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Haj and umrah dissected

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The South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) needs to reassess its current regulatory system or disband. This was the call made by role-players in the haj and umrah industry at the World Hajj and Umrah Organisers Initiative Forum held at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town at the weekend. South Africa’s perennial challenges on the haj and umrah front sparked vigorous debate from attendees, creating an interesting dialogue between the members of the local travel fraternity. Travel operators from different parts of South Africa came together with one collective sentiment; change in the regulation of haj is in need of change in order for the industry to transform.

But Sahuc’s absence from the conference made it difficult for this debate to be balanced. As the day progressed, during a question-and-answer session, travel operators deliberated over the haj quota, saying Sahuc was not equipped to negotiate with the Saudi government. Many of them felt the South African government needed to mediate on this matter. Later, during a live voting session, it was found that all trust in the haj regulator had been lost.

Well known travel operator, Osman Ahmed from XL Flywell Travel, said he has stopped all operations in haj as a result of the internal issues in the haj and umrah industry.

“Operating in the haj industry is like taking a gamble and I will no longer be a part of that. There is need for immediate change.”

Local travel operators participated in the forum to understand the complex issues which has resulted in a recent influx of complaints from South African pilgrims. With the recent umrah debacle seen locally, participants agreed that the forum came at a crucial time.

The forum, organised by a UK based organisation called Hajj People, offered a platform for the management of the local haj and umrah industry to participate in an initiative aimed at focusing on elements which will enhance the pilgrims’ experience. According to Hajj People chairperson, Mohsin Tutla, what the organisation was able to achieve in one day was more than they had expected.

Key note speakers from various spheres in the industry addressed the attendees, each focusing on important issues in need of intervention.

“There has been this notion that the haj has become more and more commercial. However, haj has evolved. When the demands of haj became more, there were people put in place able to control and manage the haj process. We have to adapt with the change,” Tutla explained.

“We at Hajj People look at three key components – social, commercial and educational. When operating in unison, we will provide a positive change within the haj and umrah industry. The International Peace and College of South Africa (IPSA) focuses on educating Muslims about the haj and umrah, the social aspect is covered by the regulator Sahuc and finally, the commercial is managed by travel operators. By bringing the necessary parties together under one roof, we can then identify where we have gone wrong and what needs to be done now to change.”

Another participant Raki Phillips said he saw a great deal of potential in the young South African Muslim community. Phillips is the area director of sales and marketing for FRHI Hotels and Resorts, one of the main sponsors of the forum. Phillips said the Saudi Arabian company hoped to offer all pilgrims services aimed at making them feel most comfortable as guests in the holy city.

“The South African community is a very important community to the Makkah hotels. We have sponsored this forum to really connect with the South African market and understand what their needs and wants are when they embark on a journey to Makkah,” Phillips explained.

Meanwhile, Tutla expressed his appreciation to the international hotelier for sponsoring the forum. The forum also allowed for a meet and greets session between travel agents and hoteliers.

Tune into Breakfast Beat at 7.10am on Tuesday as Sahuc responds to the concerns raised at the conference. After 4pm on Drivetime on Tuesday, we play the second part of the talks at the forum. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)

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