From today 4 November until 9 November, 25,000 pilgrims are estimated to head overseas to Saudi Arabia from the UK for Hajj. ABTA is warning all potential Hajj pilgrims about the dangers of booking with unlicensed travel companies, which every year sees individuals paying for travel arrangements that are sub-standard, or not provided at all, resulting in substantial financial losses.
Every year pilgrims pay thousands of pounds to unlicensed traders for flights and accommodation packages which in the UK have to be provided by a company with an Air Travel Organisers License [ATOL]. If companies do not, there is no financial safety net if the trader fails or disappears with the money. In addition if the companies are not members of ABTA, they are not policed by ABTA’s code of conduct which ensures high standards of service and reliability and would help to avoid the issue of customers being provided with substandard travel arrangements.
The City of London Police are so concerned about this problem that they have produced a leaflet for Hajj pilgrims giving sensible advice, but also encouraging victims of fraudulent traders to report the matter to the police. Currently only 10% of victims of Hajj fraud are estimated by the Association of British Hujajj (pilgrims) to report the crime.
Steve Abrahamson ABTA Risk Manager said: “Every year the police and Trading Standards offices have to deal with cases of Hajj pilgrims who have lost substantial amounts of money or arrived in Saudi Arabia to find that their accommodation and other travel arrangements are of a much lower standard than they had paid for. For many Hajj is a once in a lifetime trip and fraudsters don’t just steal pilgrims’ money but the opportunity to fulfil a religious duty.
Whether you are offering a hajj trip or a holiday, the same laws apply and companies must have an ATOL license when selling flights and accommodation as a package or act as an agent for a company that does. Hajj pilgrims should always look for ATOL and ABTA membership when booking. Also we would strongly encourage all victims of fraud or misrepresentation to go to Trading Standards offices or the police so that we can finally put a stop to this unscrupulous and dishonest practice.”
There are currently a number of court cases in Birmingham with defendants accused of purporting to be members of ABTA, ATOL and IATA where this was not necessarily the case. Hujjaj are encouraged to check on www.abta.com or with ATOL on 020 7453 6700 whether the company they are booking with is registered with either organisation.