‘Why private tour operators deserve better treatment from NAHCON’
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has been urged to urgently attend to the numerous challenges faced by the Private Tour Operators in their mandate to help pilgrims to make a successful spiritual voyage.
The Managing Director, Habdat Xpress Travels Limited, Alhaji Qasim Alabi made the appeal during an interview with The Guardian. Alabi who is also Vice President, Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), Lagos Zone, stressed the importance of providing the best services for the pilgrims as part of the preparation for a hitch free exercise beginning from Nigeria, and later, in Saudi Arabia.
He said: “As tour operators, we face a lot of delay when it comes to issue of processing our visas or even going to Saudi Arabia for pre-hajj inspection and facility procurement. I actually appreciate what NAHCON is doing to ease the affairs of operators, but will equally appreciate if they could attend to us on time the way they attend to states pilgrims.
“For example you will discovered that 90 per cent of pilgrims going with states are already in the holy land. I don’t think anything stops NAHCON from attending to both states and private operators at the same time, since we are all working towards the same mission.
“In most cases, NAHCON would have finished with the states pilgrims before attending to private hajj operators which put us in a very sarcastic situation. We believe that if we are able to put everything in place on time, the anxiety, the tension in the air will not be there.”
He noted that the private operators are finding it extremely difficult to secure Hajj visa for their pilgrims. “Our crew just travelled for pre-hajj last week when the airlifting of states pilgrims is almost over. Really, you cannot do anything unless you have gone for pre hajj and the problem is how do you go about all the rigorous registration in Saudi Arabia within a very short time without being on tension.”
Alabi acknowledged the effort of NAHCON in ensuring private operators are carried along with the hajj preparation.
“In case where there is delay from some tour operators, I don’t think that should affect those that have met the deadline given to them by NAHCON” he said.
He attributed the high cost of Hajj this year to the hike in the exchange rate. “Officially, the exchange rate last year was N197.00 and this year officially it is N305.00, you can imagine the different in terms of exchange rate and the basic fact is that all fees have to paid in Dollar. We appealed to the government to do something about the economy, once the Dollar comes down, the hajj fare will equally come down.”
On how the intending pilgrims were prepared for the spiritual journey, he said, “We had series of seminars for our pilgrims, so that they would be much aware of what is required of them when they actually get to the holy land. In terms of the way they need to behave and as well as things they need to prepare ahead for the pilgrimage, medically, financially and spiritually.”
According to him, Habdat Xpress Travels has secured accommodation facilities close to the Haram in Makkah and Medina for its pilgrims. Accommodation at both places is like five minutes walk to Haram and we also make a great effort to assist our pilgrims to change their money from the bank using the official exchange rate, so that they will not become victims of scammers in the market.”
Alhaji Alabi acknowledged the impact of the economic recession in the country on the turn out of Muslims for 2017 hajj exercise. “Initially, it was very tough, but the situation picked up eventually. We thought people would not respond positively for this year’s hajj and that we might not be able to fill up the quota allocated to us by Hajj Commission, but at the end, we had to request for more seats. As we speak, some people are still making enquiry if they can go with us for this year’s hajj. I equally have two passports with me in my office now, awaiting payment. If they pay, we will carry them along.”
He has strong admonition for the pilgrims as well as his colleagues in the business. “The fear of Allah paramount. In fact, especially for the intending pilgrims, the Quran said they should make provision for the journey, but the best form of preparation is the fear of Allah. It is the first thing they must bear in mind, when there is fear of Allah, all other things will surely fall in place. Also, they must be medically okay by checking their health status, which is very important.
“Anybody going on hajj must equally ensure that he provides the needs of his family. They must leave enough provision for the family they are leaving behind.”
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