A million Indonesians to perform Umrah this season



JEDDAH/JAKARTA — About a million Indonesians are expected to perform the minor pilgrimage to Makkah during the current Umrah season, according to diplomats and travel industry sources.

Sindi Putri, a ground-handling employee of Global Linsan Mandiri Services at Jakarta airport, told Saudi Gazette that her company served 30,000 Umrah pilgrims so far this season.

Putri said they helped pilgrims complete the immigration process. She said her company cooperates with various travel agencies to ensure a smooth pilgrimage.

According to the Indonesian Consulate General in Jeddah, the number of Umrah pilgrims this year is expected to cross 1 million.

Officials at the consulate said travel agencies brief the pilgrims about the rituals and the do›s and don’ts in Saudi Arabia prior to their departure.

Salamet Subendi was among a group of Umrah pilgrims. The 50-year-old man from West Java is performing Umrah for the first time in his life.

He said he had registered for the nine-day trip in March, but got the opportunity in November.

The average cost for an Umrah trip is SR8,300, Subendi said, adding that he was satisfied with the services so far.

The authorities have set a minimum fee of SR6,300 for Umrah trips in order to combat the black market, which takes money from pilgrims at least a year in advance after enticing them with offers of very low prices.

Harie Madhona, owner of PT Bina Insani Madinah for Haj and Umrah services in Sumatra, said his group had been operating Umrah trips for four years. He started the company based on his own experiences while performing Haj and Umrah.

Madhona thought Haj and Umrah services in Sumatra needed an upgrade. He decided to collect information from Indonesians he met in Saudi Arabia.

His company now cooperates with different companies and government agencies to arrange Umrah trips. He organizes up to six trips each having 45 individuals every year.

Asked about the measures they expect from the Saudi government to ease the Umrah trips, Madhona said, “We need a clear and fair visa policy. The visa policy is often changed abruptly without notifying us.”

He also requested the Saudi government to reconsider the fees imposed on people who travel to perform Umrah pilgrimage more than once.

Pa Kumar, a former government officer and a member of the Indonesian Islamic company Al-Mohamadiya in central Java, is yet another owner of Indonesian Umrah tour group. This year Kumar is coming with seven members of his family to perform Umrah. They are accompanying a group of 70 pilgrims.

Pa Kumar said he visited Saudi Arabia 27 times but started his Umrah operation only five years ago in an attempt to provide high quality services to pilgrims from central Java at competitive prices, which starts from SR6,900 per pilgrim.

Five airline companies, including the national carrier Garuda Indonesia, ferry Umrah pilgrims from the country to Saudi Arabia.

Muhammad Luthfi, general manager of Garuda Indonesia in Saudi Arabia, said the airline operates 33 weekly flights to Jeddah from nine different destinations in Indonesia. He said they operate eight flights a week to Madinah, one from Surabaya and the rest from Jakarta.

Most of the air traffic between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are pilgrims. Luthfi said they wanted to encourage Saudis to use the airline, which offers competitive prices to various destinations.

Luthfi said the airline serves halal food aboard and the cabin crew wears a uniform with a Middle Eastern twist. “In the Gulf-Middle East region, we operate only to Jeddah and Madinah,” he said.

Asked about the composition of the crew, he said, “We use only Indonesian cabin crew because we have sufficient qualified human recourses and we also want to emphasize the Indonesian hospitality.”

Garuda now has a total of 7,000 employees, said Luthfi.