The loss of business for Saudi Arabia's Haj and Umrah industry due to swine flu could be more than 3 billion Saudi riyals ($799) this year, the highest compared to the last 50 years.
The Tourism Committee of the Madinah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) fears the negative trend is likely to continue for the next three years at least.
"The hospitality sector will be most affected," Abdul Ghani Al-Ansari, a member of the tourism committee at the MCCI, told Arab News. He said half of the hotels were saying that prospects of an upswing this year was bleak as bookings were likely to fall considerably.
"A number of Haj delegations and companies did not pay the last two instalments for their bookings so far. If they do not pay up the remaining instalments over the next 30 days, the loss would be more than 3 billion riyals," he said. Al-Ansari warned the situation could lead to a laying-off of a large number of employees in Makkah and Madinah. The official also blamed investors for not coming forward to support the ailing tourism sector.
In a related development, representatives of investors in Haj, Umrah and tourism related industries met to discuss ways to tackle the negative impact of the H1N1 virus. The committee has decided to launch media campaigns and act in tandem with the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Suggestions made at the meeting included extending the Umrah season to encourage more people to come to Makkah and Madinah.