Compared to previous years, Nigeria has recorded low turnout of pilgrims for this year’s Umrah (lesser Hajj) to Saudi Arabia, checks by Daily Trust on Saturday revealed.
Many Muslims intending to embark on the holy journey have shelved their plans as they could not pay for Umrah packages even after securing visas.
Travel agencies and airline operators have attributed the low patronage to harsh economic situations .
Findings from travel agencies and tour operators involved in Hajj and Umrah services have shown that fewer intending pilgrims have applied to embark on the holy trip this year despite the new favourable visa policy introduced by Saudi Arabia authorities.
The cost of lesser Hajj this year is within the range of N870,000, N900,000 and N950,000 depending on the package, it was learnt. At the Lagos-based Libra Gold Travel And Tours Limited, the company sold Umrah tickets at N900,000 last year. However this year, Standard Umrah package goes for N750,000, while Medium Umrah costs N1,075,000. Ultimate Umrah starts from N2,000,000.
State governments have stopped sponsorship for the pilgrimage, unlike in the past. The states are facing hard times with many of them unable to meet their basic financial obligations like payment of workers’ salaries. A tour operator in Kano, Muhammad Sani Haruna said: “Many people cannot afford the tickets even though visa is less difficult to get now because of the expansion work at the Haram. Also, state governments used to sponsor politicians and their supporters to Hajj or Umrah, but this time around the situation is not the same.”
Managing Director of Halqat International Agency Limited, Mr. Moruf Abidogun said, “Actually because of the economic meltdown that we are facing, it has made the turnout for lesser Hajj very low compared to last year. This is equally applicable to Hajj. I can’t give a figure but this is based on the observation and the random sampling that we have done because I am involved in the business. For instance like in my company, the patronage is very low compared to last year and most of our clients attribute this to lack of money due to the situation of the economy in the country. It is a general thing.”
Also speaking on the matter, CEO of Qiblah International Services Limited, Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed said though he could not give a concrete figure, the patronage has dwindled significantly because of the economic downturn. “The economy is bad and it is affecting everybody. The state of the currency is terrible. The government is doing its best, the problem was not created today, it has been there before and the effort they are making now is a move in the right direction,” he said.
Unlike last year when there was restriction in issuance of visas by the Saudi Arabian authorities, the restriction has been lifted this year while as many visas as possible could be processed by the travel agencies. However, the economic downturn has taken its toll on the industry as people don’t show up for the exercise citing financial challenges.
For instance a particular Umrah and Hajj travel agency was allocated 50 visas last year, as part of measures by the Saudi Arabian government to control number of pilgrims to the holy sites through visa restriction policy. However, the policy has changed this year and there is no limit to the number of visas an agency can process. The snag has therefore been the economic challenge which has brought down the number of candidates able to afford fare for the lesser Hajj.
An official of TAFSAN Travels and Tour, Mr. Moshood Ajijola also confirmed the development saying, “Economic situation has affected the patronage. It is so ironic that while the government of Saudi Arabia has lifted restriction on visas, the economic situation has prevented many people from turning out for the lesser Hajj. A lot of people want to go to Umrah but couldn’t afford it”.
At the Al-Abrar Travels Lagos, Sheik Abdul-Rasaq Ishola said ticket went up because of the fall in naira value to the U.S dollar. However he said, the number of those who have bought tickets to perform the Umrah this year is a lot better than last year. He said though he doesn’t have the statistics, from his travel agency, a lot more people bought tickets to perform Umrah this year more than last year in spite of the economic hardship. He said they don’t charge separately for Visa as the fee charged is a complete package – visa, hotels, air ticket and other logistics.