Hajj operators in the country and other stakeholders in the tourism industry as well as intending pilgrims lamented the collateral loss suffered as a result of the Saudi ban on international hajj this year. The ban came as measures to contain the spread of the ravaging plague, (Covid-19) world over.
This year, precisely, July 28 to August 4, only 10,000 pilgrims including expatriates in Saudi Arabia will perform hajj. The annual event usually attract over 2.5million Muslims across the globe.
Active tour operators, hajj entrepreneurs and pilgrims who spoke to Vanguard said the development has brought immeasurable loss in their businesses, halting their investments for a whole year.
Lamenting the fate of their investments, they said, they have paid and made hotel reservations for their clients which runs into millions of naira, booked tickets with airlines and paid bills to other service providers in Saudi Arabia in advance, ran media advertisements, paid workers and other overhead cost in anticipation of a profit out of the hajj operations which never came.
They also said that the services already paid for in Saudi Arabia will not be refunded because they are also affected by the plague but will be brought forward to next year’s hajj operation.
Similarly, some intending pilgrims also shared their pains describing it as huge spiritual loss, while hajj workers who lost their jobs bemoaned the devastating effects in their lives as the hajj businesses grind to a halt for a whole year.
It’s immeasurable loss — Alhaji Abdullateef Ekundayo
Alhaji Abdullateef Ekundayo of Al-Firdaus Hajj & Umurah service said private tour operators in the country have lost billions of naira. According to him, money have been spent on advert placement in the media, License fee, Office space, salaries and other over head cost are running into several millions of naira.
“We accept what happened as the will of God. In fact we have lost a lot of money. During the preparation, we have paid some deposits in Saudi Arabia; we have also made tangible commitment to the airlines. Yet, most of the airlines are not ready to return cash; rather they are promising to give us vouchers to use any time after the pandemic. The same with the hoteliers in Saudi Arabia where we have paid for accommodation. They are not willing to return cash. We have also spent so much on logistic which we cannot get back. We have done adverts on radio and on social media but we have talked to our clients and majority of them have decided to register for the 2021 hajj. That is what we are doing now. We are also talking to NAHCON to help us talk to the Federal government to assist us in ameliorating the huge loss.
“In south west alone, the losses are running into billions of naira. A lot of us had earlier paid fully for Ramadan Umurah and we could not go. We also know that businesses in Saudi Arabia especially the hoteliers are grossly affected too, so returning cash becomes difficult. The only thing is that your money is not lost, it is with them and you can use it for the services you paid for next year. The last time some of were estimating the loss of private tour operators in the state alone is running to N250million.
We’ve refunded all our clients—El-Mustaqeem Travels
Alhaji Moshood Kamorudeen of El-Mustaqeem Travels, & Tours, Shaki, Oyo State said: “Our service is a religious act and that is why we are different from the conventional tour operators. So, we believe the pandemic is from Allah and it will return to Allah. The cancellation affected us greatly though because we have never heard that during our time, but we accept it. So the effect is that we don’t have business to do this year, not only that what we have expended on the business this year in terms of license fee, advert on the media, office space payment and its overhead cost are not quantifiable. It is a great loss. We have refunded all the money we collected from people long before now, because I had earlier envisaged it will end up this way. Even all what we collected for Umurah, I have refunded all to my clients.
We can’t quantify loss—Al-Bint Travels, Kano
Alhaji K Hamada of Al-Bint Travels, Kano said: “It has really affected us greatly, but we take it as trial from Allah. We have already refunded money to all our clients. It is a huge loss no doubt, but we know the plague is worldwide, but since there is life we hope for better days.
I really cannot quantify the loss, but it is huge. Some had to cut down number of staff and salaries. Remember these people have families. We know in business, there is no way you can continue to gain all the time, there will be some dark moments, and we have to live up with it. This is how we see it.
It is a great loss here because a Hajj and Umurah service is the main business in the north here. Kano is just like Lagos, they have one of the highest number of Hajj and Umurah service companies in the country. So you can just imagine the loss these businesses must have suffered. It may not be difficult for the state Pilgrims boards to return pilgrim’s money since the state can offer a bail out pending when a new registration starts. This is not the same with Private Tour operators.
