Pilgrim’s Progress

November 5, 2012


Last week saw the gathering of Muslims in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca for the annual Hajj. The Hajj, which in Arabic means pilgrimage, is a religious duty on all Muslim adults who are able to make the once in their lifetime journey. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, coming together as a single community and based on Abrahamic traditions.

This year, a reported 3.5 to 4 million people assembled in a city that sees the largest annual gathering of mankind and presents a huge operation for hotels, airlines and the Saudi Arabian government – tens of thousands of hospital beds were on standby, 10,000 buses transferred pilgrims from one location to another, 120,000 stewards provided security and accommodation arranged the millions of visiting pilgrims. Under construction are 38 new hotels which will be managed by companies including Hyatt, Starwood and Marriott who will add nearly 15,000 new rooms to the city. The demand is immense – Hilton’s hotels in Mecca have been the company’s top performers in the region so far in 2012.

Fleishman-Hillard has, in recent years, also assisted clients around their Haj related programs. Our team in Jakarta helped Novartis get a Halal label for its meningitis vaccine, Menveo, in 2010. The Saudi government requires all Hajj pilgrims to have a certified meningitis vaccine before they enter the country and the Halal label helped expedite the registration of the vaccine and its marketing license. That year, Novartis also won the government tender for vaccine supply to over 200,000 Hajj pilgrims.

The Hajj is an example of Islamic Tourism which, earlier this year, was estimated to be worth around $126 billion. It is made up of hotels, airlines and resorts that cater to the Muslim consumer. Last November, the Qatar-based Retaj investment group announced plans for a $500 million investment in Islamic hotels in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey to cater for the surge in demand from travellers from countries in the Middle East and Asia.

12 million people visit the cities of Mecca and Medina every year and, by 2025, this is estimated to rise to 17 million.

Meanwhile, Tourism New Zealand earlier this month announced a push to boost its appeal among Muslim tourists with the launch of a guide to Halal restaurants in the country.

Companies in the hospitality space should keep an eye on this growing opportunity.