WHAT’S NEW IN THE UMRAH SEASON 1441-2019?
New Umrah Policies, Their Drawbacks, Procedures, Challenges and Solutions!
AssalamoAlikum Wr Wb
Umrah Season 1441/2019 will be remembered as the most difficult year for the Umrah Travel Agents and most expensive for the Umrah Pilgrims because of the New Umrah Polices 1441. Saudi Government has decided to facilitate Umrah Pilgrims and for that they introduced a totally new system of operations which is aimed at serving Umrah Pilgrims in a much better way as compared to the last year where most of the Umrah Pilgrims complained a lot about the services and the handling.
As you know change is not always welcomed so easily, so in this case it is becoming very hectic specially for the Umrah Travel Agents to manage and execute the operations. In the new system, it is required to process entire operations through one window, which are the authorized portals of Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA’s (tripshop.com and umrahme.com etc.), be it a Hotel, Transport or the Umrah Visa. Before processing Umrah Visa, Umrah agent must ensure that the bookings of the Hotels and Transportations are confirmed and paid. Thereafter, system will generate a confirmation number which is known as Booking Reference Number (aka BRN) and then that BRN will be entered in the Umrah Visa portal and that portal will validate and recognize the BRN to proceed. In case you do not have the BRN, then you cannot process Umrah Visa, means Hotel BRN and Transport BRN is mandatory to get Umrah Visa.
Just until last year, issuance of Umrah Visa was not dependent on hoteling and transportation. You could ask your Umrah travel agent to get you Umrah Visa only while you could arrange transportation and hotels on your own easily or through your travel agent at a competitive price. Also, in cases where you had relatives in Makkah or Madinah or anywhere in Saudia, you could stay with them at their residence while just having to arrange air tickets and Umrah visa through your travel agent.
From now onwards, it is mandatory to ensure that your entire package that includes your air ticket, hotel and transportation, is finalized at the time of processing your Umrah Visa. Another alarming thing is that the hotel bookings and transportation charges from the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA’s approved websites are nonrefundable and non-changeable. God forbid, if for any reason you cancel your plan, then your entire amount is lost. This is the reason that most of the travel agents are extremely worried, because in our market there is a trend of not making full payment in advance and people expects Travel Agents to give them some relaxations for making the payments. We have heard that many travel agents have already experienced huge losses because the complications of the new system and unawareness. You may also have to face a situation where your Travel Agent would ask for a full payment at the time of confirmation.
As per new Umrah Policy Umrah Agents has to get the Booking Reference Number (BRN) from the authorized portals of Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA:
- Make confirm hotel booking as per the plan and obtain hotel BRN
- Make confirm transportation booking as per the plan and obtain it’s BRN
- Enter both BRN in the Umrah Visa Portal to obtain Visa
- Travelling will be as per the confirmed plan of the bookings made.
- All bookings will be nonrefundable and non-changeable
Why package is so expensive?
Saudi Government was not charging anything on the Umrah Visa till last year except for the repeat case where they would charge SAR 2000 per person. Now under the new policy they have waived that repeat fees of SAR 2000, which is a very good move, but on the other hand they have introduced new charges of various types. Umrah Visa cost was around Rs 8000 till last year or maximum SAR 200 per person but now Saudi Government is charging SAR 300 per visa regardless of the first visit or repeat case and another government charge of SAR 95 and around SAR 105 for the ground handling makes a total of around SAR 500 per person.
For an Umrah Company, it is now mandatory to make payments or send foreign remittances through banks to their Umrah Operator in Saudia therefore there is an additional cost on account of conversion. It is important to note that at this point in time, not many Umrah Agents have their systems activated due to dozens of complications, therefore here comes the more demand and less supply issue, which has also resulted in additional charges on account of Umrah Visa. In the market, you will see that only Umrah Visa Rates are around SAR 700 to SAR 800 or even more which does not include transportation – it is the price of only Umrah Visa.
As per rules, an Umrah Agent has to make a group of at least 35 Umrah Pilgrims to get the lowest rates for the transportation, failing which, the Umrah Agent will have to pay a higher price for the transportation. This is for those Umrah Pilgrims who are availing bus transport. Minimum cost of bus transportation is SAR 126 if the travel agent manages to form a group of 35 persons at least otherwise per person transportation cost will go higher. Let’s not forget that the transportation cost was built-in the Umrah Visa Cost last year which was just SAR 200 max. Now Umrah Pilgrims have to pay additional charges for their transportation. A bus of 35 seater price is around SAR 4400 out of which Saudi government takes 1400 and the transportation company gets SAR 3000. If an Umrah Agent has a group of 48 persons then he will have to pay additional SAR 126 per person, means in total a bus of 48 seats will cost around SAR 6048. That SAR 126 will be for the round trip.
However, at present the available route for buses are only which is known as the round trip
- Jeddah to Makkah
- Makkah to Madinah
- Madinah to Madinah Airport
As per the routine practice in previous years we had the following routes:
- Jeddah to Makkah
- Makkah to Madinah
- Madinah to Makkah
- Makkah to Jeddah
Please keep in mind that in previous years, we paid SAR 200 only for the visa and complete bus transportation. Now, we will have to pay separately for the visa as well as for the transportation. Moreover, up till now, Umrah pilgrims cannot avail the old routes as mentioned above. Either you land in Jeddah, then go to Makkah, then to Madinah and fly back from Madinah or vice versa. Moreover there is no route option in current system for one-way transport from Jeddah Airport to Makkah hotel or Madinah Airport to Madinah Hotel you have to purchase a complete round trip route.
