SINGAPORE - The Singaporean Muslim pilgrim is not just getting younger, but also more affluent.
And that means he is more willing to pay for costlier packages to Mecca, geopolitics professor Cedomir Nestorovic told The Straits Times, a point confirmed by travel agents here.
Some of these pilgrims can spend upwards of $15,000 for a 30-day package to Saudi Arabia, added the ESSEC Business School Paris-Singapore professor, who also teaches marketing in an Islamic environment.
"The first thing we have to stress - the haj is a spiritual journey. So for those lucky enough to go, this is the journey of their lives," said the Frenchman, who has been based here for three years.
Association of Muslim Travel Agents of Singapore (Amtas) honorary secretary Mohamed Roslan Jaafar said Singaporean pilgrims are increasingly willing to pay for top-tier hotels such as the Movenpick and the InterContinental, which are situated closer to Mecca's Grand Mosque, which plays a key role in the haj.
The closer hotels are to the mosque, the costlier they are.
"It's not about luxury, but a level of comfort so that they can perform the rituals without worrying about other things, such as food," Mr Roslan told The Straits Times yesterday.
"Muslims here are also getting more affluent. They don't mind paying as long as they believe it's worth their money."
The Singaporean pilgrim spends an average of about $13,000 on a month-long trip, when a no-frills package is available for around $10,000.
The demographic is also changing.
"The situation today is completely different. Decades back, the pilgrims went in their 50s and 60s. Now, we even have people in their 20s willing to perform the haj. This was unimaginable 50 years ago. They have the money, and when they go, they want the best," said Prof Nestorovic.
Mr Roslan also pointed out that because of the physical demands of the haj, given the heat, the crowds and the travel, people here are realising that completing the haj at a younger age has its advantages.
"Those who can afford the trip know that the weather and rites to be done can be physically demanding, so if they can afford it, they're now willing to go earlier," he explained.
The haj is one of Islam's five basic requirements and Muslims must carry it out at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it.
Warehouse manager Feisal Abdul Aziz made the pilgrimage in 2009 at the age of 39 with his wife, spending $30,000 in total for his month-long trip.
"We stayed in a four-star hotel because we wanted our accommodation to be good throughout the lengthy stay there," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience and in the long run, we managed to do the haj in comfort."
Mr Wahab Yusoff, 51, vice-president of security firm McAfee South Asia, was among the first pilgrims who opted for an "executive haj" package. He spent about $14,000 each for a 10-day pilgrimage with his wife in 2004 at the age of 42.
"I wanted to do the haj in the best manner possible and minimise as much as I could distractions such as logistics and worrying about accommodation," the father of three said. "I appreciated the comfort that came with the package, allowing me to focus on my spiritual obligations."
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