Saudis and expatriates have criticized the high prices offered by various tour operators to perform hajj.
Musab Abdullah, a 34-year-old Saudi salesman, called a local Haj operator last week to register his name and that of his wife to perform the pilgrimage this year. He thought this year getting a place would be easier as the government cut the number of quota of local pilgrims by half.
However, Abdullah had other things to worry about after calling the Haj operator.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The tour operator told me that it charged SR12,000 a person.”
According to Abdullah, the tour operator did not offer transportation from Jeddah, where he lives, to Makkah.
He said: “I have been told to send my ID and that of my wife along with passport size photos and other medical documents, and then we will be sent the Haj authorization papers to be able to go to Makkah.”
Abdullah said he is still looking for a cheaper Haj operator and if he does not find one he will leave his wife home and try to perform the pilgrimage without any official authorization.
“These companies are taking advantage of our situation. They know we need authorization, but we will just go without it as we have no other choice.”
The grace period for illegal expatriate workers to correct their status has resulted in a shortage of labor that accompany local Haj operators and do cooking, cleaning, and maintenance tasks as part-time jobs, said member of the National Haj Committee Osama Filali.
While previously these workers demanded only SR1,500, this year they demand wages of SR3,000 to SR3,500, said Filali.
He said the increase in workers’ wages as well as food prices has led Haj operators to raise their prices.
Another factor, explained Filali, is the drop of the number of local pilgrims by 50 percent.
The prices, he said, range from SR6,000 to SR15,000 a pilgrim based on the services provided and facilities offered. Filali told Saudi Gazette that Haj operators have been told by the Ministry of Haj to keep prices reasonable.
“We understand all the different factors that result in increasing prices, yet we have urged local Haj operators to set reasonable prices for the public.”
Aiman Al-Saraj, owner of a Haj company, said prices this year will increase only by 25 percent because of the drop in the number of local pilgrims due to ongoing expansion work at the Grand Mosque.
There are 248 Haj tour operators for domestic pilgrims, said Abdul Rahman Al-Nufai, deputy minister of Haj for pilgrim affairs.
Last year, he said, local operators served up to 208,000 pilgrims and this year they will serve over 105,000.
Due to this decrease, the ministry allowed tour operators to close some of their branches. This resulted in the closure of over 300 branches.