Those Umrah Agents who are selling packages to the individuals who are not traveling with the group have to bear the cost of Private Transport from Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA’s approved websites which eventually increase the transport expense. Lowest price for a private car is SAR 1400 for 4 persons which make SAR 350 per person for the round trip. Or else the Umrah Agent will purchase a full bus in SAR 4400 and will use its BRN to issue Umrah Visa of at least 35 persons which will cost SAR 126 per person, and then Umrah agent with the help of its transport company will arrange private transport offline to the Umrah Pilgrims. Since the Bus BRN which was used to process the Umrah Visa only will actually not be used on ground, Saudi Government will be collecting SAR 1400 out of it and Transport Company will be getting its share of SAR 3000 for the services which will not be used by anyone just its BRN was used to process Umrah Visa. But then there will be a risk on by passing the system, as in actual the Umrah Pilgrim was booked with Bus transport BRN but traveling on private car.
Now comes the hotel booking, as per the new policy Umrah Agent is bound to purchase hotel from the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA’s approved websites. Unfortunately, very few portals are activated at this point in time which are not updated and does not cover all hotels available in Makkah and Madinah. Most terrible thing is that the rates available in those portals are too high as compared to their actual rates available on other commercial websites like booking.com, agoda.com etc. or even the rates offered directly by the hotel. Customers are complaining to the travel agent for the rates and Umrah Agents are unable to satisfy their clients as the picture customers are looking is totally different. Thus, it is becoming extremely complicated to justify rates because of the limitation in the system.
To address this matter, few Umrah agents took a tricky decision to purchase low price hotels from the portals and simultaneously they purchased good hotels as per the client’s requirements by using conventional methods, i.e. either commercial websites or directly from the hotel or from the local vendors. This practice remained successful for some days but since Saudi government has been trying their best to ensure that the system works as per their plan, they have given warnings to all those travel agents who have been involved in such practice. Since travel agents are bound to follow the instructions of Saudi Government because they have signed a contract/agreement which is backed by a huge amount of guarantee, Saudi Government is entitled to ban any travel agents if that agent is found to be in violation of the prescribed guidelines.
The biggest flow in the new system of Saudi Government is that they have introduced a very few Ministry of Hajj and Umrah KSA’s approved websites like tripshop.com or umrahme.com, which is creating a monopoly. If there were more authorized portals, there would be more competition in terms of prices which would give benefits to the Umrah agents and eventually Umrah Pilgrims would also get benefit out of it. If they really want this system working then they must keep a very close eye on the hotels to stop them from selling via any medium other than the authorized portals – this will have a positive impact. Unfortunately, it is not happening and Umrah agents are compelled to do malpractices to make both ends meet because they don’t have enough bees to kill.
Yesterday, a representative of a very renowned hotel in Makkah and Madinah visited my office. I asked him if he would be able to provide me the BRN of the hotel booking in order for us to use that for obtaining Umrah visa. He wickedly smiled and responded clearly: “bradar yaa get da visa da way everrrybudy is getteeing it and book hotal on low rrrates frrom me.” meaning thereby that I make a low rate hotel booking from the portal just for the sake of fulfilling the formality of obtaining Umrah Visa from the Visa portal and purchase hotel booking from him directly on low rates. Why? Because Saudi Government has also imposed additional taxes on the hotels, and the authorized portals are also charging fees of 7.5% which is why the hotels are also trying to sell their rooms offline where mostly the sale is on cash or take payments through those means which are not regulated. There is another factor of a Huge Guarantee Amount Fees, which is required to be paid by the hotelier to get a hotel enlisted on those authorized portals, which is why many hotels are still not available on those portals.
So the travel agent from round the world are trying somehow to bypass the system to get cheap rates while the Saudi systems are trying their best to ensure that the system is working religiously. Post new policies, this religious traveling has become extremely commercial, very unfortunate though.
How can you get a package in lowest possible price?
Honestly, now you cannot get a cheap or low budget packages, it is out of question. You can say that the people would travel in Rs 65,000 including all services Return Air Ticket, Hotel, Visa and transportation will not be able to visit holy cities in these prices. However, still if you want to avail the lowest possible package then it is recommended to check the market and see which agent is offering Umrah Groups only that agent can offer you somehow reasonable rates comparatively. For those travelers who wish to travel alone not with the groups, are requested to please make your mind for paying relatively higher prices for the services. So, please have faith that it is not the Umrah Agents who are charging too much rather it is actually the newly introduced system which has made Umrah Packages expensive.
We, as Umrah Services provider, are also trying our best to accommodate our valued clients in lowest possible prices and for that we are trying to form groups of similar category packages to ensure a low price packages. For that you can register yourself following below link, provide complete details and also keep flexibility in your travel plan. Our team will make assessment based on the information we receive and will form groups of similar categories avoiding paying extra fees and payments to ensure meeting lowest possible prices. Our team will contact you and finalize your plan by arranging your desired Umrah packages in lowest possible prices.
JOIN UMRAH GROUPS FROM KARACHI
Click on below link to get yourself registered to get a lowest possible price Umrah
We wish and pray that the Saudi government may review their policies and give some relaxation to the people who are not going for partying rather they are going visit holy cities to perform a very religious activity. We also hope that Saudi government would also fix the loop holes in their system which are creating troubles for the Umrah Agents and also review and revisit their policies in order to genuinely earn the title of Khadim-E-Harmain-Sharifain.
CEO & Director
Travocom Pvt Limited (GL No: 3853)