The fear of Allah is very important for anyone undertaking services to the guests of Allah. Allah says in the Quran that Taqwa is the best preparation for Hajj. For those managers, service providers, and pilgrims, the fear of Allah is very important.
Issuance of a visa to pilgrims has its own challenges. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, after 13 years under the tutelage of Al-Hujjaj Travels and Tours, I learned so much from Alhaji Animasaun, who does not compromise the comfort of pilgrims. I had issues with our transportation system, and instead of compromising the comfort of the pilgrims, I had to spend an additional N4 million to ensure the pilgrims were well satisfied with respect to their movements. The Muassasah refused, citing a small number of pilgrims.
Only registered tour operators get allocations from NAHCON. But some of us, because we are Islamic scholars and people know us, begin the hajj services. We call them (foot soldiers, but as a result, we buy from those who have allocation but do not have pilgrims. If you pay money to them and eventually they can’t secure a visa for you to go on Hajj, a refund of your money becomes difficult. But since the registered tour operators have a bond with NAHCON, your money can be refunded. This is a caveat to all intending pilgrims. Also, any tour operator who cannot procure visa or hajj services for pilgrims should also desist from parading himself as such and collecting money for services he cannot render. We also have those who give intending pilgrims fake visas or visiting visas different from Hajj visas.
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Again, experience has shown that scheduled flights for tour operators are better than chartered flights. I have had a couple of experiences from both flights. Chartered flights are wont cause delays and disappointments. The same is true of state pilgrims. So long as they continue with chartered flights, they will always have issues of delay and disappointment. I wish to emphasise that even when we have a national carrier, it is better if pilgrims are put on scheduled flights. The cost may be higher, but the result will be better.
Accommodation is also key. This is most often caused by late preparations, and this is significantly caused by late payments. It is always better that a tour operator places deadlines on payments in order to make realistic preparations for the pilgrims.
The transport, which I mentioned earlier, could also mar all efforts to have a smooth and stress-free hajj exercise for your pilgrims if not well planned. Most of the shortfalls in this area are from the Muassasah. We can only continue to appeal to them to do more in the delivery of service to pilgrims.
Tents is not in the control of the Hajj Mission, and the experience this year is awful. Some people, because of a shortage of space, had to be in the scorching sun for three days. That was terrible. We just hope Saudi Arabia will put up more facilities to serve all pilgrims better. They should also provide more toilet facilities. A situation where people are in line for long hours before gaining access to the toilet is not good for the guests of Allah.
The feeding issue at Muna this year cannot be overemphasized. One of the ways to make pilgrims comfortable is when their stomachs have been satisfied. All stakeholders should wade in with a view to securing better arrangements from the Saudi authorities.
The currency exchange provision for the state pilgrims should also be extended to the tour operators. We always run into hitches in this area. A very solid arrangement should be put in place so that tour operator pilgrims can have their application treated and the dollars handed over to them a week before departure instead of resorting to the black market at the mercy of the operators.
Going on Hajj with pregnancies is wrong, and the officials who allowed that are also culpable. If a pregnancy test is not on the list of medical tests intending pilgrims undergo, then it becomes imperative for stakeholders to include it without delay. Officials also need to fear Allah because some of them may know but closed their eyes to it for whatever reason.