This week concludes the Hajj, the annual rite of pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca, where the Prophet Mohammed first spread the faith that has since become known as Islam. The Hajj represents, among many other things, Saudi Arabia’s unique place of prominence in the vast Islamic world, as well as an economic opportunity for the oil-dependent Saudi economy. Religious tourism, to which the Hajj is central, is a key component of the country’s long-term economic strategy. The kingdom is planning for the day that the natural resource that’s made it so rich dies out.

The number of regular tourists to Saudi Arabia increases, while Hajj visitors remain relatively flat. Photo courtesy of World Bank.

Prominent Saudi businessman Abdul Rahman al-Rashed does the math and finds the economic case for expanding Hajj tourism is weak, even though the Muslim world’s rising middle classes are showing increased willingness and interest in the annual pilgrimage.