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UK: Choosing a Hajj Operator

July 2012  Behalal.org

Over the past 25 years, the Hajj industry in the UK has grown and changed with the increasing demand for a way to fulfil a pillar of the faith. The intention of travelling for Hajj can start many years before one is given the opportunity to visit the holy land, making the journey one of the most sacred and thought-provoking investments one will ever make.

Unfortunately the Hajj industry, principally in the UK, has been tarnished by a host of irregularities from companies out to make a quick buck. It’s a sad situation to find many pilgrims reporting stories of being abandoned, overcharged for services and even not being able to board the flight they were supposed to depart on. There has been a crack-down by Trading Standards, the CAA and ABTA in recent years, as they are aware that a percentage of the 25,000 pilgrims each year are victims of rogue traders.

The stories are endless; however it’s also unfair to taint every Hajj operator out there. The process of organising a Hajj is strenuous and at times demanding for the operator. The processes in Saudi Arabia are not like the UK; they are often unpredictable with little room for negotiation. It’s important that pilgrims are aware of this, and that the good operators are honest and organise the Hajj packages with the intention of providing a fulfilling pilgrimage for their clients.

There are plenty of excellent providers for Hajj in the UK and to help you decide who to travel with, here are some handy guidelines you may wish to consider.

Do your homework

Sounds simple, right? However you’ll be surprised at the number of people who start searching for their Hajj package only a few months before their intended departure. You wouldn’t walk into a car show room and buy the first car you see, or just because someone told you to buy it, so why do this with the most important journey you might ever undertake?

Give yourself a decent amount of time before your departure date (6 months plus) to go through the next steps to ensure you are making the most informed decision you can. If you have no choice but to choose within a couple of months, dedicate a sufficient amount of time to reach your decision.

Check the company details

It’s still surprising how shops suddenly have Hajj packages advertised in their windows just before Ramadan, at the same time selling mobile phone accessories, running an internet café and offering cheap haircuts all under the same roof! There has been an explosion of rogue traders over the past 10 years trying to make some quick money by trying to sell a complex service to a market in demand. Nowadays, it’s easy to verify a company online using the following quick steps:

1.    Are they a UK registered company? If you wish to be discrete checking this, visit Companies House and check their trading name exists

2.    All Hajj Operators have to registered with the Ministry of Hajj who issue the visas required to enter Saudi Arabia for the purpose of pilgrimage. Check on the register for the Ministry of Hajj for their    credentials

3.    Ensure the company is ATOL licensed by checking on the CAA website. We’ll go into more details about this later

 

It also takes some prudence to ascertain the credentials of the company. Do they sound professional? Do they have a website with matching contact details? Do they reply to queries promptly and convincingly?

Asking how long the company has been operating for is also a gauge to test their credentials. The longer a company has been operating, the more experienced they will be. This is important, as organising a Hajj tour is not easy. Operators will need to use their expertise and ideally years of experience to ensure the smooth running of your Hajj trip.

When it comes to making payment, make sure you’re paying into a company account not “Mr so and so’s” private account. It’s a simple way to ensure you’re dealing with a professional outfit and to protect your payment.

ATOL License

One of the most important pre-requisites for a Hajj Operator is their ATOL licence. The Civil Aviation Authority is the governing body who issues an ATOL License to operators, and is compulsory for operators providing flight plus any other travel service.

The license is in place to protect your financial pre-payments in the event the company ceases to operate, or in the worse case scenario, the company disappears with your money. In the event of a company going into administration, the CAA will ensure you are repatriated back to the UK.

To ensure you’re protected, it’s recommended to purchase your Hajj package with flights as you will then be buying a package which will be covered by the operator’s ATOL license. If you purchase the hotel and other ground arrangements on their own, you will have very limited protection.

Finally when you receive your documentation, make sure you are issued with an ATOL receipt with the operator’s ATOL logo clearly shown.

Shop around

With the price of Hajj packages increasing year-on-year due to a host of reasons including airfares, accommodation and private services, the price of packages can seem daunting. Generally, if you pay for a cheap package, don’t expect five star service. What you pay for is what you get.

With that mind, it’s also important not to overpay and be aware of companies potentially hiking up prices. Phone around, find a few packages that are similar in price range and match the similarities and differences of each package. We’ll be covering what to look for in a Hajj package during Ramadan, however look for number of people sharing a room, the use of private versus government transport, the location of tents you will be staying during Mina. 

Recommendations

Travelling with a company where you have a personal recommendation is often one of the best ways to help you choose a provider. Using a family or friend recommendation will provide a sense of ease in choosing a company, in the knowledge they had a fulfilling Hajj.

Even if the recommendation is not 100% positive, find out the negatives and ask the company if these issues have been resolved for this year. A good company will always be looking to provide even better service each year, and will address the issues professionally.

Using the above guidelines, you should be in a more informed position to make a decision on whom to travel with. It’s by no means fool-proof, however by taking some time to research your trip, you will inshaAllah have time to focus on the most important act of fulfilling your rites of Hajj.

 

The above article is provided by Serendipity Tailormade, the halal friendly travel experts. For more information on your next halal friendly holiday to China, Sri Lanka or even Argentina visit www.serendipity.travel

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