Top Tips for a Safe Hajj 2013
by Rashid Mogradia | www.cbhuk.org
Tuesday 30th July 2013
Hajj is a Journey of faith and one which every Muslim aspires to fulfil at least once in their lifetime.
For many Hajj and Umrah pilgrims their trip is thankfully a memorable and trouble free occasion. People come back spiritually rejuvenated and more conscious of their part in a multi-cultural socisty.
However, you may have heard reports about some pilgrims who have suffered at the hands of disreputable travel organisers.
Whilst the majority of Hajj & Umrah tour operators in the UK deliver an excellent service year on year, guiding pilgrims to Hajj and back, there are however cases of people falling foul to unscrupulous tour operators and have fallen victim to Hajj fraud.
There will be those who would have saved up thousands of pounds for Hajj, picked a tour operator who would have promised them the earth, accommodated all their requests for flights and accommodation but as soon as the payments have been made, are hard to track down, phone calls left unanswered and simply un-contactable, leaving the would-be pilgrims in a state of anxiety, anger and deep anguish. As the departure date nears, to get a sunken feeling that the Journey of a Lifetime that they had dreamt of shattered into a million pieces. On the other hand some may be fortunate to actually fly out, but on arrival the 5 star hotel that was promised turns out to be a 2 start bed and breakfast, transportation issues and a total nightmare from start to finish.
Changes to the Ministry of Hajj Rules
Earlier this year the Ministry of Hajj announced a 20% reduction in the 2013 Hajj quotas for all countries across the world (50% reduction for domestic pilgrims in Saudi Arabia). Furthermore, it has announced that pilgrims who had performed Hajj within the past 5 years would not be granted the visas, enforcing an already existing law which was previously shown leniency. The reductions and enforcement has been as a direct result of the current Masjid Al Haram Expansion works which is due to be carried out over the next 3 years.
This Ramadan has been extremely challenging due to changes in Ministry of Hajj rules, which has meant that those that had booked independently or late, lost thousands of pounds due to lack of Umrah visas.
So what does this mean for British Pilgrims.
In the past around 25,000 British Muslims would perform Hajj. Taking into account the reductions and some simple maths we estimate the following:
Official UK Hajj Quota 25,000
Less 20% Reductions: – 5,000
Subtotal Quota 20,000
Less Repeat pilgrims (15%) -3,000 (Estimated)
Total Quota for 2013 17,000
With some licenced tour operators already reporting Hajj packages as being sold out (July 2013), we want to make sure that you make the right decisions when booking a Hajj Package and select a reputable tour operator.
Here is a list of things you can do to ensure you select the right tour operator and to avoid any issues:
- Book with a Tour Operator who holds an ATOL. Air Travel Organisers Licence (ATOL). An ATOL ensures that your prepayments are protected and also provides for getting you back home if necessary in the event of the operator going bust. Check the Status of the tour operators ATOL at www.caa.co.uk or call 020 7453 6424.
- Demand an ATOL Certificate. From October 2012, when you book an ATOL protected holiday, you should be given an ATOL Certificate by your travel company as soon as you pay over any money for the holiday – even if this is only a deposit.
- Check that your travel agent/tour operator is accredited by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and deal directly with them. Those who are listed with the Ministry of Hajj have the allocated quotas and means to obtain the Hajj visa.
- Visit the Tour Operator at their offices. Ask neighbouring shops to see how long they have been operating. If the tour operator has propped up over the last few weeks, the chances are that they may be in it for a quick profit, in which exercise caution. Reputable business will have been operating for many years and will have ATOL, IATA and MoH licences.
- Check Companies House to see how long the business has been operating.
- Website are cheap and easy to setup, do not rely on them. Always check the above accreditation and licences and visit the operator at their offices.
- Get everything in writing and ask for and read the terms and conditions of the trip.
- Make payments by a Credit Card – this will ensure a paper trail and protect any payments in the event of non-delivery of products or services. Make part payment and balance on receiving all the necessary travel documentations (Passport, Visa, Airline tickets, Hotel Vouchers etc).
- Talk to your friends and relatives who may have knowledge or used the services of different tour operators and ask them for their recommendations.
- If there is an issue try to resolve this with the tour operator in the first instance, if this fails contact your local trading standards. If there is an issue whilst in Saudi Arabia then you can contact the Ministry of Hajj who have offices located in and around Makkah and in Jeddah (see below).
- DO NOT be swayed by last minute deals. If they look too good to be true they usually are.
In case of problems:
If the tour operator has disappeared with your money then this is fraud and you need to contact your local Police immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Support in Saudi Arabia:
- British Consulate-General, Jeddah: Jeddah 21411 P.O. Box 393 Tel: 02 622 5550 Fax: 02 622 6249
- Ministry of Hajj email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.haj.gov.sa freephone: 800 244 4480
- Ministry of Hajj (Makkah): 02 557 1714
- Ministry of Hajj (Jeddah): 02 665 5811 or 02 647 7551
- Emergencies in Saudi Arabia: Ambulance 997 Police 999
Support in the UK:
- UK FCO Consular Enquiries: Tel: (+44) 020 7008 1500
- Action Fraud Tel: 0300 123 2040 Website: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/beware-of-hajj-fraud-nov10
The Small Print: All advice is given on a good will basis, in the interest of consumers and you must carry out your own due-diligence when booking a Hajj package. CBHUK cannot be held liable for any losses sustained as a result of following any advice that maybe implied or otherwise stated.