How Muslim pilgrimages could diversify Saudi’s economy

Saudi Arabia is weaning its economy off oil dependency, and religious pilgrimages are a big part of the plan. The annual hajj, a five-day pilgrimage to the holy site Mecca typically drawing about 2 million people each year, figures prominently in Saudi Arabia’s hope that the revenue the country generates from oil could be replaced by tourism. By improving services and infrastructure available to pilgrims, Saudi Arabia hopes to embrace the change and double its number of annual visitors.

Mecca is one of Saudi Arabia’s most-visited cities because of its religious significance. Besides the influx during the hajj, Mecca also regularly draws pilgrims for Umrah, a separate pilgrimage that can take place any time of the year.

From transportation projects to real estate deals with commercial chains, the face of Mecca and other holy cities is changing at a rapid pace that many locals aren’t prepared for.

Watch VICE’s 2012 guide to the world’s largest pilgrimage:

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