Stephen Timms, the MP for East Ham, has warned local Muslims to beware of a small number of unscrupulous operators of Hajj trips. According to Mr Timms, the Government is aware of cases in which: pilgrims have been left without flight tickets; the accommodation has been unsuitable; trips have been cancelled at the last moment; and organisers have simply disappeared with the pilgrims’ money.
Mr Timms said: “Newham has a large Muslim population, and I would encourage them to all be on their guard when booking a Hajj trip. The Hajj should be a memorable occasion for Muslims, and I am extremely concerned to hear that some have been cheated out of considerable sums of money by disreputable tour operators. A typical Hajj trip costs around £2,500, so when things go wrong it can have serious implications for the individuals involved.”
In order to reduce the chances of being cheated out of money, Mr Timms advises pilgrims to think through the following points before handing over any money:
Check that the operator holds an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL) and that you receive an ATOL confirmation invoice or receipt. You can check if your operator has an ATOL by visitingwww.atol.org.uk or by telephoning 020 7453 6424.
Do you know the trip organiser, or have they been recommended by others who you know?
Check that they are on the Saudi Embassy’s list of approved operators. If not, they may not be able to provide the necessary visa. http://www.mofa.gov.sa/Detail.asp?InSectionID=45&InNewsItemID=48770
Is the organiser charging a high price for the visa? Visas are issued by the Saudi Embassy for free via approved operators, so be careful if the charge is much more than might cover administration costs.
Is the firm a member of a reputable trade association such as the Association of British Travel Agents or the Association of Independent Tour Operators?
Has the itinerary been agreed in writing before you part with any money?
Make sure you mention any special requests on the booking form.
Keep all documents, including booking invoices and letters, in a safe place.
If any pilgrim is unhappy with their trip they should inform the organiser as soon as they can. If this does not resolve the problems, they should contact their local trading standards office. Details are available fromwww.consumerdirect.gov.uk or from local town halls.