Umrah operators outraged over travel ban

by FAYYADH JAAFAR / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE Association of Bumiputera Tourism Operating Cos Malaysia (Bumitra) is disappointed with the travel ban to Saudi Arabia announcement, which was made without consulting with the tourism industry.

President Harun KC Ahmmu said the decision would affect Muslims’ ability to perform their religious duties in Makkah and their finances.

“The cancellation costs, flight delays, hotel charges and visa charges would be passed onto the operators.

“If the umrah visa is delayed or cancelled, then we have to pay for it ourselves. We are worried that renewing the visa will cost us more than what we earn from performing the pilgrimage,” he said at a press conference yesterday.

The cost of quarantine for the returning pilgrims is borne by the pilgrims themselves and is not part of the umrah packages.

“This will cause those who cannot afford it to suffer the financial burden of paying for their National Disaster Management Agency-approved hotels,” he added.

Harun questioned the government’s unfairness towards umrah operators, as visitors to other countries were not given the same treatment.

“It is still a mystery to us why the government has decided to impose such an unjustified measure against umrah operators while travellers returning from London, Paris and other places where the pandemic is skyrocketing, are allowed entry into the country without any restrictions.

“Over the last 18 months, we have had to go through hard times because of the pandemic. When the government announced the reopening of umrah travels, we were relieved, but now they have changed their minds again,” he added.

He said many operators are facing financial difficulties due to the travel ban imposed by the government, and the recent decision to cancel all flights to Saudi Arabia will only worsen the situation.

“Think of the pilgrims who had saved up for years to make this journey to fulfil their religious duty.

“They should not have to suffer, and the government must take detailed consideration before making such decisions,” he added.

Harun also said the association is always open to discussing matters with the government if there is anything that needs to be done to improve the situation and set the proper standard operating procedures to prevent the virus from spreading.

“We do not deny the seriousness of Covid-19. However, the implementation of the measures taken by the government must be fair and just to everyone involved, as it affects both the operators and the pilgrims.

“This closure has caused many umrah operators to close down their operations as they are unable to repay customers’ claims and there is a risk for Saudi Arabia’s muasassah (umrah operators) to not return the payments for hotel bookings, flight tickets, and visa fees,” he added.

He made a few suggestions for the government to help alleviate the problems experienced by pilgrims and umrah operators.

Firstly, the coordination and cooperation between government agencies must be streamlined to help the pilgrims and operators.

Second, the filtering process at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport must prioritise the elderly to avoid congestion at the filtering counter.

Third, decrease the quarantine hotel’s daily charges to RM150 per day for each pilgrim to help reduce their burden as the current cost is too high.

Fourth, the costs borne by the umrah pilgrims due to the delay or cancellation of their visas and flight tickets will only allow tourism agencies to make a booking again and finally, Bumitra requested that the Health Ministry and the Tourism Ministry re-evaluate the implications of this decision.

“Bumitra would like to request a meeting with these ministries as well as the prime minister to give our input on the matter.

“We hope that the government will listen to our concerns and cooperate with us to find solutions that will benefit both the pilgrims and the tourism industry,” he concluded.