Warn­ing over bo­gus travel agents

Oldham Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - RUHUBIA AKBOR ruhubia.akbor@men­media.co.uk @Ruhu­bi­aAk­bor

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

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