Thursday February 15, 2018 / 29 Jumada al-ula 1439
DAMMAM — Guests staying in hotels and furnished apartments will now have to pay more on room tariff by way of the newly-introduced municipal tax on top of Value-Added Tax (VAT) and the already existing service tax.
According to hotel industry sources, a guest will now have to pay somewhere between 25% and 30% extra on their room tariff.
This will be in addition to food and beverages and other taxable facilities in the hotel.
The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has imposed a flat levy of 5% on each room occupied in hotels and furnished apartments across the Kingdom.
The levy for rooms in three star hotels and downwards will be 2,5 %.
This is on top of 5% VAT which is collected by the General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GZAT).
The levy, known as municipal tax, came into effect on Wednesday.
Municipal tax, however, will be levied only on occupied rooms.
It is mandatory for all hotels of any size, furnished apartments of any standard and any other commercial residence facilities.
Hotels and furnished apartments will deposit the tax taken from guests with the ministry every month.
Hotels and other commercial residential facilities will have to register with the ministry which in turn will issue them a unique number to get access to their accounts in the ministry.
The hotel industry is passing through an extremely tough period due to the mushroom growth of hotels in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Makkah and Madinah.
“Occupancy is not even 60% during the peak period,” said a hotel executive in Al-Khobar.
The business community feels that municipal tax should be paid by hotels as guests are already burdened with several other surcharges.
Hotels in Dammam, Al-Khobar, Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah and elsewhere in the Kingdom have displayed notice about the 5% municipal tax.
It has also been reported that business establishments, hotels, furnished apartments and many other commercial centers will be levying taxes on various other municipal services like garbage collection, etc.
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Authorities wipe out 4 Taif sites visited by pilgrims for 'blessing'
Thursday February 15, 2018 / 29 Jumada al-ula 1439
TAIF — Emir of Makkah Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, during his recent visit to Taif, has instructed officials to remove four places frequented by pilgrims of various nationalities to seek blessings.
The four locations in Bani Saad village in the Misan area of Taif governorate included two trees and a rock. Pictures of pilgrims in ihram kissing and hugging the trees and the rock to invoke blessings from Allah appeared on various social media platforms.
There is also a three-room structure that the pilgrims visit for worshiping Allah. The fourth location was a piece of land where the pilgrims used to sit on for long hours hoping to be blessed.
Such visits and practices are against the teachings of the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
A committee consisting of the police, the municipality and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, carried out the emir's instructions by felling the two trees, and leveling the rock and the piece of land.
Prince Khaled also ordered the formation of a committee comprising representatives of the police and a number of government departments concerned with the Haj services to investigate the violations.
The committee will question the Umrah companies that transported the pilgrims to these places with a view to penalizing them.
Concluding his annual inspection visits to the areas of the southern Sahel on Tuesday, Prince Khaled told the residents of Qunfudah that the General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) would award the contract to build an airport in the city within 60 days.
SAUDI ARABIA: The planned launch in March of commercial services on the Haramain high speed line between Makkah and Madinah is in doubt following further delays in completing three of the line’s five stations.
Announcing on January 30 that he would be visiting Saudi Arabia in the near future to agree a timescale for the start of commercial operations over the 450 km line, Spanish Minister of Development Íñigo de la Serna said that test trains had been running over the whole route since December 31, when an inaugural special ran between Madinah and Makkah in 2 h 52 min.
Operation of the line will be the responsibility of Spanish national operator RENFE as a member of the Saudi-Spanish Al Shoula consortium which was chosen for the €6·7bn railway systems contract in October 2011. De la Serna made it clear that the consortium was trying to fulfil its commitments, but that these depended on resolution of issues that were not its responsibility.
Construction of the stations is largely in the hands of local companies Saudi Bin Laden Group and Saudi Oger; those at Jeddah, Makkah and Jeddah King Abdulaziz International Airport are understood to be behind schedule.
Ministry’s chatbot app to answer pilgrims’ queries
Wednesday February 21, 2018 / 5 Jumada al-akhirah 1439
EDDAH — The Ministry of Haj and Umrah has developed a new app, considered the first of its kind, to provide automatic replies to the queries of Haj and Umrah pilgrims through social networking sites.
The app was unveiled at the 32nd Janadriya National Heritage and Culture Festival. The ministry will launch the app next year.
