No inoculation, no pilgrimage to Mecca. Saudi Arabia makes vaccination mandatory for Muslims participating in the hajj this year. The Dutch industry association for travel agencies that offer the annual pilgrimage tour sees it as a bright spot.
“ This is already a step forward,” says Said il Amraou of Hadj Info. “It has been a disastrous year for the religious travel industry. Now travel agencies can orient and prepare themselves again.”
Apart from companies, it also offers hope for Muslims who hope to complete the sacred journey. For example, Aimad Bennouho had booked for last year‘s hadj and eventually opted for a voucher. “This message gives the travel agencies more clarity, but it remains exciting for us.”
Because of the coronacrisis, no non-Saudi Muslim could accomplish the hajj last year. A financial noose for the host country: normally pilgrims pay about 12 billion dollars a year, which is eight percent of gross national product.
Of course, it also struck the Dutch providers of these pilgrimages. The 35 travel agencies for the ‘big‘ pilgrimage (hadj) and the ‘small‘ (umrah) had little or no turnover in 2020. Nevertheless, there are no known bankruptcies at Hadj Info. According to Amraou, there are several reasons for this in addition to the coronanood aid for entrepreneurs.
First of all, according to her, companies are often family businesses, with few additional staff. Secondly, they can still benefit from the profit margins achieved on pilgrimage journeys before the coronacrisis. “That makes travel agencies have built a fortune. A dramatic year will not soon lead to bankruptcy.”
The future of these companies depends on how many pilgrims Saudi Arabia will allow again. In 2019 4700 Muslims from the Netherlands were allowed to go to Mecca. Last year there were zero and for this year it is still unknown. Since the hajj will be from 17 to 22 July, time is running out.
“ I think Saudi Arabia will never allow the same numbers as before in the coming years,” says Bennouho. He fears that as a result, many fewer people can go on hadj. While the accomplishment of this pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam.
‘Hadj some motivation for vaccination‘
Despite all the prospects, Bennouho gives a 50 percent chance that he and his wife will be able to go anyway. If he succeeds, there is one thing he stands up against: compulsory vaccination. “I’m very opposed to that.” The 34-year-old had already expected that Saudi Arabia would introduce this as a prerequisite for the hadj.
Under normal circumstances Bennouho would never be vaccinated against covid-19. “I‘m not a conspiracy, I don’t even get a paracetamol in my place when a headache pops up. The hajj is the only motivation for me to get vaccinated anyway.”