Derby City Council’s Trading Standards are campaigning to raise awareness to the local Muslim community about avoiding unscrupulous travel operators promoting the Hajj Pilgrimage and what to do if you’ve been left less than satisfied with your trip.
The Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able. The trips often cost anywhere between £3000 and £6000 per person.
Approximately, 25,000 British Muslims will embark on this journey this year and Derby City Trading Standards are warning pilgrims to be on their guard from rogue tour operators.
Trading Standards most commonly receive complaints about the poor quality of hotel rooms, over-crowded rooms, the distance of hotels from the main praying venues, substandard meals, poor arrangements for transfers and visa’s/flight tickets not arriving on time.
There are a number of things people can do to avoid falling victim to these problems including:
- Making sure your tour operator is ATOL (Air Travel Organisers Licensing) protected
- Check that your tour operator is accredited by the Saudi Embassy
- Pay by Credit Card (or a deposit of at least £100 to gain extra protection under the Consumer Credit Act 1974)
- Before the contract is completed you must be given information about any passport and visa requirements, any health requirements, as well as arrangements for getting you back home if your tour operator stops trading.
- You must receive a written copy of the terms of the contract for the trip, confirmation of your booking, details about the itinerary, transport details, and the name and address of a company representative or an appropriate contact for you to use whilst you are on your pilgrimage tour.
- Keep your contract, booking invoices, letters, and all other documents about your pilgrimage tour in a safe place.
- Check exactly what you are paying for and obtain everything in writing before parting with any money
- Consider booking with a company that has been independently recommended by friends or family
- Check whether the company is a member of a reputable trade organisations such as ABTA or AITO
- If you have any special requests make sure they are specifically mentioned on the booking form.
- If something does go wrong make your agent and the Trading Standards team aware as soon as possible and where possible collect evidence or take pictures as proof.
In the UK, anyone who offers for sale pilgrimage tours must comply with the Package Travel Regulations 1992. The Regulations protect pilgrims from disreputable travel organisers. Pilgrims who suffer at the hands of fraudulent tour operators are encouraged to report it to their local trading standards.
Fakir Mohamed Osman, Trading Standards Team Leader, commented:
“Some agents are taking advantage of people’s good nature, who are either unwilling to complain, don’t know how to complain or simply don’t realise that they can.”
In other areas of the UK there have been successful prosecutions taken as a result of complaints received by Trading Standards Services against disreputable Hajj operators.
Councillor Asaf Afzal, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Public Protection said,
“We have produced leaflets and posters to raise awareness among the local Muslim community to be aware of bogus travel operators that might take advantage of people. The visit to the Hajj pilgrimage can be very expensive. We want to ensure that Hajj pilgrims remember the trip for all the right reasons. If for whatever reason, you are unsatisfied, please report it to the Trading Standards team so we can protect other consumers in the future.”
Unhappy residents can contact the Trading Standards team via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 to get advice, share their experiences and report the tour operator.