- Fake pop-up deals leading to tens of thousands of pounds being lost
- Travellers urged to check for financial protection before booking
- Surge in travel to Mecca as pent-up demand from pandemic may lead to increasing trend in illegal and fake package deals
- A recent court case in London has resulted in an individual pleading guilty for selling Hajj packages without an ATOL.
With a surge in pilgrimages to Mecca following disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, travellers looking to book their Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages are warned against fake deals and unlicensed companies putting their visit at risk.
Over the years people have lost thousands of pounds through fake ‘pop-up’ travel deals that are either not licensed or do not exist, with a recent case in London seeing an individual plead guilty for selling Hajj packages without an ATOL.
In one previous case alone, a Birmingham-based company was ordered to pay £43,000 for misleading customers by wrongly claiming it offered ATOL protection.
Traditionally, around 25,000 British Muslims make the pilgrimage each year. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted travel to the sacred site over the past two years, with Hajj only available for residents inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2021.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has now announced that Hajj 2022 will go ahead between 7-12 July. Umrah pilgrimages are open to international travellers, with Hajj hosting one million pilgrims this year.
The Civil Aviation Authority is urging travellers to check carefully and make sure their pilgrimage is not ruined by booking through a disreputable company or individuals, or those falsely posing as reputable travel agents.
By researching, using a trustworthy and reputable company, and checking for ATOL protection, pilgrims can travel safe in the knowledge that their trip is financially protected.
Anna Bowles, Head of Consumer Enforcement at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said:
“These trips have significant religious meaning, and we want to make sure consumers research who they are planning to book with and that financial protection is in place to avoid disappointment.
“We have seen people lose thousands of pounds in recent years because of scams and fake deals, and with a surge in travel to Mecca, it’s more than important than ever before for people to be vigilant.
“It’s also really important to check that your provider is ATOL protected, despite any recommendation you may receive from friends or family.”
Rashid Mogradia CEO of CBHUK (Council of British Hajjis) said:
“With demand for Hajj 2022 expected to be higher than actual supply, we strongly urge British Muslims intending to perform Hajj to book with a UK based Licensed Hajj Organiser who is directly licensed by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and who holds a valid Air Travel Organisers License (ATOL).
“The organizer should have their own visa quota and pilgrims should get written confirmation that the package they have purchased includes a Hajj visa. In addition, the organizer must issue their customers with an ATOL certificate at the time of booking which will afford them the financial protection in the event the company goes bust.”
Always follow our top five Hajj & Umrah travel tips:
Check for ATOL protection: Look for the ATOL logo on your travel company’s website, brochure or shop front. You can also look for an ATOL holder through our ‘Check an ATOL’ webpage. ATOL protection means that if your travel company goes bust, you’ll get support and financial help.
Research your trip: Some companies will incorrectly claim to have ATOL protection. Check the company’s name on the online database at www.atol.org
Check if your package includes a visa: Appoint a licensed travel agent and ensure that they are arranging a visa as part of your arrangements.
Watch out for hidden costs: Make sure you check the airport and accommodation fees, such as baggage allowance and accommodation transfers, to avoid any surprises.
Check financial protection if booking with non-UK travel companies: There are some non-UK travel companies which offer Hajj travel to UK consumers, but these will often not be ATOL protected. Do your research and check what financial protection they provide.
Visit www.atol.org for more information about ATOL protection and to check for ATOL protection.
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