Umrah agents rush to send pilgrims as Saudi opens up

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / pic by AFP

MALAYSIAN haj agents are scrambling to clear red tape with the Saudi Arabian authorities to ensure they are ready to send pilgrims to Mecca when the next umrah season starts.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently reopened its borders to fully vaccinated people after nearly two year of Covid-19 restrictions that sealed off its borders to pilgrims wanting to visit Islam’s holiest site.

Malaysian Bumiputera Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Harun KC Ahmmu said following the regulation update, agents are booking contracts with their Saudi counterparts.

“From the first of Muharram, which is middle of August, organisations in Malaysia are advised to engage with Saudi companies to get the contract signed and once that is done, then Malaysian companies are ready to manage the umrah group and should be able to update future pilgrims on packages and rates.

“Our hurdle right now is that the borders are not open yet,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said the reasoning behind the signing and preparations is so that as soon as the borders reopen, the pilgrims will be able to straightaway depart from their home country.

“This is to ensure our preparedness when the time is ready. We comply with the rules and guidelines provided by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and once that has been fulfilled, we should be ready to open up (our services),” he said.

As of Aug 12, a total of 73 umrah agencies have been accredited for the organisation of pilgrims for the 1443H season.

He added that companies are not recommended to release any early figures on package rates for the pilgrimage.

“This is because there are two main components to the pricing, one is the accommodation, transport and fees in Saudi Arabia, and the other component is for the fees while in Malaysia.

“The standard operating procedures (SOPs) will have an effect on the final package rate and while we have the set SOPs from Saudi Arabia, we have one part of the rates,” he said.

However, there is currently no clear direction from the government on the quarantine procedure as well as any estimation.

“Due to the nature of the fees in Malaysia right now, we cannot give false estimates to the potential customers yet because it can mislead them.

“Similarly, third parties that intend to endanger customers will misuse the opportunity to scam them as well,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has announced that it would gradually begin receiving umrah requests from abroad for vaccinated individuals from Aug 9, after over a year of not receiving any overseas worshippers due to the pandemic.

The capacity would then be increased from the current 60,000 pilgrims per month to two million per month, while precautionary measures are taken into consideration.

It was reported that the Hajj and Umrah Ministry said domestic and overseas pilgrims will have to include authorised Covid-19 vaccination certificates along with their request for the pilgrimage, while individuals vaccinated with Sinovac will be required to get a booster shot.

In addition, health experts are also advising Muslims who plan to go for their pilgrimage to take the pneumococcal vaccine to avoid serious illness.