People, Travel

$3b Hotel to Open in Mecca Amid Controversy

$3b Hotel to Open in Mecca Amid Controversy$3b Hotel to Open in Mecca Amid Controversy

Each year millions embark upon a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Soon, if everything goes as planned, the heavily visited desert locale will also be home to the world's largest hotel, the Abraj Kudai, AOL reported.

Among its 45 floors will be 10,000 bedrooms, about 70 restaurants, and a shopping center. Four helicopter pads will be available to meet guests' travel needs.

The public is not invited to wander about the whole building however. Five floors will be set aside for the exclusive use of the Saudi royal family. The estimated cost of the project is over $3.5 billion – funded entirely by the Saudi Ministry of Finance - and its completion should occur in 2017.

Announcement of the plan to build the massive luxury complex comes amid concerns that Mecca is becoming too expensive for the average pilgrim and over commercialized in general. Some worry that such construction endeavors, which have become increasingly common, are undermining the city's religious significance.

The city receives around 2 million pilgrims for the annual hajj, but during the rest of the year more than 20 million visit the city, which has become a popular place for weddings and conferences, bringing in annual tourism revenue of around $9.2 billion.

Irfan al-Alawi, director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, was quoted as saying that the hotel was proof the city was “turning into Mecca-hattan”, and lamented the little heritage left in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities.

According to ISNA, the oil-rich kingdom's push for modernization has come at a great cost to the country's religiously significant sites; the house that once belonged to Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) first wife Khadija was demolished to make way for public restrooms, while the house of a companion of the prophet was razed to build a new Hilton Hotel.

"These are the last days of Mecca,” says Alawi. “The pilgrimage is supposed to be a spartan, simple rite of passage, but it has turned into an experience closer to Las Vegas, which most pilgrims simply cannot afford.”