“In fact we have been paying salaries and some of us cannot just throw our workers out,
Some had to do 50 per cent cut; some cannot even cope with 50 per cent, so they have to close their office. I told you earlier, we have paid radio station for a whole year but as Muslims we have accepted it and we have to move on. But for us, we will not compromise standards, and our customers even those outside the country know that.
State Pilgrims Boards ready to refund
The Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board has also indicated its readiness to refund any intending pilgrims who desire to be refunded immediately but urged them to defer their hajj plans till next year as registration would commence soon.
According to the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Olanrewaju Elegushi: “no pilgrims would be denied his/her legitimate right to seek refund of the hajj fare already paid. He however advised that it is better for them to leave the money with the government and defer the exercise till 2021 when they would be considered on a first-come, first-served basis; otherwise they would start all over again.
The Kano Pilgrims Welfare Board (KSPWB) has also declared its readiness to refund all monies paid by intending pilgrims for the 2020 Hajj pilgrimage, adding that they are also at liberty to book ahead of the 2021 pilgrimage.
The Executive Secretary of the board, Alhaji Muhammad Abba said, “Intending pilgrims who would want their money refunded would get it and none would lose a kobo.
“Similarly, for those who would be interested to book for the 2021 Hajj could leave their money with the board,” the Executive Secretary, Abba however stated.
The Permanent Secretary and Executive Secretary of the Adamawa State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Malam Salihu Abubakar has said that the Board had fixed August 10 for the commencement of refund of deposits to those intending pilgrims of the aborted 2020 Hajj who requested for it.
Malam Salihu Abubakar in an interactive session with journalists said the Board took the decision after consultations with key stakeholders, including the intending pilgrims, who had made deposit for the Hajj.
He said all those who wish to seek for refund should write to the Executive Secretary through their local government schedule officers, adding that those who would want to roll their deposits until 2021 pilgrimage, could do so, and assured that their deposits were safe with the Board.
The Permanent Secretary and Executive Secretary maintained that those who have started payment but are yet to make full payment of the N1.459 million fare before the cancellation, can complete it if they wished to secure their seats.
Airlines are estimated to lose about N20billion as a result of the cancellation. The carriers for the
2019 hajj (Max Air, Med-View and SkyPower, FlyNas and Sky Prime) airlifted no fewer than 65,000 pilgrims last year at the rate of $1,650 to $1,700. In 2019, they raked in between $107million to $110million. The total cost in naira value last year was put at N39billion
This year, no fewer than seven airlines indicated interest in participating in the airlift of over 65,000 Nigerians that would have been airlifted to 20220 hajj in Saudi Arabia. They included Arik, Med-View Airline, Max Air, Azman Air and Sky Power as well as two Saudi Airlines – FlyNas and Sky Prime.
The plague has forced many countries including Nigeria to shut down airports since March. Even with the gradual re-opening of the aviation industry in the country, the cancellation of the international hajj has taken its toll on the hajj carriers’ businesses.
Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the pilgrimage must do so at least once in a lifetime. The recent cancellation has however not only denied some people the opportunity to make the journey, but has saddened a lot of Nigerian intending pilgrims.
Some of them who spoke to Vanguard said it was a great spiritual loss but they have accepted it in good faith and pray they have the wherewithal to embark on the spiritual exercise next year. Apart from Financial and physical physical fitness are major condition for hajj rites.
Ustaz Abdul Waheed Olowo, a first time intending pilgrims said: “I had hoped and prayed for the opportunity to go on hajj so many years back, when the opportunity came early this year, I was full of joy. But the cancellation was a major blow on me but I thank Allah because nothing would happen except that it is permitted,” he said.
A 76-year-old woman, who according to her story, her four children had pooled resources together for her trip she has long dreamed of. Grandma Awofeso stated that her children had wanted her to go last year to mark her 75th birthday, but the plan was disrupted by an incident that occurred in the family, and hoped to be in Makkah this year. She became emotional saying, Allah knows best, if He spares my life and gives me sound health, I will be there. It is the wish of God, and we cannot query it.
For Saudi Arabia, the implications of the policy are grave, as loss of revenue from Hajj and Umrah are estimated at about $12 billion. Over two million people were expected to visit the holy land for the annual pilgrimage scheduled to take place from July 28 to August 2, 2020. Now, only 10,000 pilgrims including expatriates within Saudi Arabia will be given the opportunity to perform hajj this year. Recall that Umurah was barred few months before Ramadan in its measures to stop the spread of the virus.
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