The Ministry of Interior and various tour operators have released the prices of the Hajj this year, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that takes place during the Eid Al-Adha or Greater Bairam that is slated for late June.
The prices of this season’s Hajj have skyrocketed due to the depreciation of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar on the back of the floatation of the national currency.
The Ministry of Interior, which organises tickets for carrying out the pilgrimage at reduced prices, announced that the price of the Hajj this year would be LE148,500 in addition to LE27,000 for an air ticket, bringing the total to LE175,500.
It said that the deadline for receiving this amount would be 23 March, adding that late payers would be denied their tickets. Prices last year stood at LE94,490, including the flight ticket.
The prices of the higher-end Hajj packages reserved through travel agencies are much higher than the tickets provided by the ministry and can cost around LE310,000, excluding flights. Cheaper packages cost between LE130,000 and LE145,000.
Pilgrimages reserved through tour agencies are subject to the regulations of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which determines the price of the Hajj, or major pilgrimage, for tour operators.
The ministry has decided the prices of the 2023 pilgrimage based on the cost of the mutawwif, a guide appointed by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to accompany foreign pilgrims.
The cost of a mutawwif this year is 6,000 Saudi riyals, and the ministry has included this and the cost of other services provided to pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in the total price based on an exchange rate of one Saudi riyal being worth LE8.17.
Tour operators say that the price of the Hajj will increase if the Saudi riyal appreciates against the pound. The deadline for receiving Hajj applications is 19 April.
Last year, tour-operator pilgrimages cost up to LE193,500, excluding flights, while the cheaper pilgrimage cost LE104,500.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity has yet to sell its pilgrimage tickets, which are made available through NGOs. The ministry’s pilgrimage last year cost LE87,000, minus the flight ticket.
Prices of carrying out the pilgrimage with the Ministry of Social Solidarity this year are also expected to be low since it makes hotel reservations a year early.
The government has provided 16,000 pilgrimage visas this year, much less than the number available before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, said Tawfik, a Cairo tour operator.
In 2019, there were 36,000 pilgrimage visas.
The demand to carry out the pilgrimage with tour operators has not been affected by the price hikes this year, said Mohamed, responsible for organising the Hajj at a tour operator in Cairo.
However, “we received requests to be paid in installments. We had to turn those down as the number of visas is limited,” he said. “But we agreed to receive the total amount in the form of a down payment of LE60,000 with the rest being due after 19 April.”
One of the challenges facing Egyptians wanting to go on the pilgrimage this year is the difficulty of acquiring Saudi riyals. Each pilgrim can get a maximum of 2,000 or 3,000 riyals from Egyptian banks provided they submit their visa and passport.
“This sum is barely enough to cover transportation costs and meals for 15 days,” said one man who had applied for the pilgrimage. This can make pilgrims exchange pounds for riyals on the black market or at bureau de change, he added.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly