A Saudi ban on foreigners entering the Kingdom for performing Umrah in private vehicles has hit a number of aspiring pilgrims in Qatar.
People travelling by road to Saudi Arabia for Umrah are now required to go with an authorised tour operator (Muqawil) in their buses, industry sources have disclosed.
Several expatriates here who left for Umrah in their cars without knowing about the new rule were turned away at the Abu Samra border post over the past few days, said the sources.
The Umrah season has started in Saudi Arabia and will continue until the end of Ramadan, which falls in summer. Many people, especially expatriates in Qatar and other GCC countries, preferred to go for the pilgrimage in private cars, due to lower expenses and the convenience it offers while travelling with families.
Many pilgrims also take the opportunity to visit friends and relatives staying elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, which will not be possible with the new rule.
The new decision will apparently lead to a surge in bookings with the authorised tour operators and a possible increase in the tariffs, say industry sources.
“People intending to go for Umrah now have two options — they can go by air or by bus. In both cases, they need to make the arrangements through a tour operator,” said a source.
Most tour operators conducting Umrah trips by road charge QR900 per person including accommodation and transport, but this may go up with an expected increase in demand,
Representative of a community organisation that conducts Umrah trips for expatriates in collaboration with an authorised tour operator said they have got several new enquiries over the past one week from people who had originally planned to go in their cars.
“We are conducting Umrah trips this month coinciding with the Indian school holidays. All our seats are full and we are not in a position to accommodate new people,” he said.
An Arab expatriate said he was planning to go for Umrah in his car but changed his mind when he knew about the new rule from the tour operators about a week ago.
“I have got the visa and now I am planning to go by air,” he told this daily last evening.
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