KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians have been told not to arrange for an umrah online but instead go through registered travel agencies.
Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Rashidi Hasbullah said prospective pilgrims needed to follow proper procedures.
He was responding to NST’s frontpage story recently on the availability of online DIY umrah, or minor haj, packages soon. Online umrah packages available from March will be a complete airport-to-airport package, which includes visa, transport, hotels, and umrah and “ziarah” tours.
“It will follow the E-Haj format introduced by the Saudi government last year. Just like any online booking, it will be a maximum of nine guests per booking,” a source said.
In December last year, global online travel agent Agoda and Saudi Arabia’s Hajj and Umrah Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding “to help the kingdom reach its goal of 30 million pilgrims by 2030.
“We launched a dedicated site, agoda.com/umrah, giving pilgrims access to more than 1,800 approved accommodation options in Makkah and Madinah, offered at Agoda’s best rates,” Agoda vice-president of Strategic Partnerships and Programmes Damien Pfirsch was quoted as saying.
The source said the E-Umrah service would enable Malaysians to apply for umrah visas on their own. Currently, visas for umrah can be applied only through travel agents with special umrah licences.
Rashidi said he needed to seek clarification on E-Umrah.
However, he urged Malaysians who wanted to perform the umrah to get their visa from a valid travel agency that was registered with the ministry and that was confirmed as a muassasah partner with Saudi Embassy.
“Please do not do a DIY umrah travel plan because you can get caught by the Saudi authorities if you don’t follow procedures,” he said.
“I know we tend to think since it seems easier to do things online, we can bypass the registered travel agencies. But I hope Malaysians will follow the current guidelines and go through proper channels,” he said.
He said this after launching Jelajah Harapan 2019 JB - Dubai motorcycle convoy this morning at Matic.
The convoy of six riders from Johor is led by Sani Abdul Rahman will traverse seven countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Iran, United Arab Emirates and Oman.
On Friday, the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) expressed concern over the introduction of the online umrah service, which it said might not be able to meet pilgrims and customers’ expectations.
It said the mechanism must be carefully studied to safeguard customers’ interests.