Haj and Umrah packages have become dearer during pandemic
With COVID-19 putting the squeeze on travel and hospitality sectors for nearly two years now, private operators of Islamic pilgrimage tours in the city are facing a tough season.
As per the Islamic lunar calendar, the annual Haj pilgrimage to the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia is expected to start in July. Haj is considered to be one of the five basic tenets of Islam and mandatory for Muslims at least once in their lifetime to be undertaken in the month of Dhul Hijjah.
The Umrah, or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, on the other hand, can be performed through the year and for any number of times.
The Centre digitised the application and selection of prospective pilgrims since November last through the portal of the Haj Committee of India that functions under the Ministry of Minority Affairs. The deadline for online application is January 31.
Among the new norms for Haj 2022, besides compulsory double dose vaccination and age limit, is the reduction of Indian embarkation points from 21 to 10 cities. Significantly, Chennai has been left out from the list, which could entail an extra trip to points such as Kochi or Bengaluru for pilgrims from Tamil Nadu.
“Demand for Haj tours will be limited this year because the application process has shifted online. The government’s 40-day package tour costs around ₹3,70,000. But even then, I feel around 90% of pilgrims from Tamil Nadu will find it difficult to perform Haj this year due to the high cost,” K.M.K Habeebur Rahman, proprietor of Ar-Rahman Haj Service, told The Hindu.
Private tour companies in the State will know whether they will be allowed to cater to Haj traffic by March. However, even the demand for Umrah has been dull due to the economic slowdown, said travel executives in the city.
“Before lockdown, we were offering 15-day Umrah packages at ₹60,000, and sending 50-80 pilgrims per month. Now we have zero bookings because the same packages cost upwards of ₹1,15,000 this year,” Mr. Rahman said.
Since the travel is not leisure-oriented, many pilgrimage companies have downed shutters during lockdown. “We had customers for a brief while when the flights resumed, but with the new lockdown this year, this business too has gone. I have closed my office and sent my staff away,” said a travel company owner in Tiruchi.
“It has been 22 months since this sector was fully functional. Earlier there was no age limit, but this time people below 18 and above 65 years of age will not be eligible. We are planning to send our first batch of Umrah pilgrims in March,” said Badrudeen Ahmed, of Dolphin Air Services.
Mr. Ahmed says prices could stabilise later this year. “Most of the inflation has been due to high air ticket prices. A round trip to Saudi Arabia used to cost around ₹30,000. It has gone up to ₹60,000 in the past two years. We are expecting the fares to come down once air travel opens up. This will automatically bring other costs down too.”