The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced a few days ago that its new app, I’tamarna, will facilitate pilgrims and increase competition among marketing companies to enhance the Umrah experience for pilgrims.
I’tamarna aims to enforce health standards during the coronavirus pandemic and will make it easier for pilgrims to book transport, accommodation and recreation whilst they are on the pilgrimage.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s chief planning and strategy officer, Dr Amr Al-Maddah, told Arab News that “high-quality services” will be provided to people which will ensure that the pilgrim will be drawn himself or herself to companies providing those services.
He said that the relationship between Umrah companies and their external agents will now, thanks to the app, be only limited to marketing. Pilgrims will be able to download the app on September 28.
“The newly adopted measures will free Umrah companies and motivate them, especially at a time when bookings are being performed through several electronic platforms,” said Al-Maddah, adding that it would allow foreign pilgrims to “directly deal” with Umrah companies through the phone, the app and additional means other than the external agents.
“This will liberate the Umrah companies and improve their performance, allowing them to market their services inside and outside the Kingdom,” he added.
Riyadh had said earlier this week that it aims to restart the Umrah pilgrimage in phases. Saudi Arabia said it had decided to take the decision to resume the Umrah pilgrimage owing to demands from Muslims around the globe and after assessing developments in the country regarding the pandemic.
Al-Maddah said that the app was launched due to the coronavirus so that safety protocols can be enforced and the number of pilgrims are limited to prevent overcrowding.
“There is a capacity [of pilgrims] that should not be exceeded. This is what prevents the overcrowding of holy sites and limits the spread of the virus among pilgrims,” he said.
According to Arab News, Saudi Arabia intends to restart the Umrah service for pilgrims in four phases. In the first phase, 30% of the pilgrims will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage, which roughly makes it 6,000 pilgrims per day. This is slated to begin from October 4.
The second phase will see the capacity of the Grand Mosque increase to 75%, which means an estimated 15,000 pilgrims and 40,000 worshippers a day can be included from October 18.
The kingdom will then permit foreign pilgrims to perform Umrah from November 1 in the third phase, allowing a capacity of 20,000 pilgrims and 60,000 worshippers per day.
The fourth stage will see the Grand Mosque allow the usual amount of pilgrims. However, this will take place when all COVID-19 risks have gone away.
The development comes a few days when — following a seven-month suspension due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — Saudi Arabia said it will allow pilgrims residing inside the country to offer Umrah from October 4, state news agency SPA reported.
Saudi Arabia had instituted a freeze on Umrah in March owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, 19 million people had performed the Umrah.
“Based on the reports of the competent authorities regarding developments in addressing the coronavirus and in response to the aspirations of many Muslims at home and abroad to perform Umrah and visit, and based on the wise leadership’s keenness on the health and safety of the visitors the Two Holy Mosques, a Royal Approval is issued to allow the performance of Umrah and the visit gradually with taking the necessary health preventative measures,” read the official statement issued by Ministry of Interior.
This year, Saudi Arabia conducted a limited Haj, the larger pilgrimage that usually attracts around 3 million people, for a few thousand citizens and residents.
Official data shows Haj and Umrah earn the kingdom about $12 billion a year.