Relaxing rules for women under 45 will boost umrah and haj market

The pilgrimage market is seeing growth as more single women under the age of 30 are participating in the tourism and travel industry


THE umrah and haj market was once considered purely for senior citizens but has now grown saturated with more accessibility for younger people.

As more of the millennial generation are participating in the tourism and travel industry, the pilgrimage market also sees growth.

Tradewinds Travel Services Sdn Bhd umrah department head Zulhasymi Hamidon said if governments of both countries could compromise on the rulings for women travellers, it would increase the market size by at least 30%.

“There are many single women under the age of 30 in our population.

“If we could loosen up the constrictions regarding the age and mahram for women, we would have a boosted market,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

Zulhasymi said currently the market is saturated with young women and that they make up most of the market.

“This is something that both governments will have to discuss and decide on,” he said.

The umrah visa states that women and children must be accompanied by their mahram, or next of kin.

Only women aged 45 years or older can go without a mahram, provided they travel with an organised group and submit a “No Objection Certificate” from their relatives.

Last year, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage announced that women aged 25 and above can get a tourist visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

However, the tourist visa is “independent of work, visit, haj and umrah visas”, which means to perform the umrah, a visitor is required to apply for the specified visa.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the number of visa distribution in Malaysia as of May 2019 has hit slightly over 269,000, while among the cheapest pilgrimage packages is tagged at RM5,190.

This equals the local pilgrimage market value to an approximate worth of at least RM1.4 billion.

However, lucrative business is always a hive for scammers where older rural folks often fall victim to.

The travel agency’s GM Mohd Khairy Abdul Rahim said their urban counterparts are more likely to detect such “agencies”.

“Most of us we can tell a fraud agency just by their claim that everything has been ‘sponsored’. We also know how to research for the best agency for ourselves,” he said.

Mohd Khairy said it is best to check the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry’s website as there is a list of agencies which have been granted the Special Umrah Licence.

“Once you choose an agency from the list, there is no room for scam. These licensed agencies only want to operate your pilgrimage, not to take your money away,” he said.

In most fraud cases, potential pilgrims were told that someone would handle their travels as soon as they arrived at the airport, but were left in the dark afterwards.

Other variations include being ghosted by the “agencies” as soon as payments were made.

Earlier this month, a total of 19 individuals suffered losses totalling RM41,800 after being cheated of umrah packages, whereby they were offered a package of only RM2,200 for each person, while the remaining cost of RM5,000 was sponsored by a “Datuk”.

Mohd Khairy hoped that one day, no one would be cheated by these “agencies” ever again.

“It’s supposed to be a holy journey. The act of pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam so of course we want to fulfil it.

“But there will always be wicked people trying to take advantage of the business,” he said.