Hajj tour operators in Nigeria have said that the Saudi Arabia’s decision to scale back this year’s hajj pilgrimage will result in major loss of revenue for them, but many accepted it was necessary as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kingdom, on Tuesday, announced that it was limiting the number of domestic pilgrims attending the hajj to around 1,000 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first year in modern times.
Hajj minister Mohammed Benten told a news briefing that strict health criteria would be used to select eligible pilgrims among citizens and residents. Some 2.5 million pilgrims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim.
Reacting to the Saudi decision, the Association for Hajj & Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) said the restriction of international pilgrims would put its members in a very tight corner because many had made huge financial commitment.
“The Saudi Arabia’s decision on 2020 hajj exercise will cost tour operators an estimated one billion Naira,” AHUON President, Salihu Butu told Daily Trust last night.
“There are lots of taxes and agencies we pay to and to most of them, we pay annually whether hajj or no hajj, plus office rent and staff wages,” he added.
Butu, however, said airlines and service providers had extended ticket validity and hotel reservations to next hajj exercise.
“The good news is that the Airlines had agreed that we can use the ticket for the two next year.
“The service providers in Saudi Arabia also said we can defer the hotel reservations till next hajj.
“We can only have delay in getting back our money but we will not lost them. We can only lost some logistics in between,” he said.
He said some intending pilgrims had agreed to wait till next year, while others had started demanding refund of deposits.
“For those who have demanded for their money, we have started making refunds,” he said.
‘We accept Saudi measures in good faith’
The Managing Director/CEO of the Comerel Travels and Tours Limited, Ustaz Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad, has said that he and his colleagues in the Private tour sector has accepted the decision of the Saudi Arabia Authority on this year’s hajj exercise.
He said with the COVID-19, the world cannot be the same again and that it is a reality that also affected Muslims and the Hajj pilgrimage.
“Whatever may have been lost in this 2020, we have to bear. We believe Allah will replace it for us and even better in 2021.
“So we accept the measures to protect the lives and well-being of pilgrims to the holy land,” Muhammad said.
Former AHOUN president, Alhaji Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed said the implication of the Kingdom’s decision would be very huge.
“Definitely it is going to involve a lot of losses. A number of us have actually committed funds whether for flights, whether for hotel which maybe difficult to get back.
“Of course it’s not may, the airlines are not ready to refund, the hotels are not ready to refund because they also do not have the money even if they wanted because this is a business where it is what you collected from one that you give to the other,” he said.
On the issue of intending pilgrims seeking refund, he advised tour operators especially to sit down their clients and explain the situation of things. He also called for bailout from government especially in handling the issue of refund.
Also speaking, former Amirul Hajj of Lagos State and Chairman of Abdullateef Hajj and Umrah Ventures, Dr. Abdul Hakeem Abdullateef said it was in the best interest of public health to cancel Hajj for international pilgrims.
“Even without COVID-19, we know what pilgrims suffer not to talk of now and the various logistics including the new rules in the aviation industry which affect sitting arrangements in the flights and the resultant increase in air fares and the new narrative of contracting the virus from people who show no symptoms,” he said.
NAHCON lessens operators’ burden
At a meeting with AHOUN leadership yesterday, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said it is returning caution deposits and license fees to tour operators in order to ease refunding 2020 Hajj deposits to their Pilgrims that chooses refund.
AHUON said it welcomed the Commission’s gesture, noting that it would cushion the economic impact of the restriction of international pilgrims from the spiritual exercise.
WHO lauds Saudi Arabia’s decision to host limited Hajj
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it supported Saudi Arabia’s move to hold a limited Hajj this year, saying that putting health first is a choice all countries must make during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, Director-General WHO DrTedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision to allow a very limited number of pilgrims of different nationalities who are currently inside the Kingdom to perform this year’s Hajj. The WHO chief said that the decision was made based on a risk assessment and analysis of different scenarios in accordance with WHO guidance to protect the safety of pilgrims and minimize the risk of transmission.
“WHO supports this decision. We understand that it was not an easy decision to make, and we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who were looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year,” the WHO chief said. “This is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first,” he added.