MAKKAH — The National Committee for Haj and Umrah at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned local Umrah performers against falling prey to the tricks of some brokers, mostly expatriates and illegal workers, who claim they could provide accommodation in the central area of the holy city during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
Abdullah Qadi, vice chairman of the committee, said the regulations for organizing services provided to local Umrah performers are still being studied by concerned authorities. It is expected that the regulations will be issued soon to put an end to the negative aspects that damage the reputation of the sector. “To be frank, the service sector of local Umrah performers has negative aspects way more than that of foreign Umrah performers,” he said.
The main problem facing the sector is fake Umrah packages promoted by brokers. Every year hundreds of local Umrah performers arrive in Makkah with no accommodation or place to stay at, because they have been fooled by some brokers who guaranteed them accommodation, took their money and then vanished. It is difficult to find accommodation for the large number of local Umrah performers who arrive in the city in the last 10 days of Ramadan because all hotels are full, Qadi noted.
One of the most difficult problems legitimate Saudi Umrah companies face during Ramadan is that some Umrah performers miss their flights and the company has to arrange for extended accommodation until they find a seat on another flight, which is difficult in the peak days of Ramadan.
“We are certain that all Umrah performers who arrive in the Kingdom from abroad have confirmed return tickets. We have lists of their names and the hotels where they will stay, thanks to contracts sent by emails,” Qadi said. He urged Umrah performers coming from abroad as well as tourist companies overseas to sign a contract delineating the Umrah package details. The committee has discovered many times that tourist companies abroad did not always provide Umrah performers with the services mentioned in the contract.
“The ministry will oblige the local Umrah company to provide the Umrah performer with the proper accommodation. Then the local company will contact the tourist company abroad and request it to pay the accommodation expenses. If the tourist company refuses, the local Umrah company can deduct the amount from the financial guarantee (estimated to be SR100,000) the tourist company deposited in the local company’s account.”
Qadi didn’t rule out the possibility that some local Umrah companies collude with travel agents abroad to change the class of the hotel.
However, this is very rare in light of the strict procedures followed by the ministry to prevent such practices, he said.
There were some cases, but they were not intentional. For example, some new Umrah performers arrive in the Kingdom and find that the hotel where they are supposed to stay is full because pilgrims whose departure has been delayed have not vacated their rooms. The newly-arrived Umrah performers will then be provided with the best available hotel, which may be of a lower class, for a short interval before they will moved to the hotel they were booked into.
Saudi companies will not allow any Umrah performer to overstay his visa because they know that the ministry imposes severe penalties, let alone permit cancellation. The ministry has suspended the licenses of 200 Umrah companies since the new Umrah law was introduced 10 years ago.
Currently, there are 48 Umrah companies in operation. Qadi believes that most Umrah performers overstay their visas in Ramadan because of their keenness to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan in the Grand Mosque of Makkah.