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Friday, December 12, 2008

Jeddah shops pin hopes on returning pilgrims

JEDDAH: Jeddah's shopping malls, souqs and outlets are looking forward to a promising period of business with the steady return of pilgrims.

Several pilgrim groups brought by private tour operators, who arrived in the city and stayed in hotels before Haj, have started returning here either directly from Makkah or via Madinah at the end of the annual pilgrimage.

Most of the starred hotels said yesterday that the pilgrims chose to extend their stay here for a few days for shopping. “After all, they would like to buy something for themselves or carry gifts for their near and dear ones back home,” a hotel executive said.

"We had a golden period in the past when we did much of our business in the post-Haj period. That was when Haj pilgrims arrived here and finally departed from here. But this practice being no more, we have to depend on the groups of pilgrims brought by private tour operators who stay here before returning home,” Abdullah Ibrahim, an electronics shop supervisor in downtown Balad said. “Yet, the post-Haj business for us is satisfying,” he added.

A tour around the main shopping areas in Balad and some of the souqs and malls last evening showed a hectic activity among the shopkeepers to receive the pilgrims. After the three-day Eid Al-Adha holiday, almost all the shops and outlets have reopened. The Souq Al-Alawi street market, which winds through much of old Jeddah, is one of the major attractions for the pilgrims. “This is my first Haj and I want to carry something that is unique,” said Abdul Hameed Saefullah, an Indonesian who operates a restaurant in Jakarta. “I intend to buy some Turkish rugs and Iranian saffron,” he added.

A major reason why so many Haj pilgrims flock to Balad is that it has a number of souqs and is also home to the city's largest public transport depot. Buses come in from all over the Kingdom and from around the region. What is more, SAPTCO operates regular international bus services between the Kingdom and some of the neighboring countries including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE.

Gold and jewelry dealers at Balad and Kandra said their business often doubles in the post-Haj period. “This is a dedicated market for gold and jewelry and pilgrims who are keen on buying precious ornaments do make it a point to visit us, as our prices are competitive,” Abdul Khaliq, a jeweler at Kandra said. “Our country is sitting on gold, but we haven't seen the kind of gold markets you have. I am currently window-shopping, but have plans to make some gold purchases here,” Abdullah Mahdi, a pilgrim from South Africa said.

Vendors with counterfeit products in downtown and other city markets were also seen crowded with pilgrims interested in buying sunglasses, binoculars, handbags, mobile sets and watches, some of them bearing the names of expensive brands. “Some pilgrims are buying large quantities of handbags and watches, which they resell back home,” a vendor remarked.

“I have heard a lot about Jeddah’s open-air souqs and pedestrian bazaars, as well as the most modern shopping malls,” said Yusuf Mustafa, an Ethiopian pilgrim. “This is my first Haj and my effort is to visit all of its major souqs and malls and carry home some best bargains,” said Mustafa who works in a private company in Addis Ababa. “I will also be touring Tahliah Street, which has some of the best known outlets for fashionable and designer brands,” he added.

“I am looking for souvenirs like prayer beads, prayer rugs, Arabian teapots and attars (Arabian perfumes),” said Maaroof Rafeek, a Sri Lankan pilgrim, while he was shopping at Hera International Market. “I will also be carrying some dresses for my children,” he said.

Ibrahim Mugni, who sells prayer beads, at Bowadi souk in north Jeddah, said: “Prayer beads are very much in demand and tens of thousands of them are sold in the post-Haj period.”

A couple of Canadian pilgrims of Pakistani origin said shopping here was great and in spite of their short stay they would shop and visit the picturesque Corniche to see the sun setting and spend some time at the beach.

Ahmed Muhammad, a textile shop owner at Bani Malek, said: “The going is great for him. Many pilgrims come to me to buy fabric as I stock a variety of material from different countries. Children’s fabric and dresses are usually in great demand.”

Five and 10-riyal shops at various locations including at Balad and Al-Rawdah Street are being thronged by pilgrims for cheap products. Likewise, money exchanges at Balad are being visited by pilgrims for exchanging their currencies.
Source : Arab News

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