By Fatima Sanda Usara
That foreign pilgrims would participate in 2022 Hajj is no longer a doubt, Saudi Arabia through its various media outlets has doused that tension. What remains speculative is the form the 2022 Hajj outing would take. Would this year’s pilgrimage to Ka’aba be at full capacity? Would Hajj missions across the would be allowed to negotiate their accommodations, and other Hajj services as it used to be or would Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah allocate lodgings plus other essential services to each participating country? Foreign pilgrims would be having a feel of the 15% VAT increase for the first time this year, do we have enough shock absorbers?
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Anxiety among Hajj managers is palpable following the lowkey manner the Hajj and Umrah authorities in Saudi Arabia are relaying information on 2022 Hajj guide. Customarily, by Ramadan, Memorandum of Understanding between Saudi Arabia and participating countries would have been signed, with all conditions of engagement clear to each. Information on inaugural flights into the Kingdom, Arafat arrangements, and information on other essential arrangements pertaining to the year’s Hajj would have been in the public information domain by now. However, only speculations are today rife regarding these and other plans for the much-anticipated Hajj.
Indicative of one such unease was displayed by Pakistan on Wednesday 23rd March when a Pakistani delegation led by Secretary Religious Affairs Sardar Ajaz Ahmad Khan Jaffar met with Saudi Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr Abdelfattah bin Suleiman Mashat on the sidelines of Conference and Exhibition of Hajj and Umrah Services titled “Transformation toward Innovation” in Jeddah.
Mr. Khan Jaffar urged Saudi Arabia to call for early signing of an agreement for smooth Hajj operation this year. Sardar Ajaz observed that an early agreement would help the Religious Ministry frame the Hajj policy. He stressed that the agreement signing will provide insight into Hajj expenses, quota, SOPs, Road to Makkah Project etc.
Absence of official announcement from the Saudi government on how foreign pilgrims will be allowed to perform Hajj this year has left Hajj missions speculating through Umrah lens to predict which shape 2022 Hajj would take especially with regards to cost. As the Muslim world awaits formal declaration of the 2022 Hajj framework, one may get some idea from last year’s official Hajj packages as categorized by the Saudi government.
Recall that last year, Saudi Arabia allowed only 60,000 pilgrims from among Saudi citizens and residents (iqama holders) to perform the Hajj. Those that qualified to participate in the Hajj paid as follows.
Hospitality Package (camps): SR 12,113 (equivalent to 1,342,726.05 at official exchange rate).
Distinguished Hospitality Package (Camps): SR 14,381 (equivalent to N1,594,133.85 at official exchange rate).
Distinguished Hospitality Package (Towers): SR 16,560 ( N1,835,676 at official exchange rate of N110.85 on 13th March 2022).
The first two Hajj packages include food, transport and accommodation in camps/tents, while the third package includes accommodation in hotels and is inclusive of meals, shuttle services and other amenities.
Also remember that these costs were exclusively charged those domiciled within Saudi Arabia therefore do not include air transport fare, uniforms, luggage charges and other levies peculiar to different regions of the world. If Saudi Arabia decides to use 2021 Hajj template for 2022 holy season, how much would Nigerian intending pilgrims pay as Hajj package?
With Ramadan barely a week away, would Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah allocate accommodation to Hajj Missions or give them a free hand to search for and negotiate services for their pilgrims as practiced prior to the covid-19 era? The latter may be cheaper though but how cheap with the foreign exchange rate going haywire? Covid-19 induced economic downturn is a reality. Cost of aviation fuel has risen. Saudi government recently approved cost of local transport fares, individuals will bear the brunt. Hence, how much would 2022 Hajj fare cost? How prepared are we for an inevitable Hajj fare rise? How many would be pinioned by the extra cost and how many would meet up? This is a deciding factor for how many would make the 2022 Hajj trip from Nigeria and across the world.
For countries already enjoying Hajj savings schemes, it is all well and good because the extra costs would be shouldered by the scheme through its subsidy plan. For countries like Nigeria, it is all jolly that covid-19 restrictions have been wound down, no vaccination is required to travel to the Kingdom, Haramain mosques in Makkah and Madinah are already witnessing influx of worshippers, the coast seems clear, but at what price for a trip to 2022 Hajj?