ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia will expand low-cost services to more than 41,000 pilgrims this year by allocating some of the vacant tents for the service, a senior official of the Ministry of Haj announced Wednesday.
“Haj Minister Bandar Hajjar has instructed authorities to allocate the tents to provide low-cost services,” said Hussein bin Nasser Al-Sharief, deputy minister for Haj affairs, Arab news reported.
The minister gave the instruction after learning the growing demand for low-cost Haj services from both Saudis and expats.
More than 60 percent of slots for low-cost Haj accommodation made available online were filled within 24 hours after the portal was opened on Monday.
Al-Sharief said the minister has instructed to increase the duration for online application for one more day, bringing the total to 72 hours.
The ministry had announced that only half of its low-cost Haj applications were put up online, while the rest had been allocated to Haj operators.
As such, 20,500 people will join the scheme through online applications and 20,500 through Haj agents.
“A total of 12,500 pilgrims had booked by 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday,”Al-Sharief said. “Of these applicants, 2,120 have paid, while other applicants must pay within 48 hours of booking, otherwise their bookings will be canceled.”
More than half a million people had visited the online portal within a day.
The site is still being visited by thousands of people and the number is expected to increase over the next 24 hours.
The official said this year 174,556 domestic pilgrims – residents and Saudis – would preform Haj. Last year, the ministry provided low-cost services to 17,000 pilgrims from the Kingdom.