Amid the December umrah debacles and subsequent complaints, the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) has confirmed that the time period for haj complaints officially closed in November. Shaheen Essop, president of Sahuc, told VOC that the haj complaints process had been open since November until the beginning of the holiday period in December.
Essop said they gave returning pilgrims just over a month to respond to Sahuc written complaints about any issues that may have been occured in the Saudi Kingdom in respect of service from either Sahuc’s side or the operator’s side. “I am pleased to inform you that we’ve only received two written complaints countrywide as far as haj is concerned,” added Essop. He highlighted that the complaints received are merely service related complaints where they need to bring the two parties together and discuss certain matters as a result of that.
He explained that the complaints raised no significant alarms. However, he added, that every complaint is one too many as far as Sahuc is concerned and therefore they believe they have to give everybody the right to complain. “The process is currently ongoing as far as obtaining the necessary information and as soon as the various parties are able to get together, we should have an amicable resolve on the complaints,” said Essop, adding that by the end of January the complaints should be resolved.
As for umrah complaints, according to Essop, Sahuc has been communicating with the travel fraternity over the last few years, taking in consideration the manner in which umrah is being dealt with in South Africa. He said that umrah agents who want to be involved in this industry, first need to become IATA travel agents and then get the IATA licensing.
This, he said, happens through a stringent process with a significant cost associated with the licensing process. After that, they are required to do their company verification and register directly with the Saudi Ministry of Haj. He said it is this that entitles operators to share memorandi of association with a foreign agent who is based in Saudi Arabia that will take care of the necessary bookings in the Kingdom. “Be it land arrangements, travel arrangements on the ground as well as any other arrangements.”
It is only these agencies who are allowed to act or offer services to pilgrims. “It is unfortunate that none accredited agents and fly by night operators come into the equation where they find themselves able to convince some registered agents to get the visa’s processed and they then go out and do the necessary accommodation and various other aspects,” added Essop.
This, he said, is the reason that packages fall short of expectations. He added that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in the sector to regulate the industry and to protect the pilgrim. As for the current umrah saga, Essop could not comment as the matter is still being heard in the high court and is therefore sub judice. VOC (Imogen Vollehoven)