Services to pilgrims based on latest technological innovations, minister says

Technology has made it easier for pilgrims and and agencies administering Hajj affairs and providing security during Hajj. (SPA)
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Updated 31 July 2020

Services to pilgrims based on latest technological innovations, minister says

RIYADH: Technology is being harnessed again this year to provide better services for pilgrims, according to Dr. Abdul Fattah bin Suleiman Mashat, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah.

Mashat said that for the second year in a row, the ministry had implemented the “smart card” initiative, which aimed to provide high-quality services to pilgrims and facilitate the journey of worshippers while performing their rituals.

The “smart card” was an extension of the “Smart Hajj” platform, which covers the digital identity of the pilgrim. Mashat said that, with this year’s requirements, services related to the card had been developed to include the personal, medical and residential information of the pilgrim, including his Hajj regiment, bus and seat number, residence, room number and bed.

In addition, it helped to guide pilgrims to their homes and controlled their entry to site facilities, in addition to reducing irregular pilgrims.

Mashat said that one of the most important features of the “smart card” was its design — using a set of color groups related to program services, grouping and transfer — and included NFC technology to read Hajj data through self-service devices. In addition, it contained a barcode that Hajj workers were able to read to improve services provided to pilgrims.

He said that the ministry had started the implementation of the strategic executive plan for this year’s Hajj season early following the Kingdom’s decision to organize Hajj for very limited numbers. This was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as it would have been impossible to ensure social distancing had a large number of pilgrims been received.

Mashat said: “The ministry, and all parties concerned with organizing this year’s Hajj season, were keen on procuring the best services to pilgrims while applying the highest health and safety standards, and the preventive and precautionary measures, according to the directions of the Kingdom’s leadership to provide the best services to the pilgrims.”


Ithra marks National Day with exhibitions, competitions and performances

Updated 23 September 2020

Ithra marks National Day with exhibitions, competitions and performances

  • The study reveals a need to protect and preserve Saudi heritage in the face of cultural homogenization

RIYADH: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) is marking Saudi Arabia’s 90th National Day with exhibitions, a scavenger hunt, a fine dining pop-up, and artistic performances.

The center started its National Day celebrations on Sept. 21 and the activities run through to Sept. 26. 

Rania Biltagi, the head of communication and partnerships at Ithra, said she hoped that people this year would ask themselves what being Saudi meant to them.

“I am proud to be part of an organization created as a creative and cultural destination perfectly positioned to drive and participate in conversations such as these,” she told Arab News. “Our mandate involves igniting cultural curiosity, exploring knowledge and inspiring creativity, and it’s a task we don’t take lightly.”

“Saudi at heart, multicultural by nature” had been the Ithra motto from the start, she said, and the center was always looking inward even as it looked outward.

Biltagi shared the results of research that Ithra had conducted about the impact of globalization on Saudi Arabia’s culture.

“The study reveals a need to protect and preserve Saudi heritage in the face of cultural homogenization. However, it also shows that Saudis are willing and able to embrace modernity and globalization while still cherishing their unique national identity.”

Ithra has created the “Kingdom of Cultures” exhibition, which will take visitors on an interactive and state-of-the-art journey through Saudi Arabia’s lands and tell stories about the Saudi people. It will also feature crafts, dialects and customs.

Writer and Saudi heritage expert Ali Ibrahim Moghawi said he was honored to be participating in the festival as part of the “Flower Men” booth.

“To be representing our great nation at the very place where oil was first discovered, a place that represents the heart of progress in Saudi Arabia, the place that has done the most to respect our heritage and support every Saudi generation future, past, and present, is an honor,” he told Arab News.

Ithra has scheduled musical performances from Saudi band Al-Farabi, which will also feature the pianist Abeer Balubaid and singer Ameen Farsi. Award-winning poet Abdulatif Almubarak will host an evening of poetry – “Aswat” – accompanied by musicians in a celebration of Saudi civilization.

The center has devised a pop-up restaurant called Takya, which will offer guests a fine dining experience with Saudi fusion cuisine and modern takes on old favorites.

It has also announced plans to revamp and renovate an old farmer’s market in Alkhobar’s Al-Ulaya district to give it an energetic and artsy edge. The covered space is being redecorated and will feature areas for art and music, in addition to a dedicated and upgraded space where local farmers can sell their produce.

Ithra plans to curate installations at the market to make it more visually appealing as well as to take art and creativity directly to the community.

It has scheduled two celebration sessions a day with limited space and occupancy. The first runs from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. while the second is from 8:30 p.m. until midnight.

Tickets to the events, as well as the special performances, are available on Ithra’s website.