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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: The second day of the third Hajj and Umrah Services Conference and Exhibition focused on empowering pilgrimage services through small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurship.
Under the patronage of King Salman, Deputy Makkah Gov. Prince Saud bin Mishaal bin Abdulaziz inaugurated the conference in Jeddah on Monday.
The four-day event is organized by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in partnership with the Pilgrim Experience Program, one of the programs of Saudi Vision 2030.
A panel discussion, moderated by Amr Al-Maddah, deputy minister for Hajj and Umrah services, included speakers such as Minister of Hajj and Umrah Tawfiq Al-Rabiah and the governor of the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority, Sami Al-Husseini.
The discussion highlighted the importance of entrepreneurs and innovators in enhancing the experience of pilgrims.
One major initiative mentioned was the Nusuk app, which aims to be the premier application for pilgrim services through the Guests of God Service Program.
Al-Rabiah encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to collaborate with the app and proposed various services that could be integrated, such as personal assistant services, tourist guides, mobile medical services, childcare services and more.
“We welcome those aspiring to create a separate application or collaborate with us in services. The goal is to support entrepreneurs in providing outstanding services. The opportunities are amazing. Any innovator with a service who wants to add it to the Nusuk app is welcome,” he said.
Al-Rabiah added: “We are delighted to provide the opportunity for those who want to put their services on the platform, as well as to offer all the incentives and programs that will support entrepreneurs in presenting all possibilities.”
Al-Husseini highlighted the role of SMEs in filling gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic and announced the launch of the Artificial Intelligence Challenge in Umrah. The scheme aims to provide new job opportunities, improve the Umrah experience and build a sustainable innovative channel for the Hajj and Umrah sector.
The challenge was launched by Monsha’at in partnership with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, giving entrepreneurs from the Kingdom, Pakistan and Indonesia the chance to take part.
The panel discussion at the conference also highlighted Monsha’at’s work, including organizing six events for entrepreneurs and SMEs from more than 40 countries. The number of projects supported by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and its partners has exceeded 2,200, including projects in initiation, qualification, or data provision stages.
Abdullah Al-Haqbani, VP for strategy and business support at the National Information Technology Development Program, discussed the program’s objectives in developing the IT sector and making the Kingdom a regional and international center for investment and technological innovation.
To motivate innovators, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced an award for the best projects in the service of pilgrims, with the first prize worth SR1 million.
The evaluation will be based on services launched on the Nusuk platform, the number of beneficiaries, and the impact on pilgrims and the Umrah experience. Winners will be announced next year during the fourth edition of the conference.
Al-Rabiah said: “It is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to carry out their projects. Based on the evaluation of the work a year from now, the results will be announced at the next Hajj conference. We look forward to seeing your creativity and excellence.”
A second panel discussion, “Envisioning the Future Growth of Holy Cities and Sites,” involved discussion on the challenges and opportunities in developing the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, as well as holy sites.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah aims to accommodate 30 million pilgrims by 2030 and 15 million visitors next year. This involves addressing infrastructure challenges and improving reception gates at entry points into the Kingdom.
Abdulfattah Mashat, vice minister of Hajj and Umrah, told the panel: “The targeted number is very significant, and there will be significant challenges, including the infrastructure specific to Makkah and Madinah, as well as the reception gates at the entry points to the Kingdom in the cities of Makkah and Jeddah.
“The Kingdom has dedicated all its material and intellectual capabilities to its development by providing distinguished services for the Guests of God.”
More than 81 speakers from both the public and private sectors, as well as high-level delegations from more than 70 countries, are taking part in the conference.
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