Umrah pilgrims can reschedule at no extra costs, government promises

first_imgThe government has promised thousands of Indonesian Muslims, whose planned pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia have been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, to reschedule their trips at no extra costs.An average 1,500 Indonesians go on the offseason pilgrimage, the umrah, each day. On Friday, the Saudi kingdom put Indonesia on a list of countries whose citizens are barred from visiting the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina amid the rapid spread of the 2019-nCoV virus around the world.The sudden decision left thousands of Indonesians stranded, some on their way to Saudi Arabia, others checked in at airports, and yet others after already arriving there. Thousands more who have booked and paid for their trips now face uncertainty, as the kingdom has not stated any timeframe for the travel ban on the two cities. Rather than offering refunds, umrah tour operators promised their clients to reschedule the trips. Saudi Airlines, one of the carriers that serves Indonesian pilgrims, has promised to refund their tickets in full.The Saudi decision is hurting tour operators that have tapped into the lucrative umrah business. The Religious Affairs Ministry, which oversees the operators, has asked them to absorb the financial losses rather than passing them on to the clients.Rescheduling trips rather than returning the money would allow operators to keep the cash to help them through the slump during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Association of Indonesia Haj and Umrah Organizations (Amphuri).Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said on Monday that the government had struck a deal with Saudi Arabia that would allow the pilgrims to reapply for their visas at no additional cost when the temporary ban is lifted. As soon as the Saudis gave the notice on Friday, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy met on Friday with representatives of the Transportation Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry, airlines and umrah and haj organizer associations.“Both tour operators and airlines agreed they would not charge pilgrims any additional fees,” Fachrul told reporters on Monday. He did not specify the airlines.Many local and international carriers profit from the growing number of Indonesian umrah pilgrims. Besides Indonesian flag carrier Garuda Indonesia, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Air, Oman Air, Singapore Airlines, Thai International, Malaysian Airlines and Turkish Airlines fly Indonesian pilgrims each day.Association of Indonesia Haj and Umrah Organizations (Amphuri) secretary-general Firman M. Nur said hotels and caterers in Saudi Arabia had agreed on rescheduling the arrangements at no additional cost.“Our association can accept Saudi policies to put the safety of pilgrims first, because the coronavirus is very dangerous and spreading rapidly,” Firman said.He acknowledged the umrah operators would be severely hurt if the ban went on indefinitely.Operators sent around 1,500 pilgrims on the umrah every day, or 45,000 a month, Firman said. “If we calculate the most affordable umrah package, which costs around Rp 20 million (US$1,400), operators could lose Rp 2 trillion every month,” he said.Saudi Arabia welcomes nearly 7 million umrah pilgrims every year. Indonesia sent the second-largest number of umrah pilgrims last year with 443,879 arrivals, according to the Saudi Haj and Umrah Ministry. In first place was Pakistan with more than 770,000 pilgrims.Even assuming the ban was lifted at the end of this month, it is unlikely that operators could send pilgrims whose trips have been rescheduled so soon. Between April and August, all hotels are likely to be fully booked, as it is the peak period between Ramadan and the haj session.Saudi Arabia welcomes around 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world during the haj season. Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world is given the highest quota, 230,000 pilgrims.“We sincerely pray and hope that this coronavirus can be eliminated and the disease can be cured soon, so that economic activity and people’s worship to the holy land will not be disturbed,” Firman said. (mfp)Topics :last_img

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