Middle East

The new Mecca pilgrimage booking system leaves tour operators in the cold | Business and Economic News

When foreign Mecca pilgrims return to Mecca after two years of absence, the world’s industry surrounding the annual holy event of the Islamic calendar then faces an uncertain future. The new rules have caused financial and logistic turmoil For many travelers.

Last month, a few weeks before the start of the Mecca pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia launched a new online portal, Motawif. Through this, all pilgrims from Europe, the Americas and Australia must book using the lottery system. This means that long-standing tour operators in those countries may be eliminated even after making a reservation this year.

On average, UK-based travel agencies plan trips for about 20,000 to 25,000 pilgrims each year, many of whom are only informed of the dramatic changes at the same time as the general public. is.

Saudi Arabia’s Mecca Pilgrimage and Umrah Ministry said they have taken steps to make access easier, manage numbers, and combat potential fraud by infamous agents, with automated one-stop shops on visas and flights. Claimed to streamline and protect the accommodation process.

But last week, many British, European and North American Muslims were stuck at the airport, turned their backs on their destinations, last-minute prices soared, and lacked facilities for disabled and elderly pilgrims. If you sue, you need to share your hotel room with strangers.

“The Saudis made a very slow and very quick decision, which definitely influenced us,” said a trip with franchises across the UK specializing in pilgrimage packages to Mecca and Medina. The agency, Mohammad Alifu of the Haji Tour in Manchester, said.

“I’m not questioning the decision, I’m just questioning the length of the warning. We’re about the booking system at the same time as everyone else, even if it’s an approved company. I was only informed, “he told Al Jazeera.

He said he was still involved in helping some of them, even though some of his customers had to be shuffled into the Motawif system. “I had to reserve a wheelchair for the old couple, and people aren’t prepared for it yet to push them.”

“If somehow continue to be part of the Mecca pilgrimage process from Britain, we would be grateful to Saudi Arabia, but we had to act in a hurry.”

British Labor politician Hajj and Umrah’s chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, Yasmine Cresi, said he was in contact with the Saudi government about the ligmalols facing pilgrims from Britain.

She tells Al Jazeera: Consul General of Jeddah. “

Digital age

Seán McLoughlin, a professor of Islamic anthropology at the University of Leeds, says the digital movement has been around for some time. He tells Al Jazeera: “The Motawif system is essentially the third generation of Mecca pilgrimage-related businesses.

“After mass migration from Asian and African countries with large Islamic communities, there were independent travelers in the west since the 1960s. Then in Europe and beyond in the late 1990s and 2000s. We have begun to acquire custom Mecca pilgrimage tour operators. A leap online. ”Since 2006, Mecca pilgrimage visits have only been booked through authorized agents.

McLoughlin has been studying the Mecca pilgrimage experience of British Muslims since the late 1990s and is the author of the report “Mapping the Mecca Pilgrimage Sector in the UK: Transition to Communication and Consensus” (2019). He goes on to say: “Saudi Arabia has been trying to develop forms of religious tourism since the 1990s, but we need to look at what is happening now.

“This move seems to have happened suddenly, but it’s been on the horizon for some time, and many tour operators probably felt it, but probably didn’t know what it would look like. . “

Arif’s main problem with Haji Tours was that his company began taking reservations as soon as Hajj was announced to be reopened. Official channel.

“We have repaid the booking deposit, even if the money was still borrowed from us,” he said, adding that he sold some of his property to help pay the refund. rice field. “Our clients are kind to us and we want to be kind to them, so we have always had good relationships with our partners in Saudi Arabia.

“But you can’t plan a Mecca pilgrimage trip with a sudden notice. It takes time, so we revived the system a few months before COVID, such as the apartments we always use in Mecca and Medina. I’ve been using the same people for over 10 years and I’m ready as soon as I find out that Hajj is back on. “

Global turmoil, uncertainty

Confusion is felt throughout the Mecca pilgrimage tour industry around the world, many are currently facing uncertainty, and in extreme cases, in extreme cases. Potential end of their businessAnd due to careful negotiations with Saudi Arabian authorities, it is in a vulnerable situation.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Licensed Hajj Organisers, a British trade association, said:

“We are KSA [the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] Is a sovereign country and has its own rules and regulations to support its vision of empowering its own people. Our thoughts and prayers are directed at all pilgrims, especially those in non-Islamic countries. “

There is no doubt that Riyadh’s Ministry of Pilgrimage to Mecca is acting in good faith to remove the wrinkles of the Motawif system. However, several people and groups approached by Al Jazeera hesitated to comment and name in case they appeared to be criticizing Saudi officials.

However, McLaughlin observed that the tone had changed a little even a week after the Mecca pilgrimage began. “I think part of the initial silence has turned into a more open debate. I think the operators can push it back a bit, and the Saudis slowly accept what they say.”

New restrictions

The lottery system is designed to keep the number below one million compared to 2019, when 2.5 million Muslims traveled for a pilgrimage to Mecca before the coronavirus pandemic. However, the 2022 plan bans people over the age of 65 and Muslims who have completed the Mecca pilgrimage in the last five years.

This is clearly bad news for older Muslims who have waited and saved a lifetime to perform a Mecca pilgrimage in the fall year, but Arif wants Saudi authorities to learn and adapt from this year’s situation. ..

He states: “Let’s see what feedback we get. This will help the Saudi authorities and our industry understand what the future holds. It is for many Muslims. They want it to be perfect, as they have saved for a lifetime and they will only do it once.

“Part of the problem is that every Muslim who goes to Mecca pilgrimage has a unique need and the online system may not be able to meet it. This is a bespoke service provided by the Mecca pilgrimage tour operator. Is why it became so important. “

In addition to expanding into a personalized high-end Umra tour (a smaller, non-essential, smaller pilgrimage that can be done at any time), McLaughlin said its personal elements could be a blessing to the industry. “One of the many potential futures of Mecca pilgrimage agents may be to sell their skills back to Saudi Arabia.”

Parliamentarian Cresi said the switch to Motawif was too urgent and would have a permanent impact on Britain’s Mecca pilgrimage department. “They were destroyed. In the UK alone, more than 200 talented operators destroyed their livelihoods.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/7/7/a-new-hajj-booking-system-leaves-tour-operators-out-in-the-cold The new Mecca pilgrimage booking system leaves tour operators in the cold | Business and Economic News

Show More
Back to top button