The app operates through a chatbot program, which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. This is a small app that works on social networking platforms. They are designed to implement orders through interactive chats without any human intervention.
The ministry’s app has basic information required by pilgrims. It will also help pilgrims outside the Kingdom to know more about Haj and Umrah service companies inside the Kingdom.
Chatbots are computer programs that you “chat” with. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner.
Imagine that you wanted to buy something from an online retailer. Today you would go to their website, look around until you found what you wanted, and then place an order.
But if the said store had a chatbot, you would be able to send them a message that you are looking for a particular item, and the chatbot would respond.
You would have a conversation with the store’s chatbot. Such an experience mimics that of going into an actual physical store and speaking with a salesperson.
Meanwhile, Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Saleh Banten has instructed officials to reconstitute various committees for organizing the international Haj seminar to be held at the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
These include the higher committee, media committee, executive committee and logistics committee.
The minister chaired a meeting of the higher committee in the presence of deputy minister Dr. Abdul Fattah Mushat and other members and discussed various issues related to making the seminar a big success.
The seminar will highlight Saudi Arabia’s efforts under the leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to organize the annual pilgrimage in the best manner.
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Haj and Umrah has categorically refuted social media rumors that it will impose fees on domestic Umrah pilgrims, Al-Madina Arabic newspaper reported on Monday.
Social media was agog with rumors that the ministry will be collecting a fee of SR400 to SR700 from domestic Umrah pilgrims who are above 18 years of age.
The rumors also stated that the ministry will set up offices to collect fees at airports and entry points to Makkah.
The justification given in social media rumors was that the ministry had taken this measure to reduce the number of pilgrims in view of the ongoing construction work in Makkah.
The ministry refuted the rumors and released a statement clarifying that it plans to expand the accommodation capacity of pilgrims from the current 8 million to 15 million by 2020 and 30 million by 2030.
It will also work on facilitating the pilgrimage visa process and digitalizing more of its services.
The ministry will be working to achieve five goals in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. The goals include strategizing and planning, ensuring the quality of services, raising the qualifications of employees, improving the cooperation between various government agencies, initiatives to implement the ministry’s goals and supporting other initiatives that promote these goals.
The ministry identified a number of challenges in its way, which include low awareness about the role of the ministry in the pilgrimage process, unqualified employees in pilgrimage campaigns, lack of efficient cooperation between the private and public sectors in organizing pilgrimage campaigns.
Reports spread wildly on social media at the end of last week that expatriates will have to pay the fees
March 4, 2018
Manama: Saudi Arabia has denied reports that it would impose fees on expatriates living in the kingdom and planning to perform Umrah.
According to the reports that spread wildly on social media at the end of last week, the expatriates will have to pay fees at special offices that will be set up at all the entrances to Makkah where the religious rites are performed, King Abdul Aziz airport in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the train station in Jeddah, Taif regional airport, Mohammad Bin Abdul Aziz airport in Madinah and the train station in Madinah.
The reports said that only the foreigners living in Makkah, the Sacred Capital as it is known in Saudi Arabia, would be exempted from paying the Umrah fees.
However, Abdul Aziz Wazzan, the Haj and Umrah ministry undersecretary, said that the reports were not true and lacked credibility.
“These are mere allegations being circulated and there is no plan to impose fees,” he said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Sunday. “There is no study being carried out regarding this matter.”
The ministry official ruled out going after those suspected of spreading the allegations.
“It is all happening in the virtual world of social media and the ministry will invariably respond by dismissing reports if they are not true or by confirming them if they are.”
In August, Saudi Arabia imposed a SR 2,000 fee for foreigners going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah or Haj.
However, the fee is not imposed for those performing them for the first time.
Foreigners make up slightly more than one third of Saudi Arabia’s total population of 32.5 million people.
The 10.7 million employed expatriates contribute 33.75 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the Saudi General Authority for Statistics said.
Wednesday March 14, 2018 / 26 Jumada al-akhirah 1439
MAKKAH — The Makkah Development Authority has vowed to end the problem of salary delay faced by more than 6,000 employees of Mashaer Railway within a few days.
The new promise comes after employees protested against the six-month-delay in the payment of their salaries.
