Technology, digital procedures at heart of Saudi Hajj Expo 2023
– Al Arabiya English
11 January ,2023
An aerial view shows the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on July 10, 2022. (Reuters)
The importance of technology and electronic procedures in facilitating the experience for pilgrims and providing services has been at the forefront during the Hajj Expo 2023 that is being held in Jeddah, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The Expo, which kicked off Monday and will run until Thursday, has been hosting several sessions and workshops aimed at initiating discussions on ways to improve the pilgrimage experience and services and highlighting accomplishments so far.
A session on “digital solutions and telecommunications technologies in serving pilgrims” underscored Saudi Arabia’s efforts in supporting the various sectors working in the Hajj season through an advanced system of digital solutions and up-to-date data.
It also highlighted the role which artificial intelligence (AI) technologies plays in assisting the pilgrims, “starting with performing the rituals to leaving the holy sites and the Kingdom.”
The role of technology and electronic procedures in facilitating the experience for pilgrims and providing services has been at the forefront during the Hajj Expo 2023. (SPA)
The session also touched on the digital transformation that the Kingdom has witnessed especially during COVID-19 as well as the emerging technologies, such as augmented reality, metaverse and drones, used to facilitate the pilgrimage experience.
“[It also reviewed efforts] pertaining to services for pilgrims and Umrah performers [and voiced the] importance of digital solutions in accelerating the realization of the Kingdom’s objective to receive 30 million Umrah performers by 2030.”
In a separate session at the Expo, SPA reported that many participants underscored the important role “of digital platforms in reducing the time needed to complete arrival procedures to less than three minutes.”
This is part of the Mecca Route Initiative that was launched by the Saudi interior ministry and is part of the Saudi Vision 2030. The initiative aims at facilitating the journey and entry of pilgrims from specific countries starting from their respective airports and before and after arriving to the Kingdom.
The participants at the session also highlighted “Saudi Arabia’s endeavors to be among the top 20 international models in digital transformation by 2030.”
The participants highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to be among the top 20 international models in digital transformation by 2030. (SPA)
In addition to the employment of technology to better provide services, the Hajj Expo 2023 also addressed governmental sectors’ efforts regarding infrastructure and facilities at the holy sites.
In one of the sessions held, the participants tackled the efforts to “improve and maintain facilities and provide a comprehensive infrastructure of road networks, electricity and water as per the wider endeavor of the Kingdom to upgrade the efficiency of the infrastructure and services sectors of the holy sites in a sustainable and comprehensive way.”
The session also addressed the energy ministry’s work to enhance the operational efficiency of the Hajj season and highlighted the preparedness of the infrastructure system of the holy sites and the use of the latest technologies in security, surveillance, healthcare and transport services to ensure a smooth pilgrimage.
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that the Kingdom will host pre-pandemic numbers of pilgrims.
Over the past couple of years, the number of pilgrims has been restricted due to COVID-19 measures.
This year’s Hajj season will begin in June. Director General of Passports (Jawazat) Lt. Gen. Sulaiman al-Yahya has said that the Kingdom is ready to “receive whatever number of pilgrims and Umrah performers thanks to the strong digital infrastructure,” according to SPA.
Director General of Passports (Jawazat) Lt. Gen. Sulaiman al-Yahya speaking during a session at the Hajj Expo 2023. (SPA)
Speaking in one of the Expo’s sessions, al-Yahya said that efforts to improve and facilitate arrival procedures “include the introduction of electronic and biometric registration services to identify pilgrims and accelerate their entry to the Kingdom.”
He said that work is being done in partnership with the various concerned agencies to ensure that the pilgrims’ journey and experience run smooth.
In order to keep up with the pilgrims that visit from across the world, al-Yahya said that Jawazat has assigned employees speaking 14 languages to be stationed at the land and sea border crossings to welcome travelers arriving to the Kingdom.