Ramadan: Bad for business?

This summer, the fast is longer and hotter.

ramadan (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
(photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
As devoted Muslims across the Middle East and North Africa begin the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, they will be fasting from sunrise till sundown as an essential part of the holiday. As a result, business hours in the region have been affected. 
“Because Ramadan this year is in the summer we are breaking the fast much later,” Sultan Al Qassemi, a businessman based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, told The Media Line.  
The date that Ramadan falls on shifts 12-13 days back every year since it is decided according to the lunar or Gregorian calendar used in the Islamic world. This means Ramadan started 12 days earlier this year than in 2009.   
The exact date, however, is decided by religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, according to the appearance of the moon. Since Ramadan falls in the summer this year, the days of fasting will be longer and harder, with temperatures soaring close to 112 Fahrenheit in the Middle East and North Africa.       
“Business people used to meet after the fast, which used to be around 6 p.m., but because Ramadan is in the summer this is major shift and it might be harder for people to meet after 9:00 [or] 9:30 p.m.,” he said. 
“We will see how business people will deal with this,” Al Qassemi added.
Breaking the Ramadan fast is done after the sun has set in the evening during the Iftar meal. Then people gather at restaurants and private homes for communal meals, which over the last couple years has turned into networking opportunities, where new contacts and future deals are discussed.
Iftar meals are also high season for a number of industries across the region, from catering firms, hotels and restaurants, to tent renting companies.    
A Saudi businessman who did not want to be named told The Media Line that some people have become lazy during Ramadan.
“Actually, Ramadan people are supposed to work normal hours and are supposed to fell the abstinence [by fasting],” he said.
“Unfortunately, many people, especially in the Gulf, take this…[as] an excuse for not working at all,” he told The Media Line. 
Aviation expert Benjamin Walther told The Media Line that Ramadan is a busy time for the region’s airlines and they are taking advantage of it.  
“Especially in the weeks before Ramadan, traffic is rising rapidly as a lot of people want to go to Saudi Arabia to celebrate Ramadan,” he said. 
“Therefore, it is very hard to find flights to Saudi Arabia, doesn’t matter which airline you want to choose,” Walther told The Media Line. “All flights to Saudi Arabia, even on Lufthansa, BA [British Airways], are fully booked and therefore prices are very high.” 
“All together I can say that traffic and prices [have] gone up extremely during the last weeks and it is a really big business for all carriers flying to the Middle East,” Walther said. 
“Anyway, as Ramadan has started today, prices [are] expected to go back to normal during the next days [and] weeks and will afterwards increase again when Hajj [pilgrimage] starts shortly after Ramadan,” he predicted.