Don’t let rogue travel agents ruin Hajj

By on 17/09/2009 in News

Birmingham Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah) - known as the Hajj - are being warned to be on their guard against unscrupulous tour operators who often seek to exploit those making the trip.

 Every year Birmingham City Council's Trading Standards receives a significant number of complaints from pilgrims who have traveled to Saudi Arabia on package deals only to find meals, accommodation and travel arrangements turn out to be either of inferior quality to those advertised, or in some cases don't exist at all.

 Around 125,000 British Muslims make the Hajj and Umrah (lesser Hajj) every year. Many save for years to make the journey with more than 80 per cent of travelers aged over 65.

 Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee, said: “Some unscrupulous tour operators target the Muslim community, claiming they specialize in organizing Hajj.  They often don't have an air tours operators licence and are therefore breaking UK law and not providing legal protection for travelers.

 “It is a disgrace that these rogue travel agents are preying on vulnerable people at such an important time in their lives and we will do everything we can to protect these travellers.  Saudi government regulations stipulate that British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj can only travel with UK travel agencies accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia.”

 “Our advice to anyone contemplating making the Hajj is that they carefully consider the information provided on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website before booking their Hajj.  There are many legitimate tour operators providing this service, so if anything does go wrong there are agreed procedures and redress schemes available and we will be visiting local Hajj tour operators to ensure they are fully aware of their legal obligations.” 

 “We also strongly urge pilgrims to take out adequate travel insurance in case they are unable to travel due to illness; otherwise they are personally responsible for the full cost of the Hajj package for their party, not the operator.”  

 All visitors, including pilgrims, require a visa to enter Saudi Arabia.  This year Hajj pilgrims are also required to obtain a seasonal flu vaccination with a certificate in their country of origin two weeks prior to applying for a Hajj visa. 

 Trading Standards in Birmingham are working alongside the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH) to raise awareness of tour companies that operate unfair or illegal practices.

 Khalid Pervez, General Secretary of ABH, said: “I welcome the initiative taken by Trading Standards to protect vulnerable, elderly and sick Hajj travellers who have been suffering from extreme exploitation and mental anguish at the hands of rogue tour operators.  It is vital that all Hajj tour and travel operators are made to comply with Package Travel Regulations 1992, which requires them to provide a written contract of the package detailing travel and accommodation to their clients, and that the tour operators must not supply any misleading information to pilgrims regarding travel, accommodation and other arrangements.”

ENDS

 

Note to editors: The Hajj occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar. This date cannot be aligned directly with western calendars but in the early 21st century it occurs roughly between November and January. In 2009, Hajj is expected to fall between 25th and 30th November.

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