Leading Hajj operators in Nigeria have expressed great concerns over the cancellation of Hajj 2020, noting that it has adverse implications on their business activities.
They also called for support from the government in order to bail them out of the complicated situations they find themselves as a result of the development, saying that most of their plans have been shattered.
The Saudi Arabian government announced last week that there would be a restricted Hajj this year due to the raging Coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Saudi authorities, no more than 1,000 nationals of different countries based in the Kingdom would be allowed to partake in the religious rite this year in order to ensure the COVID-19 protocols are followed to the letter.
Observers have equally applauded the Saudi Arabian authorities for this move, saying it was a right step in the right direction.
However, just as intending pilgrims were hurt by the development, Hajj operators have also recounted their losses on all fronts.
Speaking with Muslim News, the Managing Director(MD)/Chief Executive Officer, Hajj Mabrur Ventures Ltd (HMVL), Alhaji Ahmed Solate gave insight into how the decision of Saudi Arabia would have far-reaching consequences for agents in Nigeria.
He said, “There is no doubt about the fact that the cancellation of international pilgrimage by Saudi Arabia has a sort of negative effect on travel agencies. One thing we need to realize in this job is that pandemics can cause a lot of things. For this, a pragmatic agent would have seen the handwriting on the wall that it is not feasible for Hajj2020 to hold, and per chance, they would have been putting some things in place.
“On the effects. One, many of the Hajj agents would have deemed it fit to provide convenient accommodations for their pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, which already they would have deposited money for. Also, Hajj agents understand that one of the service providers/suppliers that is very key in the issue of Hajj is the airlines and would have made moves already to secure seats for their clients. Automatically, those two segments would have consumed parts of the payment of the clients.
The Hajj Mabrur head also raised concerns about the recent rise in the exchange rate of the dollar occasioned by the fluctuations in the forex market, noting that in retrieving funds incurred on services, Hajj operators would likely be at a loss because of the devaluation of naira.
“Mind you, another big straw that broke the camel’s back is the increased cost of forex occasioned by the steep rise in the exchange rate of the dollar. So, whatever you have put in place when you started, you would have seen that whether you like it or not, it would not be of a favourable cost benefit when you are trying to retrieve the funds in the devalued naira.
He also said that Hajj agents must have also been ready to face the reality on ground if they have studied the trend, alluding to how provisions have been made at Hajj Mabrur to tackle the situation after understanding that the 2020 Hajj was not feasible.
“Pragmatically however, an Hajj agent that understands the rudiments would have studied the trend and realized that there would be an adverse effect. What we did at Hajj Mabrur is that before the announcement by the authorities in Saudi Arabia, we deemed it fit to realize the effects. We already contacted all our clients, telling that Hajj 2020 is not feasible.
“For that, we have already engaged them, and we keep on engaging them to let them know that it is not out of it for one to suspend the Islamic rite at this particular period. All we can do is to keep them intact for next year.
Alhaji Solate also prescribed that the government looks into the issue of subsidizing the cost of purchasing forex for Hajj operators to get official rate for their clients, saying it is by this palliative that the best interest of the pilgrims could be served.
“Now to the thing I feel the government can do to assist the operators. It is important that we realize that the blame is not on the government. They are trying their best based on their limited ability to nip the challenge in the bud. NAHCON also kept us updated, and at the final conclusion sent us a release that cleared the air on Hajj 2020.
“The onus is now on all agents to think of the best way to relate with their clients. For government, the issue of exchange rate for forex is one of the areas they should see to so that moving forward, we’ll be able to have an official rate favourable to our clients. If this is done, we believe it will be in the best interest of pilgrims,” he added
Also speaking with Muslim News, the Chairman of New Crescent International Travels, Alhaji Sulaiman Ogunmuyiwa expressed concerns about the restriction on the 2020 Hajj, adding however that it was a good decision in order to save lives.
According to him, “Majority of us are not happy about the development, but at the same time, we believe it was the right decision to take, because the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much around and saving the lives of pilgrims is very important while in the holy land”.
Alhaji Ogunmuyiwa also disclosed that apart from the spiritual rites and benefits that come with Hajj, it is also an avenue for business activities.
“The Muslim faithful will lose the opportunity to fulfill their spiritual rites as done every year. Beyond the spiritual aspect of hajj, the yearly spiritual exercise provides millions of business opportunities and significantly boosts many business activities”.
Speaking further, he stated how Hajj operators had incurred advance cost/expenses on services due to the religious rite, saying that it would be difficult to get their funds back on time.
“Hajj operators all over the world are worried about their investments. A lot of funds are trapped as some have booked tickets with airlines; did hotel reservations and paid bills to different service providers in Saudi Arabia in advance. Now, all the funds are trapped with them. Many of them have promised to refund, but the issue is, when are we going to get the refund.
“In the aviation sector, many airlines are giving us two options of either to get refund or defer the ticket, which would be made valid for the next one or two years. The airlines are equally cash-trapped, so it is going to take a longer time to get refund from them.”
Alhaji Ogunmuyiwa also prevailed on the government to assist Hajj operators in view of the trying period, saying: “We urge the Federal Government to consider travel agencies for fiscal palliatives to enable the operators restart their businesses.”