Trading Standards at Birmingham City Council are warning Muslim residents to book their Hajj pilgrimages with a reputable travel agent, following a number of complaints from people who have previously performed Hajj.
Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia which every Muslim is expected to perform at least once during their lifetime, if they are physically and financially able.
Complaints to Birmingham City Council have generally included; poor quality accommodation, misleading Information about flights to Saudi Arabia, and flight transfers and meals not being supplied as promised.
To avoid being the victim of a rogue tour operator, the council is recommending that Hajj packages are booked with a high street tour operator, which should be ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) bonded.
This protects the customer's money if the business ceases trading and also ensures that customers are transported back to the UK at no extra cost.
The law requires all tour operators to confirm travel arrangements in writing before travel.
This should include information about visas and vaccinations, the time and destination of flights, where travellers will be staying each night, and whether transport and meals are provided.
Names and addresses of company representatives at the destination should also be included, so that any problems can be sorted out on the spot.
The council also recommends that pilgrims take out travel insurance to protect themselves and their families from paying any additional costs in the event of a crisis.
Councillor Neil Eustace, Chair of the Public Protection Committee, said: “Some unscrupulous tour operators deliberately target the Muslim community, claiming they specialise in organising Hajj. They often don't have an air tours operators licence and are therefore breaking UK law and not providing legal protection for travellers.
“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.”