As a silver member of "Hilton HHonors," I receive the odd discount from the hotel chain but today's offer really caught my eye. It was not to swing in Las Vegas or spend April in Paris, but to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. I've posted the webpage here. Some salient excerpts:
Between February 1 and March 31, 2007, GCC nationals who stay a minimum of two consecutive nights at the Makkah Hilton & Towers earn double Hilton HHonors® Base points. Please note: During this period, Makkah is accessible only to Muslims and visas are issued to nationals of Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE (GCC countries).
Overlooking the Holy Haram and the Kaaba, the hotel and towers are set in the heart of Makkah, just steps away from the main entrance of the Haram.
The hotel and towers contain 1,398 rooms, of which 800 are in the towers and 598 in the hotel. Pray with views over the Holy Haram in the two air-conditioned and carpeted 10,000-seat prayer halls.
Reserved exclusively for Gold and Diamond VIPs who are GCC nationals, this offer includes a complimentary daily Hilton Breakfast, fruit basket and optional upgrade to Junior Suites (subject to availability). …
Please note: During this period, Makkah is accessible only to Muslims (The restriction to Muslims is not an HHonors or Hotel requirement. It is a requirement of the country the hotel is in.) and visas are issued to nationals of Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE (GCC countries).
Comments: (1) This is an offer to go on the ‘umra, not the hajj (the ‘umra is the pilgrimage to Mecca during off-season), which explains why the rates are low and bargains are on offer. During hajj season, the rates are many, many times higher.
(2) I am struck by the formulation "During this period, Makkah is accessible only to Muslims," which implies that during other times of year, Mecca is accessible to non-Muslims, something not exactly so, as it is forbidden to non-Muslims all year around.
(3) Makkah? The English name for this city is Mecca. Hilton Hotels does not refer in English to Roma or Al-Qahira (Arabic for Cairo), so why this little touch of authenticity? Because that's the Saudi government's preferred orthography.
(4) This and other hotels face competition from – of all things – timeshare apartments, which have multiplied in recent years.
(5) This offer came to me not as a Middle East specialist but as a routine member of Hilton HHonors. It points to both the unceasing globalization of American life and the ever-higher profile of Islam.
(6) This Hilton Hotel could have become world-notorious, had a 2003 Libyan plot to kill the Saudi crown prince been enacted. As I wrote when the plot was discovered, "four Saudi terrorists were to assault Abdullah's motorcade with shoulder-fired missiles or grenade launchers, apparently from a room at the Hilton Hotel in Mecca as the prince made his way to the Grand Mosque."
(February 15, 2007)