Kumar said.
“When it comes to umrah, in the very short term, people are going to change their plans and postpone it to later in the year,” he added.
Saudi Arabia is the largest travel and tourism economy in the Middle East, with 21 million international arrivals in 2018, according to the World Tourism Organization’s most recently available data.
In 2012, when MERS hit shortly before the hajj season, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MoH) didn’t recommend any travel restrictions.
Despite the “significant fear of the spread of this newly discovered virus”, the 2012 hajj season was “uneventful with no reported MERS-CoV cases among four million pilgrims”, wrote Dr. Jaffar A. Al-Tawfiq in a Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease journal article.
“What I would hope is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia implements a suitable strategy to confine the spread of not only the coronavirus if it reaches there, but the spread of other viruses commonly associated with the hajj,” said Rihaala’s Nabeel Shariff to Salaam Gateway.
Culled from Salam Gateway