Religious tourism is a key feature in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s economy as it strives toward being less dependent on oil and gas revenues. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with diverse regulations that affected how people travel and interact. To curtail the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The COVID-19 curfews and restrictions affected people’s lifestyle and tourism, a crucial segment of the Kingdom’s economy. Annually, Mecca receives millions of pilgrims who visit the city for Hajj and Umrah. In 2019, the Hajj revenue contributed to 7 percent of Saudi Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as Havrlant et al. (2020) report. Both Umrah and Hajj contributed an estimated $12 billion, representing 20 percent of revenues from non-oil GDP. In 2021 the pandemic limited the number of pilgrims visiting Saudi Arabia for Hajj to 60,000, while only 1000 pilgrims from Saudi Arabia were allowed on the pilgrimage in 2020 (Mathews, 2021). The pandemic restricted people from attending the Hajj and Umrah, which play. The two play a critical role in Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector, a critical source of revenue for the Kingdom as it moves to diversify its revenue sources. This research provides an understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia.
Purpose of the Study
The study aims at finding the impacts of the COVID-19 on religious tourism in the Kingdom. The study will also provide insight into the behavior change in Mecca after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. The research also plans to evaluate the existing remedies for dealing with the pandemic to protect Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector from its adverse effects. The study thereby aids in establishing knowledge on how the COVID- 19 pandemic has affected Islamic pilgrimage as a tourism activity in Saudi Arabia.
Explanation of the Structure
This section aims at providing literature that contributes knowledge to the topic under study. This part begins with discussing the theoretical literature to clearly understand the evolution of theories linked to the topic under study. Prior empirical studies related to the topic of interest will be discussed while highlighting different research methods used and the results of the studies. This section will conclude with a summary of relevant theories and concepts used in the paper. Additionally, a summary of the prior research and the related findings will also be presented. The literature to be used for the study include different empirical studies about the nature and performance of the hospitality industry in the Kingdom. The sources will also include other theoretical literature linked to the study.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a substantial drop in demand across the globe. The pandemic saw a period where travel restrictions meant a substantially low record of hotel bookings. As the COVI-19 pandemic ravaged the world in 2019, people had to adopt new behavioral practices to help halt the spread of the infection and the ultimate cost of infection (Rahman et al., 2021). According to the pathogen-stress theory, during a pandemic, people tend to adopt behavioral changes to avoid the infection’s spread or the ultimate cost of the infection. The pathogen-stress theory is anchored on the behavioral immune system, which entails psychological characteristics and behaviors on avoiding contact with infectious diseases, altruism, in-group social preference, and alliance. The contagion avoidance perspective of behavioral immunity also includes a preference for local regions and avoidance of foreign people and regions where a given pathogen may be available.
The pathogen-stress theory provides a basis for how people tend to respond to a given global pandemic. According to the theory, diseases lead to isolation cases and changes in behaviors among people, societies/cultures, and regions. When COVID-19 was announced as a global pandemic, this announcement substantially affected how people behaved onwards. The theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) shows how beliefs affect people’s behavior (Brookes, 2022). According to the theory, behaviors are linked to intentions that rely on factors such as; subjective norms, attitudes, and perceived behavioral control. A significant assertion of the model indicates that behavioral intentions are affected by the attitude of the probability that the behavior will bear the anticipated outcome and the subjective appraisal of the risks and benefits of the outcome. According to the model, an individual’s behavior is likely to adopt depending on motivation (intention) and ability (behavioral control). When the pandemic took root on the continent, public campaigns and advertisements revealed to the public the implications of the COVID-19. Daily reports on new COVID-19 infections, recoveries, and death toll greatly influenced individuals to protect themselves from infection.
The protection motivation theory (PMT) is a crucial model that aims at helping further understand human responses to fear appeals. According to the theory, individuals tend to protect themselves for two reasons; coping appraisal and threat appraisal. The former refers to how an individual respond to the situation. At the same time, the latter entails the anticipated severity of a threatening event and the perceived likelihood of the event happening. The coping appraisal is based on an individual’s expectation that adhering to the recommended action will eradicate the threat. Therefore, this theory explains the behavioral change that preceded the COVID-19 outbreak (Ezati Rad et al., 2021). According to the theories discussed above, individuals will likely change their behavior during a pandemic. The ability to adopt a given behavior depends on the motivation and ability of an individual to adopt the behavior. When individuals believe that adopting a certain behavior is likely to eradicate the threat, they are motivated to adopt the behavior. Consumers globally adopted new behaviors to cope with the pandemic, which affected businesses in certain economic segments.
