VOC once again received calls from a few mu’tamireen and their families who frantically shared their concerns after not receiving any update on their travel arrangements a day before they were expected to depart on umrah. According to a relative of a respective mu’tamireen, who wished to remain anonymous, the family had paid around R26 000 in total, to the said operator. The usual price for umrah travel is around R19 000 to R20 000 per person, depending on the agreed upon package.
The mu’tamireen expected to depart on Monday 29th December 2014, but the weekend before, they were still awaiting plane tickets and information on their accommodation. Fortunately, the families have all left the shores of Cape Town for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, they informed VOC that this was only made possible after a prominent haj and umrah travel agency intervened.
Chairperson of the South African Travel and Haj Operators Association (Sathoa), Sedick Steenkamp warned that prices which are below the market value for umrah travel packages are sure red flags.
“Future mu’tamireen need to ensure that the operators whom they have chosen to go with, especially a third party operator, is registered with the Saudi Embassy. Not only is the operator in SA responsible for you, but the umrah operator in the Kingdom as well,” Steenkamp added.
In addition, Steenkamp advised future mu’tamireen to do thorough investigations into the operators before handing over any money.
“I have said this before and I am going to say this again, mu’tamireen who have made the niyat to embark on an umrah journey are required to begin planning as early in the year as possible. This is not a walk in the park. It is extremely busy in the Kingdom. It is logistically more difficult than haj. From an expectation point of view, you need to ensure that your accommodation and flight is booked early,” Steenkamp added.
He said the umrah package that is sold is market related. Steenkamp urged future mu’tamireen to take this into consideration when making purchases.
“The rand has weakened considerably against the dollar and prices cannot be as low as what I have been seeing in the market. When this happens, mu’tamireen need to understand what they are paying for. When buying a flight ticket ensure that you are purchasing it from a licensed International Air Transport Association(IATA) operator. People tend to buy from too many middle men and when things go wrong, they do not know who to blame,” Steenkamp said.
With this in mind, Steenkamp warned future mu’tamireen to be alert to shady deals and to take the responsibility of ensuring they get the best service from operators when intending to go on umrah; simply by educating themselves on the ins and outs of umrah and hajj travel. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)