The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam; it involves a pilgrimage that lasts roughly 5 days in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with every Muslim around the world required to do it at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able to.
What makes Hajj different this time around is the virus wreaking havoc around the world, Covid-19 has led the world into a quieter place far from the hustle and bustle it once used to be.
Countries are in lockdown with their borders closed. Saudi Arabia is no stranger to the virus having stopped any religious trips to the kingdom and this year’s Hajj scheduled to be sometime at the end of July is cancelled for people who reside outside the kingdom, only a limited amount of people within the kingdom would be let to participate in this years’ Hajj.
Not only does this impact the Muslims around the world who had anticipated to make the trip they had eagerly waited for but also for the country that would host it along with other vendors especially the airlines that would cater to the transportation of these pilgrims.
Sources say that Financially the Kingdom could lose a lot of money if it’s cancelled, the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages contribute an estimated $12 billion a year to the Kingdom’s GDP accounting for nearly 7% of total GDP. Some even projected that revenues from pilgrimages will touch $150 billion by 2022.
Airlines that had previously catered to the transportation include flynas who last year got the Superjumbo Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747 among other aircraft to airlift these pilgrims when the airline at other times usually operate smaller narrow-body aircraft of the Airbus 320 family to serve their network.
Other airlines that had leased extra aircraft or increased frequencies included Saudia, Emirates, Etihad, Gulf Air and Kuwait Airways.
Garuda Indonesia is set to lose $243 million in revenue due to the cancellation of Hajj flights, they earned $234 million in revenue during the 2019 Hajj program.
These airlines combined, carried over 1.7 million pilgrims in 2019. An increase of pilgrims year over year from the past few years as seen on the above chart. This once a year program for airlines to earn extra revenues might be scrapped. Even if things get better in the next few months, crowd control could limit the number of pilgrims which again wouldn’t be close to what the airlines or other related vendors would have expected.
This is in addition to many airlines losing millions with operating a skeletal network due to Covid-19.
Sources: Arabian Business, Flight Global, Saudi Census & Times of India