Review of Empirical Studies
There exist limited studies on the impacts of COVID-19 on a religious pilgrimage. Empirical studies on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected religious tourism, particularly in Saudi Arabia, are extremely limited. A study by Progano (2021) on the impact of COVID-19 on temple stays provides knowledge of the impact of the pandemic on religious tourism and pilgrimage. The study employs a case study from Koyasan, Japan, where religious tourism is evident. Temple stays have become a common tourism experience provided by Buddhist temples that accommodate non-associated guests to their lodging services. The facilities provide visitors with exceptional experiences based on traditional culture and rituals. The study employs Faulkner’s tourism disaster management framework to evaluate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This framework has also been used in prior studies to examine tourism management and pandemics. The study employed interviews with respondents from private, public, and religious stakeholders as their actions and experiences are essential in determining the impacts of the COVID-19. The data obtained was contextualized using the official statistics from the Japanese National Tourism Organization (JNTO) with Faulkner’s framework to structure the findings.
The study’s findings on the impact of COVID-19 on temple stays have been developed in different phases based on the stage of progression of the pandemic. The case study’s findings by Progano (2021) stretch from the pre-event phase. In Japan, the period began on January 15th, when the number of confirmed cases was low, with only 31 reported by January 31st, 2020 (Progano, 2022). During this period, travel restrictions were not yet imposed as inbound tourism recorded minimal negative growth. The findings reveal that during this period, there were no confirmed cases in Koyasan. Additionally, findings revealed no major changes in the managerial decisions or individual behavior in Koyasan during the Pre-Event Phase.
The prodromal phase refers to the duration from February to March 2020, when the infection further spreads across the nation. The national government introduced entry restrictions and requested citizens to voluntarily restrict their outings and cancel their events. In Koyasan, some religious performances were partially restrained from halting the infection rate. These rituals include the purification rituals undertaken before entering the temple. In these rituals, individuals wash their mouths and hands with water. However, Buddhism ceremonies like the hōe were not restrained as they equated to a religious obligation. The findings reveal that lay participants were discouraged while monks employed preventive measures like wearing masks, social distancing, and only speaking when it is relevant. For instance, other mass events, the Candle Festival, were suspended. The study reveals that by March 2020, reservations at shukubō had dropped by 50 percent as travel restrictions on inbound tourists halted activities.
The emergency phase of the pandemic took place from April to May 2020 ad was linked to heightened cases of COVID-19. On April 16th, the government declared a national state of emergency which by October 2020, a consistent negative growth rate of -99 percent was felt on Japanese tourism (Progano, 2022). Analysis of Kōyasan’s stakeholders and JNTO statistics reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic had a greater effect on local tourism than the 2002-2002 SATS pandemic. During this period, the management of d Kōyasan asked tourists to restrain from visiting. As reservations reduced, the majority of the temples closed down. The intermediate phase, which springs from June to September 2020, falls at the end of the national state of emergency. The duration is associated with the private and public sectors stimulating the lagging domestic tourism industry. The study reports that local travelers offered gifts, coupons, and discounts. The study states that though domestic tourism had begun to recover, the sector is yet to achieve its pre-pandemic situation.
The effect of COVID-19 on religious tourism has not received heightened attention globally. An empirical review by Raj (2020) Explains the economic impacts of COVID-19 risks facing the Hajj and Umrah. According to the review by the scholar, the annual pilgrimage attracts visitors from over 180 nations. The cancellation of the pilgrimage due to the pandemic had a substantial impact on tourist, travel, and hospitality businesses. The pandemic led to increased requests for full refunds of travel costs among many pilgrims. Cancellation of flights, lodging, meal packages, and tour guides was also a common impact of the pandemic. Raj (2020) said the pandemic negatively affected local transportation companies, hotels, hospitality, and commercial stores. The phenomenon meant a loss of revenue for local businesses as different stakeholders experienced losses due to the cancellation of the pilgrimage.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious tourism in Saudi Arabia has received limited attention. A study by Parveen (2020) investigates the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic a case study in Saudi Arabia. The study utilizes primary data to investigate how the pandemic affected different business units in Saudi Arabia. The study’s findings reveal that following directives suspending flights, revenue from airlines operating in the Kingdom’s market was anticipated to decline by $ 7.2 billion in 2020. This decline represented a 35 percent drop in revenues realized by the sector in 2019. The study notes that the drop in the airline industry results from a drop in tours and travel. This situation led to some airlines deciding to lay off staff while others only paid their workers only 80% of their salary. The International Air Transport Association (2020) estimated that the sector was likely to experience a loss of $ 252 billion by the end of April 2020. The estimates of the IATA show that revenues emanating from airlines operating in the Saudi Arabia market were likely to fall compared to those in 2019. The body reports that this situation is likely to put 287,500 jobs in Saudi Arabia and $17.9 billion of the Kingdom’s GDP, which is earned directly through aviation and aviation-linked tourism.
The study’s findings, other crises in the past have not been able to affect tourism. According to Parveen (2020), not even the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) pandemic had a longer-term fall on tourism. The scholar points out that only the SARS brought a 0.4 percent, and the global economic crisis (4 percent) brought a decline in international arrivals, a key contributor to the Kingdom’s tourism sector.
