Omicron has dealt a crushing blow to the fledgling Hajj and Umrah service sector in India Kashmir.
The sector has already suffered a loss of Rs 30 crore due to travel restrictions in the last two years.
Last month, Saudi Arabian government had restarted issuing Umrah visas. But concerns over Omicron and cost escalation have dampened the bookings with people avoiding travel to Saudi Arabia.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had allowed licensed and accredited tour operators from six countries including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Pakistan to issue Umrah visas and design packages accordingly.
“Umrah services in Kashmir have been paralyzed. There is no rush of devotees as we would witness during pre-Covid days in 2019,” said Mohammad Saleem, Media Advisor of All Jammu Kashmir Hajj Umrah Tour Operators Association (AJKHUTOA).
The reasons, Saleem said, are the COVID-19 scare and hike in airfare and other services. “We would sell a budget category Umrah package at Rs 65,000 before COVID. It now costs Rs 12,5000. Airfare has gone through the roof. Hotel tariff and other services too have become expensive. Only 15 percent of hotels are working in Saudi,” Saleem said.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made it mandatory for every pilgrim to arrive with a vaccination certificate and RTPCR reports.
“We have suffered a loss of Rs 15 crore in Hajj services. Another Rs 10-12 crore loss was incurred on Umrah services. We are planning to send our first group of pilgrims this month,” Saleem said.
The aspirants too are citing the cost escalation and COVID-19 as the main reason for delaying their pilgrimage. “I had planned to send my parents for pilgrimage, but the spread of COVID-19 has scared me. Plus the cost of the Umrah package is equally compelling the aspirants to delay their pilgrimage,” said Irshad Ahmad Bhat, a teacher.
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