British Muslims Urged to Refrain from Hajj Bookings Due to Coronavirus Uncertainty30 Apr 2020
The Council of British Hajjis issued a new warning, calling on British Muslims to refrain from making new bookings for Hajj and Umrah. The statement warned that the Hajj and Umrah industry has been hit heavily by the coronavirus outbreak, alongside the global travel industry as a whole, and added that there is no clarity on when Saudi Arabia will allow for pilgrims to return. The organisation issued advice on how to deal with bookings that have already been made, including postponing the bookings to 2021. It also put on a warning about frauds, saying that scammers and fraudsters are attempted to take advantage of the uncertainty.
The statement came as Saudi Arabia prepares to ease the lockdown in some parts of the country. However, Mecca will remain under a 24-hour curfew and there is no news on when the curfew there will be eased.
The Hajj and Umrah industry is experiencing great uncertainty
Like most industries focused on global travel, the Hajj and Umrah industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdowns and the resulting near-total cessation of global travel. In February, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced a suspension of Umrah due to fears of the coronavirus spreading. No end-date for the suspension was given. Meanwhile, the status of Hajj travels remains unclear. The country announced that it is taking all precautions to fight the virus and called on Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the situation before planning the Hajj pilgrimage.
The statement issued by the Council of British Hajjis reflects the Saudi Ministry’s position. It advises British Muslims to hold off making any bookings for Hajj 2020 until further instructions are received from the Saudi authorities. Furthermore, even if Saudi Arabia opens the country for Hajj, travel is likely to remain highly restricted due to the policies placed by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office.
The Council advised those who have made bookings to explore all options with their families, including postponing their bookings for 2021. The Council also advised pilgrims to not rush into making any decisions, as cancellations now may be subject to a cancellation fee, depending on individual contracts but also advised them to not make further payments until things become clear. As with all such contracts, it warned that terms and conditions may apply to withheld fees and that where there is uncertainty, tour operators or independent legal advisors should be contacted. Pilgrims were also advised to check whether the company that the booking has been made with is an Air Travel Organisers License (ATOL) holder and is licensed by the Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah, as ATOL protection means that even if the tour company ceases trade, the money paid by customers is protected.
Beware of scammers and fraudsters
The Council also warned pilgrims in the UK against scammers and fraudsters, adding that many scams are targeting the Hajj and Umrah market due to the urgency and uncertainty around the situation. Fraudsters have been known to contact potential victims over e-mail or phone, offering them refunds for their trip or COVID-19 tests.
Similar warnings were issued by Action Fraud UK which advised anyone wishing to book for 2021 or move their bookings to research the company they chose; ensure that the company is a member of a recognised trade body as well as of ATOL; get everything in writing; and avoid cash payments or direct transfers to personal accounts.
Saudi Arabia prepares to ease lockdowns, but Mecca remains under curfew
These developments come as Saudi Arabian authorities make preparations to partially lift curfews in some parts of the country. In particular, the country is looking to open some retailers and malls and restrict to curfew to daytime only. However, Mecca has, so far, not been included in the easing and will remain under 24-hour curfew until further notice.