Many of you have read about my Hajj experience and without a doubt it was amazing and I have no complaints about Hajj, how can you have a complaint about the Hajj itself when you are the guest of Allah? Having said that, when you pay for a service you have to demand what you pay for and you expect that those from whom you have purchased the service from give you what you have paid for. This is true in secular law and it is equally true in the fiqh (jurisprudence) of trade. People invest a substantial amount of money and an immense amount of emotion to make this trip and those providing the service should not take this lightly.
People are correct when they say that Hajj is not a holiday and people should not consider it as such and people are correct to say that as a hajji you have to put up with hardship and discomfort for Hajj is difficult and physically demanding and things don’t always go to plan. However, this should not be seen as a license for Hajj Tour Operators (HTOs) to take advantage of the situation in order to maximise their profits. Let’s face it, most HTOs are in it to earn money and to make a profit, they are businesses not charities. This is a lucrative business, my guess is that most HTOs earn upwards of £500 per hajji in most cases, if you have 200 hajjis in your group that is a cool £100,000 on a turnover of about £400,000 (if the average is £2000 per haji). Now, no one begrudges a businessman his fair dues, I don’t care if they earn £500 per hajji or £1000 per hajji, what I do have a problem with is cutting corners to maximise profits and this is an activity most HTOs indulge in. The biggest cost for the Hajj is the accommodation since you need between two and four if not five weeks of accommodation depending on which package you take and this is where HTOs can manipulate the situation to their advantage. The trick here is that when they block book a hotel the HTO pays a flat rate but the more people the HTO can squeeze in the more money he makes, the maths is simple. A room costs £50 per night (and I seriously doubt it is that much) and £600 for 14 days. If the HTO can get 5 hajjis in there the affective cost is £10 per hajji per day and £140 for the 14 days. Flight cost is no more than £600 probably cheaper since these are chartered flights and accommodation in Madina is probably no more than £300 at the most for a week. Most HTOs don’t include food or Qurbani.
I knocked up a little spreadsheet to give me an idea of how they save money, this is based on an “economy” package as HTOs like to call it but with some of them you get the same package no matter how much you paid (as was the case in our group).
My spreadsheet is based on 1 to 5 people sharing a room, that’s right 5 people sharing a room, sometimes you get 6 sharing a room. The way it works is that a room that is normally a single occupancy they will get three people in and try and squeeze in a fourth, in a double room they will squeeze from 4 up to 6 people and these rooms are not big by any stretch of the imagination:
|Economies of scale|
|Item||£ per person||2 people||4 people||5 people|
|Accommodation Madina (7 days)||280||140||70||56|
|Accommodation Makkah (14 days)||350||140||87.5||70|
|Price of Trip to hajji||2000||4000||8000||10000|
Ok, I know it is over simplified, I know it is probably inaccurate and I know there are other expenses HTOs have but it is just to give you an idea of the economies of scale these guys are working with. I am overestimating some of the figures particularly the accommodation, since based on my experience the accommodation that my family got (in Makkah) was barely even third world standards and there is no way that it would cost anything more than £15 per night at best (and I am being really generous).
I know that a good deal of effort goes into organising the Hajj trips and there are good HTOs out there but this whole industry needs a good shake up and regulation. There should be some kind of accreditation scheme and some auditing and review of services every few years. Like with most things the bad ones always give the good ones a bad name.
As I said before, so much emotion is invested in Hajj and the HTOs will use emotional blackmail to keep you quiet saying things like “Hajji sabr”, “Hajj is supposed to be difficult”, “Don’t spoil your Hajj by complaining”, “you are not on holiday what do you expect?” and other choice phrases that is designed deflect any challenge to them.
There are two issues here and don’t be fooled by a HTO trying to blur them. Firstly there is the Hajj itself and secondly there is the service you purchase to get you there, the two are not the same, you do not buy a Hajj and the HTO does not sell you a Hajj. The HTO wants you to believe that it is one and the same so they can shirk their duties and obligations towards you under the “Hajj is difficult/these things happen in Hajj” catch all phrase. Don’t be fooled. If they run a business then they should be responsible for the service they provide or fail to provide. Under UK law they are no different to a holiday package tour operator, the service expectation is the same.
If you have been to Hajj whether it is this year or in previous years and you feel you have been dealt a poor service or didn’t get what you paid for, or were placed in accommodation that put your health, well being and safety at risk, then you should make a report to your local trading standards authority.
We spoke to a representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was in Makkah about our predicament and he told us that every year they get 100s of complaints from Hajjis in Saudi but when they return to the UK hardly anyone pursues the matter further and this makes matters worse for future Hajjis because nothing gets done and standards don’t improve.
Interestingly there was a programme aired today on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours Programme about this very issue, they had Gareth Thomas Consumer Minister on who was discuss, ing the problems with rogue operators, you can here today’s programme on the You and Yours micro site on the BBC website.