London Muslim,one of my favourite Muslim bloggers (because he doesn't take himself too seriously and is not averse to a bit of google-whoring by posting pictures of scantily clad Muslim girls, all the while claiming moral outrage as he counts his hits) is off on the Hajj.
This got me to thinking about this goose which lays such sparkling golden eggs for the poor impoverished princes and sheiks of Saudi.
As every GCSE RE student knows, performing the Hajj (pilgrimage to the Ka'bah) is one of the pillars of Islam and every one of the more than two billion of the world's Muslims must perform it at least once in their lifetime (as long as they are fit and rich enough...).
Just imagine having a tourist attraction that 2 billion people are obliged to visit...
Actually we don't have to try too hard since a Guardian article entitled Mecca makeover: How the Hajj has become big business for Saudi Arabia from November 2010 has helpfully done some research for us:
Business reports conclude that Saudi tourism, especially the religious variety, is recession proof. The government's commission for tourism and antiquities said revenue from tourism this year would reach $17.6bn, then almost double again by 2015. Business Monitor International forecasts there will be 319,000 rooms, up from 218,000 in 2009 in Saudi Arabia.I'll leave you with this heart-warming vision of modest faith-based accommodation available for the "pilgrims" which has recently won the prestigious World Travel Awards prize for leading "Luxury All Suite Hotel"
The country's strengths, it adds, are its "strong and growing" religious tourism industry and, with some understatement perhaps, "the financial resources" for infrastructure investments.
If you look carefully you can just about make out the faithful pilgrims in the foreground who are somewhat dwarfed by the Raffles Makkah Palace. As the awards site helpfully explains:
The hotel has been very carefully built in an Islamic architectural style and boasts of exceptional amenities. This award is the second significant award the hotel has received in just eight months. It is a proof of their dedication and unsullied service.
The suites in the hotel are spacious and extravagantly decorated but in harmony with the ambiance of the Islamic holy land of Makkah.(!)
I must admit I didn't know that having a f*cking great pastiche of the Big Ben clock tower perched on top of your grotesque hotel was "Islamic architectural style" - but we live and learn.
Anyway, good to know that the wonderful Saudi regime is sitting on such a gold-mine, isn't it? I mean, the oil can't last for ever, can it? Thank goodness Allah had the foresight to put the holiest shrine in Islam in such a deserving place, eh?