The authority downplayed the issue, saying it was caused by a problem between the company that operates the railway and the General Authority of Zakat & Tax. "We are about to overcome this crisis," the authority said in a statement carried by Al-Hayat Arabic daily.
Meanwhile, the launch of Haramain Railway that links Makkah and Madinah via Jeddah has been delayed further. It was supposed to be launched in the beginning of this year.
The delay in the payment of salaries to seasonal workers during the Haj season has become an annual problem without a solution.
More than 6,000 employees of Mashaer Railway have expressed their indignation over the continuous delay in the salary payment.
The Malaysian company, which has been contracted by the Makkah Development Authority, to operate Mashaer Railway during the Haj season, has received several messages of protest from its employees due to the recurrent delay in payment of their salaries.
The employees have expressed their displeasure through a Twitter hashtag and said they were facing lots of problems due to nonpayment of salaries for six months. They have not received their salaries since the end of the last Haj season.
"The company has not fulfilled its promise. We have been working for the company under the scorching sun," the employees said on Twitter.
They have urged Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and his deputy Prince Abdullah Bin Bandar to intervene to end their suffering.
Jalal Kaaki, spokesman of the Makkah Development Authority, said all salary dues would be cleared within a few days.
The Malaysian company had informed its employees that their salaries would be deposited in their bank accounts by the end of February. But the employees said did not receive their salaries yet.
The company, which is entrusted with the task of crowd control at Mashaer train stations, said the salary would be paid in the first week of March. The issue of salary delay is repeated every year since the launch of Mashaer Railway.
Makkah Emir Prince Khaled Al-Faisal had intervened to solve the salary delay in 2016 but the problem continued in subsequent years putting pressure on the authorities.
6 gates for domestic flights in 1st phase of new Jeddah airport
March 13, 2018
JEDDAH — Six gates will be allocated for domestic flights when the first phase of the new King Abdulaziz International Airport is launched at the end of 2018, according to an announcement by the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA).
The test operation of the first phase will take place in May.
The new airport is located 19 kilometers north of Jeddah.
It is expected to handle 30 million passengers a year. Once the airport is fully operational, it will handle 100 million passengers a year.
The second phase will serve 55 million passengers.
The airport boasts of advanced facilities that help it handle giant airplanes such as A380 and create lucrative investment opportunities for the private sector.
The quality of services provided to passengers will be of the highest international standards.
Last month GACA terminated the contract that it awarded to Changi Airports International (CAI)–led consortium to manage and operate the new King Abdulaziz International Airport (KAIA).
“New tenders will be invited in a public bidding, which will be announced shortly.
This procedure will not affect the timetable set for the initial opening and experimental operation of the new airport in May this year,” said GACA sources.
GACA emphasized that the decision is consistent with the terms and conditions of the contract signed between the two parties.
Experts question authenticity of Kiswa piece being sold at SR8 million
Monday March 19, 2018 / 2 Rajab 1439
MAKKAH — Experts have questioned the authenticity of a piece of the kiswa, the black cloth covering that adorns the holy Kaaba, that was offered for sale as an artifact.
The broker who offered the piece for sale valued it at SR8 million, claiming that it belonged to the famous Al-Shaibi family, the traditional keepers of the Holy Kaaba.
The broker claimed that he had an official permit from Makkah Municipality to sell the piece.
However, Abdulmalik Al-Shaibi, an elder of the Al-Shaibi family, said the kiswa piece in question did not belong to the family.
“Many people produce counterfeit pieces of the kiswa in India and Egypt and offer them for sale while claiming they belonged to us to gain the buyers’ trust. The original kiswa belongs to the government and is stored in special warehouses,” said Al-Shaibi.
Mohammad Bajouda, general manager of the Kiswa Factory in Makkah, said the factory’s job was to manufacture the new kiswa.
“Every year, the Kaaba is adorned with a new kiswa. The factory is responsible for manufacturing the new kiswa. When the kiswa is changed, the old covering is handed to specialized committees for safe storage. Every time the Kaaba cover is changed, many ads appear offering the pieces of the old kiswa for sale to artifact collectors,” said Bajouda.
The ad offering a piece of the kiswa for SR8 million was posted on a website, but the website pulled it down after Makkah newspaper called the contact number given in the ad. The man who responded to the call claimed that he was hired as a broker by an important person to sell multiple artifacts.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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