LKU to be converted as additional licence field for Umrah operations

THE Special Umrah Licence (LKU) which was implemented last year will be converted into an additional services field for outbound tour agencies, carrying similar conditions.

According to the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agent (MATTA) umrah and haj VP Mohd Azri Abdul Razak, the LKU system has been abolished since Sept 1, or the beginning of Hijrah year of 1441 in Islamic calendar.

"It will be replaced by the additional umra h licence field for outbound travel agencies as of the new Islamic year," he said at a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

On the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture website, a new form for the additional licence field and guidelines has been added for tour agencies' usage as of Aug 28.

He said in comparison to LKU, the new system is considered "fair to the association's members".

"We previously had muassassah and non-muassassah members, and the latter are usually the ones that cannot take out a bank guarantee of RM200,000.

"Now they can all work together to get the muassasah status and receive that opportunity, which means more organisations can handle umrah operations," he said.

Andalusia Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd director and legal advisor Ida Riswana Idris (picture) said the move posed little - difference between LKU and the new licence field system as requirements are similar.

"Organisations will still need to be registered with Muslim business owners and insurance, while having the muassassah contract and understand umrah package requirements," she said.

The LKU allowed authorities to monitor the tourism agencies' concerns and also to control scams.

Meanwhile, costs to go for a pilgrimage is likely to increase as Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Haj and Umrah has revised visa fees for the coming umrah season and abolished additional charges imposed on pilgrims who have performed the umrah more than once.

Mohd Azri said the cancellation of additional visa charges is a much awaited resolution to boost Saudi Arabia's efforts to achieve 30 million umrah pilgrims in 2030.

"Visa fee for the umrah season 1441H has been raised from SAR200 to SAR300 an d the earlier charge of SAR2,000 (RM2,250) for those making subsequent umrah has been cancelled," he said.

Azri added that the Haj and Umrah Ministry ha s also formulated new guidelines for umrah operators to adhere to ensure compliance.

"The new guidelines are aimed at strengthening the operations of umrah tour operators to provide greater comfort and convenience, safety and security to millions of pilgrims to Makkah and Madinah.

"MATTA advises umra h pilgrims to be prepared for the cost increase on packages due to the new guidelines implemented on umra h operators by the Haj and Umrah Ministry," he said.

MATTA deputy president Mohd Akil Mohd Yusof also said alongside the increased visa fees, agents offering umra h packages worldwide will have to book hotels and transportation as well as apply for visas via the Saudi's Maqam online application system.

"We are no longer allowed to book directly with any hotel and transport operators," he said.