Home Featured New Hajj system will see Western pilgrims enter an automatic draw for a chance to perform Hajj

New Hajj system will see Western pilgrims enter an automatic draw for a chance to perform Hajj

by Luqmaan Rawat

Johannesburg – With Hajj just a few weeks away, Saudi Arabia has announced new rules for Western countries. Pilgrims from Western countries will now have to book their travels to the Holy Lands through a government website, rather than travel agencies.

This new rule impacts those in Europe, America, and Australia. Pilgrims will have to apply via its Motawif website. They will then be selected by an automatic draw. Sedick Steenkamp, Chairperson of the South African Travel and Hajj Operators Association (SATHOA), expressed his concern of people gaining accreditation through an automatic draw.

“It is really concerning for pilgrims if you do not know where you stand. There are challenges. If you go with your wife, your husband, your mother, your father into a system you don’t know who’s going to be selected, that is a concern. There is a concern of spiritual upliftment and guidance. That is another concern. We feel for our counterparts that have infrastructure there available to assist their businesses. There’s a tremendous impact on everybody and so we have to really see how things plan out as we go along.”

Pilgrims who booked through travel agents must be refunded

Many prospective pilgrims who have already booked through a travel agent in the previous years are looking forward to going for Hajj. Saudi Arabia’s Hajj Ministry has advised pilgrims to request refunds from travel agents. Flights and hotels have to be directly booked with the Saudi government.

Operators and pilgrims will feel the impact of this decision as arrangements are made well in advance for the Hajj season, said Steenkamp.

“You’ve got to have your arrangements in place and as an operator you don’t make arrangements today. You make your arrangements from long ago to ensure that you are able to put the package on the table for prospective pilgrims. This must be causing difficulty as it is at the moment.”

South Africa has to be aware that these changes could come to us as well

Saudi Arabia does not hesitate to implement or change their rules. It is vital for Steenkamp that the South African government is aware of any changes the Saudi Arabian government may impose on us and counter it if it does not benefit us.

“When changes come through the Saudi government they are implemented immediately. We need to be proactive here in this country to make sure that we get our house in order so that if there are changes, we can pull together and deal with it. Ultimately it is in the interest of the pilgrims that we work together.”

Hajj is a spiritual journey. Steenkamp believes pilgrims should not have to worry about what is going on behind the scenes. They should have peace of mind when it comes to booking for Hajj. That can only be accomplished with a competent government who is willing to do the work to provide that comfort to pilgrims.

“We need to deal with the logistics and the pilgrims must deal with the spiritual side. On the operating side we need to ensure that we facilitate a good travel. It’s vitally important that we get the administration right in this country. We’ve got enough time at this point to ensure that we put matters in order here in South Africa.”

Some believe the new system will prove that travel agents have been exploiting people

The new lotto system means packages will have to be bought directly from the Saudi Arabian government. Although these packages have not been released as yet, some believe that they will be cheaper than what travel agents have to offer. However, Steenkamp believes this system will prove to people how undervalued travel agents are and will be a welcome shock to travelers.

“I think that people might be surprised. The system that’s now coming into place might just point out to people the value that agents are bringing to the party. We have been working for a long time in this industry. The system that they are now putting in place might just point out another value that Hajj operators and agents have.”

In the meantime SATHOA are watching to see how the new system operates before commenting on it. There is a fear the system will be introduced throughout the non-Muslim countries. South Africa is listed as a Muslim country but there have been talks to get the Saudi Arabian government to recognise it as a non-Muslim country to allow more people to go for Hajj. Time will tell if the new system proves to beneficial or detrimental for pilgrims in non-Muslim countries.

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