Summary of the Theories and Concepts for the Research
Different theories tend to explain how people respond to certain pathogens in society. According to the pathogen-stress theory, during a pandemic, people tend to adopt behavioral changes to avoid the infection’s spread or the ultimate cost of the infection. The theory argues that the prevalence of disease within a society is likely to affect the behavior and general culture of the population. The Planned Behaviour (TPB) asserts that aspects like belief are central to individual change of behavior. According to the TPB, individual beliefs are affected by motivation and the ability to control one’s actions. When individuals believe that adopting a given behavior will likely yield a positive outcome, they are likely to adopt the behavior. The protection motivation theory (PMT) further explains why most tourists failed to travel during the pandemic. According to the theory, when individuals believe that adopting a given behavior is likely to alleviate the threat of a pandemic, they are motivated to uphold the behavior.
There exist limited empirical studies about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious tourism in Saudi Arabia. An empirical study on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on a religious pilgrimage in Koyasan, Japan, reveals how the pandemic affected religious pilgrimage, a key source of revenue in the nation’s tourism sector. Through the tourism disaster management framework Progano (2021) reveals that the pandemic led to a reduction in the growth of the tourism sector in the nation. According to g to the study’s findings, the pandemic led to canceling flights, hotel bookings, and reservations as temples imposed strict guidelines while others closed down. Some religious practices were discouraged, leading to the Japanese tourism sector experiencing a 99 percent negative growth rate.
Another study relating to the topic of interest analyses the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Developed by Raj (2020), the study sought to uncover the impact of COVID-19 risks on the Hajj and Umrah. The findings of the research state that the annual pilgrimage attracts visitors from different nations. The study results reveal that the pandemic led to the cancellation of hotel reservations, flights, meal packages, lodging, and tour guides. The study further reveals that the pandemic brought a loss of revenue for local transportation businesses, hotels, hospitality, and commercial stores.
The study on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically on the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia, has not been adequately explored. The study by Pareveen (2020) only addresses the effect of the pandemic with Saudi Arabia as the case study. According to the research findings, travel restrictions led to a $7.2 billion loss of revenue. The research findings further reveal that the pandemic has led to lay off and pay cuts in workers’ wages, especially in the hospitality sector, as businesses strive to remain in operation. The COVID-19greatly restrained traveling greatly affected the revenue emanating from the sector.
Flaws or gaps in existing knowledge
The COVID-19 pandemic has become one of the worst global pandemics that ever existed. The tourism sector has been unaffected by global pandemics such as the SARS and MERS. However, the implications of the COVID-19 seem to have affected the tourism sector greatly. The prevalence of travel restrictions and social distancing, among other guidelines to curb the spreading virus, negatively affected the tourism sector. Different studies have been conducted to evaluate the impacts of the pandemic on the economies or different sectors. One crucial sector to study is the tourism sector, which was highly affected by the pandemic.
There exists limited literature or studies that reveal the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector. It is even more unlikely to find empirical studies that evaluate the impact of the pandemic on Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector. The inadequacy of the studies on the topic of interest arises because the topic is still new. Recent studies on this topic analyze the effect of the COVID-19 on religious tourism for the years 2019 and 2020 (Bataineh, 2022). The study offers comprehensive research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from its onset to 2022, when its results have been reduced. Therefore, this research allows researchers to compare the performance of religious tourism in the Kingdom at different durations during the pandemic. This comparison will enhance capabilities to estimate the implications of the pandemic on religious tourism in the Kingdom. As a more recent study, this research will address effects that other researchers might have overlooked, as they might have been minimal at the time of the survey.
Bataineh, M. (2020) ‘COVID-19 and Religious Tourism: an overview of impacts and implications.’ International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, [online] 8(7). Web.
Brookes, E. (2022) The Theory of Planned Behavior – Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Web.
Ezati Rad, R. et al. (2021) ‘Application of the protection motivation theory for predicting COVID-19 preventive behaviors in Hormozgan, Iran: a cross-sectional study.’ BMC Public Health, 21(1).
Havrlant, D., Darandary, A., and Muhsen, A. (2020) ‘Early estimates of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on GDP: A case study of Saudi Arabia’, Applied Economics, 53(12), 1317–1325. Web.
Mathews, S. (2022) As Hajj winds down, Saudi Arabia ramps up big tourism plans. [online] Aljazeera.com. Web.
Parveen, M. (2020) ‘Challenges Faced by Pandemic Covid 19 Crisis: A Case Study in Saudi Arabia.’ Challenge, 63(6), pp.349-364.
Progano, R. (2022) The Impact of COVID-19 on Temple Stays: A Case Study from Koyasan, Japan. [online] Arrow.tudublin.ie. Web.
Rahman, M. K., et al. (2021) ‘Effect of a COVID19 pandemic on tourist travel risk and management perceptions., Plus, One, 16(9). Web.
Raj, R. (2022) COVID-19 Pandemic: Risks Facing Hajj and Umrah. [online] Arrow.tudublin.ie. Web.
The International Air Transport Association (2022) COVID-19 Puts Over Half of 2020 Passenger Revenues at Risk. [online] Iata.org. Web.