Private Hajj and Umrah Tour Operators have expressed mixed feelings over the patronage of Muslim faithful for this year’s Ramadan Umrah (lesser hajj).
For the operators, Ramadan period is usually a period they make brisk business when many Muslims travel to Makkah to perform lesser hajj.
While some who can afford the huge expense spend whole 29 or 30-day fasting period in the holy land, most people prefer to embark on the spiritual journey at the last quarter of the month, a period Muslims are expected to intensify their act of worship, especially the last 10 days.
For the TAFSAN Tours and Travels of the Nasrul-Lahi-L-Fatih Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), there was higher patronage despite the organisation having a promo and regular periods of subscription.
The General Manager/COO of the organisation, Alhaji Ajijola Moshood Bayonle, said there was high patronage of Muslim faithful, for this year’s umrah. According to him, there was a slight increment in the fares and packages compared to last year, which amount to over N1m.
He said that the patronage was not bad even after the expiration of the promo period where umrah pilgrims were given a discount on the amount to pay for the different packages of the organisation.
He said their use of the Emirate Airline for the clients also made patronage higher due to the services being rendered by the airline to the pilgrims.
On his part, the General Manager, Finance and Strategy, Comerel Travel and Tours, Mallam Yusuf Usman, said the patronage was at average but may have been lower if not for the innovations introduced by Saudi Arabia authority to ease visa and other processes.
According to him, the cancellation of biometrics for the application of umrah this year has made applying for visa through the Saudi Arabia portal easier. “The umrah visa can be obtained in 24 hours.
However, the political situation in the country may somehow affect the patronage for the peak period of the last 10 days of Ramadan as many of the politicians may be involved in inauguration activities across the country.
“Some may have gone for the umrah at the earlier days of Ramadan, like the President is doing, and thus may not be part of the peak period of the last 10 days,” Usman said.
Also, the National President of the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), Alhaji Salihu Butu, said the airfare this year is higher, and thus affected the rates for the packages for this year’s Ramadan umrah. Alhaji Butu, who is the Managing Director of Butu Travel and Tours, said the patronage is on an average for his organisation.
“The airfares, especially for the local airlines are higher, thus affected the amount for this year’s packages. However, the processing of visa is easier, especially with the Saudi Arabia portal that made visa processing easier,” he said.
The Managing Director of Travelnet Tours Limited, Mallam Muhammad Hadi Salisu, said his organisation recorded higher patronage this year. He said that the price is higher this year compared to last year’s due to accommodation cost.
When asked if the recent experience of 22-year-old Zainab Aliyu, who was arrested in Saudi after drugs were planted on her had affected the patronage this year, Mallam Salisu said this did not discourage people from traveling.
“In fact this happened to a Reps member few years back ago. This (Miss Aliyu’s) did not affect patronage at all,” he said. For the Hajj Mabrur Ventures Limited, the patronage for this year’s umrah is higher compared to last years’ patronage.
The Sales and Marketing Officer (SMO) of the of the organisation, Mallam Lambo Moshood, said one of the major challenges was the additional charges of 2000 Saudi Riyals being charged on frequent travellers.
“We could have been having higher pilgrims for umrah, but the SR2000 being charged on those that have traveled before is a challenge and this is outside the charges that everyone pays, that is the normal fees for the packages.
“You can imagine a family of five and if they have all gone on umrah before, they must pay additional charges equivalent of about N200, 000. So many may choose to go during the off-peak periods to save costs,” Moshood said.
When contacted, the Head, Public Affairs Division of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Hajiya Fatima Sanda Usara, said the successes being recorded by the operators may not be unconnected with the commission’s stance on professionalism and competency of the operators.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the cheapest of the umrah package among the tour operators was N850, 000 while the highest from the figures available was N3.5m.