The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has issued over 6.28 million visas for Umrah pilgrims, with an estimated 900,000 expected in Makkah this Ramadan, according to Ministry of Hajj. While Ramadan is becoming a popular umrah season for South Africans, it’s unclear how many plan to perform the pilgrimage during the auspicious last ten days of Ramadan. Sedick Steenkamp of the South African Travel and Haj Operators Association (SATHOA) says that the figure could be in excess of 10 000.
“The month of Ramadan with all its blessings is certainly attracting our South Africans to the holy Haram (holy mosques),” he says.
The desert is extremely hot this time of year compounded by the fact that it is summer in the Northern hemisphere with the added effect of fasting for sunrise until sunset, visitors to Saudi Arabia are urged to take extra precautions whilst travelling.
“Given the weather conditions in Mecca and Madina at the moment, I want to ask people to ensure that you stay out of the heat as often as you can especially during the prayer times of thur and asr,” explained Steenkamp.
“Try and stay out of the heat and ensure in the morning and the evening that we take in enough liquids so that we can try and stay as hydrated as possible.”
The June/July period is also a peak travelling period with schools on holiday all over the world, many people have taken to travelling to pass the time.
“We have got a lot of holiday makers travelling so especially for the last half of Ramadan we will find that airline prices have surged,” added Steenkamp.
He says that he recently received a complaint that the price of the Umrah visa is way too expensive and it should actually be free.
“I got a letter the other day complaining about the exorbitant prices of visas. The person made reference that visas are free because that is printed on the Umrah visa,” Steenkamp went further.
“But the umrah visa is not free. There are significant costs involved in getting a visa to be issued and the volatile exchange rate the price of the umrah visa usually goes up because of the strict quotas that the kingdom put in place.”
Steenkamp added that in the last 10 days of Ramadan the prices will again surge and Makkah and Madina will become increasingly expensive for that period of time.
“Also in terms of the rand riyal exchange rate it is very volatile at the moment.”
“One day it is R14, 50 and one day it is R15, 50 to the US dollar and this is also playing havoc with regards to prices.”
VOC (Umarah Hartley)