With the historic Hajj 1441 season successfully rolled out despite the COVID19 pandemic, Muslims now await the announcement of the umrah season. However, the South African Travel and Haj Operators Association (Sathoa) chairperson Sedick Steenkamp anticipates that the umrah season can only be expected to commence in three months from now in the month of Rabi-u-Awwal. With social-distancing measures still in place in most countries, there would likely be changes for the umrah visa rules and quotas could be implemented.
“Our agents that we deal with are not back in the office in Saudi Arabia yet. At the moment, we are waiting for the officials to inform us about what happens next,” he said.
Steenkamp added that even if the umrah season does commence around October, whether locals will be able to travel internationally or not is another factor due to the current closure of South Africa’s borders.
“Our government has already said there won’t be any special dispensation for international travel. They would not even allow travel for hajj. So if our borders only open next year, then only will South Africans be able to perform umrah.”
Due to the global restrictions on travel and the hard-hitting effects on the travel sector, the impact on the umrah travel industry has been devastating.
“Every operator has been forced to find an alternative income. There’s been a cutdown on expenses and many staff have been retrenched. People are surviving on Covid-19 loans and UIF. We can only hope that things get better from here, in Sha Allah.”
Compounding the decline in business for operators is the administration of hajj refunds for hujjaj who could not travel for the pilgrimage this year. Many hujjaj have only received 50 percent of their hajj monies, due to a backlog in reimbursements from Saudi hoteliers in the kingdom.
“The process is going. Each operator is in a different position. Right now, we are waiting for the money from Saudi Arabia and the airlines and this will then be distributed. Most of the officials are not back in office, and this is causing the delays.”