Warning over bogus travel agents
MUSLIM pilgrims planning to head out on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca are being urged to be on their guard against bogus travel agents.
The warning has been issued by Oldham council after it discovered three travel agents were displaying fake Air Travel Organiser’s License (ATOL) logos during a spot inspection.
A traveller’s rights are better protected if an operator is ATOL-protected.
Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able.
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage that sees millions of Muslims from across the globe travel to the holy city. The council has been working with the Birmingham Trading Standards National Hajj Fraud Project to tackle dodgy practices.
The fake logos were found during visits to seven Oldham businesses.
Inspectors discovered that some of the agents appeared unaware of their obligations to inform travellers of health requirements for entry to Saudi Arabia, such as mandatory meningitis vaccinations. Concerns were also raised that essential information – such has flight itineraries, hotel details and contact numbers for the company’s representatives – were not being given to pilgrims in writing before their trips.
Coun Dave Hibbert, cabinet member for housing, planning and transport, said: “With trips costing thousands of pounds, it’s big business for travel firms. We have found that a lot of the pilgrimages are sold through unprotected agents and without proper documentation, leaving travellers vulnerable to huge financial losses if their hotel bookings are not available or they are stranded abroad.
“When making payments always obtain receipts, and remember if you are paying by cash or banker’s draft you may have difficulty in getting your money back if things go wrong. Always check on the ATOL website to confirm the company is registered.”
All travel agents providing Hajj and Umrah packages need to be accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and registered with the Ministry of Hajj.
If you have any concerns contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0345 04 05 06.
Muslim pilgrims attend prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca