Makkah & Madinah

The Haramain High-Speed Railway ... 200 citizens were given a free test trip from Madinah to Makkah last month.

The Haramain High-Speed Railway ... 200 citizens were given a free test trip from Madinah to Makkah last month.

Driving non-oil ambitions

The religious tourism potential of the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah continues to buttress Saudi Arabia’s efforts to wean the country off dependency on oil revenues, writes ABDULAZIZ KHATTAK.

July 2018

With more than 20 million Hajj and Umrah pilgrims visiting Makkah and Madinah every year, the importance of these two holy cities in furthering Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 of a non-oil reliant economy –  spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – is more than ever.

More than 19 million pilgrims performed the Umrah and nearly 2 million participated in the Hajj in 2017. According to Osama Al Bar, the mayor of Makkah, the government has set a target of receiving 3.75 million Hajj pilgrims by 2020, and 6.7 million by 2030. Every year, pilgrims bring in revenues of $12 billion, contributing to 20 per cent of the kingdom’s non-oil GDP and seven per cent of total GDP.



Makkah Province is fast becoming one of the most attractive investment destinations in the kingdom with major project rollouts under way. The recent Makkah Economic Forum held in Jeddah featured eight major projects worth over $283 million.

To accommodate the growing number of pilgrims, infrastructural work is under way covering the spectrum of their requirements, from the expansion of the holy mosques and transport infrastructure to the construction of hotels and shopping malls:

• Holy sites expansion: The Grand Mosque is undergoing a massive expansion that will see its capacity increase to accommodate 2.2 million worshippers over an additional area of 1.47 million.

• Hotels and pilgrims housing: The hospitality sector continues to post strong growth rates in both Makkah and Madinah, with international operators eyeing opportunities in the high-end segment.

CBRE has forecast that from 2017 to 2022 a total of 35,000 hotel rooms are expected to come on-line in Makkah, an increase of almost 80 per cent on the 45,000 rooms available today.

Notable recent hotel openings include Hilton Riyadh Hotel & Residences; Copthorne Hotel Makkah, Jabal Omar; and Swiss-Belhotel Al Aziziya Makkah.

In 2018, the Hilton group plans to open DoubleTree by Hilton in the Jabal Omar development. Swiss-Belhotel International will also open a debut property in Makkah this year.

The Jabal Al Kaaba Development Project will deliver 8,500 hotel rooms in a cluster of hotels over the next few years. Aljreic is investing up to $3.19 billion in the project, which is due for completion  in 2023.

Work has also resumed on the Abraj Kudai-Makkah which, once complete, will be the largest hotel in the world consisting of a ring of 12 towers, 30-48 storeys high, with 10,000 rooms, 70 restaurants, and five rooftop helipads.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is forming two real estate development firms to boost capacity in Makkah and Madinah. These firms will develop 115 buildings in the first phase over an 854,000-sq-m area near the Grand Mosque, offering 70,000 new hotel rooms and 9,000 housing units. Construction will start soon and is expected to open in 2024.

• Residential: A massive residential project called Makkah Gate will accommodate about 800,000 people when it is completed in 15 to 20 years. The $16-billion development is being constructed along the Makkah-Jeddah Expressway, 18 km from the Grand Mosque and 5 km from the Qur’an Gate.

Makkah and Madinah are home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

• Roads and infrastructure: A comprehensive network of roads is being built to ease traffic congestion and pedestrian traffic in Makkah and neighbouring Hajj sites. Among such projects, the First, Second and the Fourth Ring Roads are over 80 per cent complete, while work is under way on the Third Ring Road.

To boost water supplies in the cities, Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Company (SWCC) has awarded consultant Poyry a contract for the Rabigh-Jeddah-Makkah Water Transmission System. 

• Railways and transport: The much-hyped Haramain High-Speed train service, Saudi Arabia’s first, will be operational by September connecting Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah, according to Saudi Transport Minister Nabil bin Mohammed Al Amoudi.

The railway will be operated by the Al Shoula Consortium on behalf of the Saudi Railways Organisation (SRO) under a 12-year operations franchise contract.

The train offered a first free trip to more than 200 citizens from Madinah to Makkah last month (June) in a test journey, reported the Arab News. The Haramain train will travel at speeds of more than 300 km per hour and will carry 60 million passengers a year.

Concurrently, work is also under way on Makkah’s public transportation system. In October last year, a Saudi-Spanish consortium was awarded an $853.2-million contract for Phase One, which will see 12 lines come into operation – seven local and five fast routes – with 83 bus stops on the former and 342 stations on the latter.

A new Makkah metro is also planned as part of the $16.5-billion Makkah Public Transport Programme. The project will include four lines connecting 88 stations. The first concrete for the Makkah Metro B Line was poured last August. This line will run for some 11 km and include seven stations in its first stage. It will link the Jamarat rail terminal, the last station on the Haramain High-Speed Railway. A Metro C line is also planned from Umm Al Qura University to Al Madinah road.

• Tourism: The government is making efforts to expand religious tourism to more than the two holy sites. Part of this plan is developing prominent historical sites. This includes an investment of $113 million to renovate four historical sites of great significance to Makkah and Madinah - Jabal Al Noor, Jabal Thor, Jabal Al Romat and Arwah Ibn Al Zubair Palace.

• Healthcare: The Middle East Healthcare Company has awarded $160 million worth of contracts to International Hospital Construction Company (IHCC) for the design and construction of a 300-bed hospital and staff housing units in the kingdom.



Madinah, the second holiest site for Muslims, is also undergoing many large-scale developments that aim to provide better services for pilgrims.

The Madinah Development Authority was last month renamed as the Development Authority of Madinah Region to continue providing services and development consultancy to Madinah and its governorates.

• Mosque expansion: The expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque will increase its capacity from one million worshippers currently to 1.6 million.

• New cities: A major project under construction is the $14-billion Dar Al Hijrah, located southwest of the Prophet’s Mosque. It will comprise 100 towers, including 20 administrative and 80 residential towers, 40,000 hotel rooms and a 400-bed hospital on the western side of the towers, in addition to a shopping mall. It is expected to be completed by 2019.

• Railway: Among the latest landmarks in Madinah is the Haramain High-Speed Rail station located 5 km away from the Prophet’s Mosque, built on an area of 147,000 sq m. The station will be a new gateway serving pilgrims after the official opening of the new Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Airport.

A monorail is also on the cards for Madinah. Still at the planning stage, the network may have three metro lines, running for some 95 km, with 25 km underground.

• Culture and education: The Wahat Al Quran, a modern educational and cultural project, is being built in Madinah on a 200,000-sq-m area. Other education projects include those for Islamic University worth SR843 million, for Taibah University valued at SR260 million, and for the General Directorate of Education costing SR341 million.

• Healthcare: The King Abdulaziz Specialist Hospital, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest medical projects, is being built in Madinah at a cost of $400 million.

Other developments under way in the city include projects for the General Administration of Water Services in Madinah worth SR235 million; those for Saudi Electricity Company costing SR1 billion; and Madinah municipality projects worth SR1 billion, said a report by Arab News.  

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