How was 2014 for the Chamber, and what are your priorities for 2015?
We are still building infrastructure for Makkah in 2014, in particular the Holy Mosque. We are still in the expansion and extension phase. The benefits will be clear in probably three years, as that is when the infrastructure for the Holy Mosque will be complete and the positive impact of the increased number of pilgrims will be felt. We are expecting Hajj numbers to reach 7 million pilgrims over the next two or three years. In terms of transportation, we are starting to see the new developments in a new airport, which is due to be launched in the next two years, and will coincide with the completion of the rail system. All these projects are expected to have a major impact on the economy of Makkah and Medina.
What is your medium-term outlook on the Hajj, and how it will affect your member companies?
In 2014, it will decrease, the same as in 2013, because we have decreased the number of pilgrims coming from outside, as well as from within the country. This is because of the development in the Haram area. We hope that this is the last year that we will be forced to keep pilgrim numbers low, and maybe from 2015 we will be able to increase their numbers again, and we expect a rapid rise in income from Hajj and year-round tourism.
In what ways is the Chamber collaborating with both other Saudi and international Chambers?
In Saudi Arabia, we have the umbrella Chamber, known as the Council of Saudi Chambers, which makes the arrangements and organizations between all the Chambers. We have a special relationship with the Medina Chamber, as our neighbor in the region, and we also share an economy based on the Hajj, Haram, and Medina. For other countries, we try to cooperate with all international chambers of commerce, but we do focus on the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, because it is easy to visit our Chamber. In addition, we try to build strong economic relations between Islamic countries; however, we are open to the whole world.
How is the Chamber tackling the issue of unemployed youth, and what role can the private sector play in the solution?
We are trying to build a database of people seeking employment that businessmen can access to bring employers and potential employees together. We hope this system will make it easier for both parties to find the right role in the right industry, and for businesses to find the right employees to increase Saudization. We try to help companies, but some sectors have difficulties, for example construction. This is because most locals are not willing to undertake a lot of the jobs that are offered in that sector.
What are your long-term plans for MCCI?
We know that the economy of Makkah is based on the Hajj, and we try to benefit from that. Since all Muslims are expected to visit Makkah at least once in their lifetime, we can make services available for them and develop the hospitality sector, in particular. We will also expecting to focus on the conference and exhibition sector.
What role can Makkah play in the development of Saudi Arabia?
Makkah is a unique city; it cannot be duplicated. All Muslims must ultimately visit, and so we must meet demand, as we expect it to grow. Once we have finished our infrastructure projects here, the economy will boom. We have seen increased interest outside of Makkah for real estate, hotels, and all associated services; therefore, Makkah is one of the most attractive cities in the world, particularly for Muslims. For the Saudi Arabian economy, it is second only to petroleum and oil in terms of revenue created. If we continue to develop it and the service sector, we expect that it will contribute even more, while providing employment for local people.