sun 17 june 2012
Out of 520 people accredited last Sunday on the second haj list, 328 have accepted their accreditation ahead of the 5pm deadline on Monday. At the same time, a third list with the names of 250 people was published by the South African Haj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) on Friday evening. Speaking to VOC on Saturday evening, Sahuc secretary general Shaheen Essop reported that on the second list 23 people voluntarily cancelled their accreditation, which will be carried over until next year.
“Of the 520 people we accredited last week, 328 accepted the accreditation and chose an operator. By Saturday, 61 had accepted, accreditation, but still have to choose an operator and 108 still have to decide on whether to accept or not. If they fail to do so by the 5pm deadline on Monday, their accreditation will automaticaly be cancelled and they will lose that advantage when they re-register next year,” he explained.
This allowed Sahuc to publish the third list on Friday evening, but those hujjaj have only until Wednesday at 8pm to accept or decline the accreditation. “Thus far the uptake on these two lists has gone faster than on the first list. I think people are starting to realise the urgency of the situation and are not leaving it in abeyance,” Essop said.
Meanwhile, with a haj quota of 2,500 and 33 operators accredited for this year, it was evident from the beginning that it would be a battle for them to obtain a minimum of 45 hajis each. “The latest statistics show that only 11 operators have over 45 hujjaj and are well safe. Among this group, only two operators have over 100 hujjaj. Four operators have between 20 – 40 hujjaj while five operators have between 20 – 30 hujjaj. They might still make it. But there are 12 operators who have under 20 hajis and they are in the danger zone,” the SG said.
This had prompted Sahuc to reach an agreement at a national meeting with operators in Cape Town last weekend whereby operators who fail to make the minimum target will give off their hujjaj to competitors who are selling packages in the same price range. “This was one of they key issues discussed at last week’s meeting and was agreed to because it would mean no real financial disadvantage for those hajis.”
Asked about the price brackets for packages this year, Essop said that SA hujjaj have stuck to the practise by buying mainly in the medium to higher package range. However, operators who have come up with the most innovative approach to market well on a national basis and found a way to offer affordable packages with top quality accommodation, have recorded the highest number of hujjaj this year.
“This shows that people who are becoming more savvy in how they market their services, are winning market share, even from those who have been in the industry for decades. It means that an operator can no longer survive in the industry just because he feels entitled to haj because he has been in the industry so long. Increasingly, hajis are voting with their feet by going to operators that they feel meet their specific needs.”
On a different note, Essop disputed a Saudi Gazette report that stated there was no real crisis in accommodation in Makkah, saying that from the SA experience, there still was a major problem. “For instance, the Jabl Omar project has been delayed because of logistical reasons, such as a lack of cement,” Essop said. This project is intended to build hotels to accommodate 200,000 hujjaj near the Haram and was expected to be nearing completion in the next year.
“As far as South African hujjaj is concerned, for both haj and umrah, most of our hujjaj still stay in hotels in the central area close to the Haram – the precinct of the Hilton, the Zam Zam, Ajihad in the area. They are fine. But those who have booked in the Misfallah area where there is still demolition going on, may be facing problems and the wait for the completion of the Jabl Omar project is not helping.”
He said that this was one of the issues discussed during a recent visit to the Kingdom by SA’s deputy minister of International Affairs and Co-operation. “One of the issues discussed (with Saudi authorities) was the lack of affordable accommodation. There are lots of accommodation available in five star hotels, but not everyone can afford it,” Essop explained.
“So we have seen some operators coming threw with land arrangements – that is the package excluding airfare – that is under R20,000, which is very reasonable. Air fare rates for this year have not yet been released, but you can expect it to hover between R10,000 – R12,000 per person.
While Madina had no accommodation crisis, Essop said the accommodation crisis in Makkah, of necessity impacts, on haj packages. However, operators with long standing relationships with hotels in the Kingdom are able to derive the most benefit based on those relationships by still obtaining five star accommodation, even in Makkah, at fair prices, he said.
“So we have seen some operators coming threw with land arrangements – that is the package which includes accommodation in Makkah, Madina and Azzizia, but excludes airfare – that is under R20,000, which is very reasonable. Air fare rates for this year have not yet been released, but you can expect it to hover between R10,000 – R12,000 per person,” Essop predicted.
“It means in total, prices for this year’s haj look very good, despite the accommodation crisis.” He said some operators have been able to offer a six week stay, including at five star hotels with airfare included, for about R30,000. “We have not seen prices this good in a long while. In fact, that’s about what we paid for a haj package in 2003.” he concluded. VOC (Munadia Karaan)