When a quest for spirituality or devotion is merged with a sense of luxury, pilgrimage is given a whole new dimension. Luxury has imparted a new concept to holy travels and this trend is fast catching up across the globe.
Luxury pilgrimage has emerged as a big business and the tourism industry are tailoring new products to tap the unchartered territory. It is not merely through the addition of convenient air travel packages or standard hotels, the industry is fast-tracking ways to meet the growing needs of the sector.
The Royal Mecca Clock Tower is one of the many projects undertaken by the Saudi Arabia government to expand its portfolio in the hospitality and tourism industry.
Already in the midst of endless speculation about the possible commercialization of the Hajj pilgrimage, the Clock tower houses an enormous shopping mall, a prayer hall that can accommodate thousands of people and 800 luxury rooms.
Also, located within three minutes from the Grand Mosque and Kaaba is the elegant Raffles Makkah Palace managed by the Raffles Hotels and Resorts. Similar luxe hotels and resorts like the Al Muna Karim Radisson Blu Hotel in Medina and the Park Hyatt Jeddah have also erupted to promote the lucrative sector in the country.
A report by the advisory firm, Jones Lang LaSalle stated that there would be an increase in the number of religious tourists in the Middle-East from 7.8 million to 13.75 million by 2019. This would lead to tremendous opportunities in the hospitality market.
As Holy cities, Makkah and Madinah are absolutely unique in nature and this is the first report by a global firm that provides a holistic overview of the Holy Cities' real estate market. The Saudi Government in particular has taken great strides to capitalize on the real estate in the both cities to better be able to accommodate a larger volume of pilgrims, said Chiheb Ben-Mahmoud, Senior Vice President at Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels.
Due to the evident scope in the sector, there has been significant GCC and other foreign investment attracted to these markets in the form of Joint Venture agreements with Saudi entities.
Our analysis of potential capacity constraints suggests that the total number of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims visiting Makkah and Madinah could increase to 13.75 million by Hijri year 1440 (2019). The increased number of pilgrims will provide significant opportunities for additional hotel rooms in both Makkah and Madinah, said Chiheb Ben-Mahmoud.
The Arab world's biggest economy wants to develop its religious tourism industry as part of plans to diversify away from oil exports and to help reduce an unemployment rate as high as 43 percent for Saudis between the ages of 20 and 24, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Panj Takht Tourism
The growing interest in the blooming luxury pilgrimage also seemed to have influenced Saudis' trade partners, India, as new concepts on high-end luxury pilgrimages are fast gaining momentum in the country.
Working on the notion of blending spirituality with leisure, the tourism board of Punjab in India has introduced a nine day package, dubbed 'A Spiritual Journey', to tour the most important pilgrim site of the Sikh community called the Panj Takhts.
The Panj Takhts or the Five Takhts are the five holy places which have a very special significance for the Sikh community.
Organized by 'The Luxury Trains', the journey takes place aboard a luxury fleet called the Deccan Odyssey to cover all the five takhts, namely, Sri Akal Takht Sahib in Amritsar,Takht Sri Damdama Sahib in Bhatinda, Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur, Takht Sri Hazur Sahib and Takht Sri Patna Sahib.
Around 60 percent of people in the state of Punjab follow the religious traditions of Sikhism. Besides India, Sikhs also have strong religious presence in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The idea was to provide an opportunity especially to those Sikhs who are settled abroad and can cover all takhts in just one visit, said Sanjeev Kaul, an operations manager at a train tourism company to Wall Street Journal.
Apart from visiting the holy sites, the train also halts at some very popular tourist sites like the Taj Mahal, the Wagah Border, Qutub Minar and Jaipur, the Pink City.