Worshippers, capped at one million, including 850,000 from abroad, performed the Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca on Sunday, the biggest since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers for two years.
While pilgrimage can be arduous, the kingdom, which has set an ambitious goal to host 30 million pilgrims by 2030, has been using technology to ease the experience over the past few years and has adopted several tech initiatives.
This year, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched Hajj Smart ID, encompassing several digital services to ensure pilgrims’ fast arrival to their locations and tents, whether in Mina or Arafat, with robots explaining rituals in 11 languages.
The Hajj Smart ID is linked to three apps for pilgrims, Hajj staff, and organizers enabling them to access medical services, pilgrimage group information, and instant messaging with the group leader. The staff app is the main channel for all personnel from various agencies, facilitating field operations through several features such as accessing the pilgrim’s current location, instant messaging with pilgrims, and updating the group data. On the other hand, the organizers’ app is created to manage pilgrims’ data and record complaints.
Amr Al-Madah, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah, said the ministry supports creative initiatives to improve the pilgrims’ experience. However, with the pandemic, such initiatives were challenging to implement.
“These technological solutions can help attract more Muslims to the two holy mosques, ultimately achieving the Kingdom’s goals in the Saudi Vision 2030 to welcome millions of pilgrims and help them with high-quality services and enrich their experience in the kingdom,” he said.
The Pilgrim Experience Program, which aims to enable 30 million pilgrims to experience “a transformative faith experience,” focuses on boosting innovations. It was started in 2019 after conducting a study involving thousands of Muslims worldwide to define their expectations and needs.
One of the program’s initiatives allows pilgrims with electronic visas for Hajj and Umrah, while Eyab reduces the time to complete travel procedures before arriving at the airport. Another initiative helps local pilgrims to transport luggage from their camps in the holy sites to all Saudi cities.
In March, the ministry launched an event for young entrepreneurs to showcase creative solutions to enrich the pilgrimage experience. More than 1,500 people participated in the competition.
Meanwhile, the smart bracelet initiative helps organizers track pilgrims’ health status and vaccination records. Pilgrims with the smart bracelet can also seek security or emergency assistance.
It all started in 2018 with the launch of the Hajj Hackathon to find innovative solutions to the Hajj’s most pressing issues. The event, supported by Google, hosted around 2915 participants from 50 countries. The hackathon’s winning idea was a translation app called Turjuman, developed by a team of Saudi women. Using a smartphone, pilgrims could read instructions on signage boards and signposts in their language.
“The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is continuously utilizing technology to facilitate and ease the procedures for the pilgrims,” the minister added.