Airfares for Haj, Umrah are skyrocketing
Ebrahim Hasham Kolsawala, Chairman, All India Haj Umrah Tour Organisers Association, says that the airlines charge exorbitant fares during the peak period for Haj and Umrah. He urges the government to focus on controlling the airfares during this time so
QHow big is the Haj and Umrah market in India?
Haj and Umrah travel in India is a huge market. Nearly 1,35,000 pilgrims have travelled for Haj in the last three years. The yearly Haj quota for India allotted by the Government of Saudi Arabia is 1,70,000 of which 1,25,000 travel through the Haj Committee of India and the rest through private tour operators.
Umrah traffic runs through the year. Last year, more than 1,70,000 pilgrims travelled from India during the eight months of Umrah. In India, the peak season for Umrah is during the Muslim months of Rabiul Awwal (December) and Ramzan (May/June). Also, the school vacation period of April/May and December are peak period for Umrah groups.
QAre there any challenges this sector faces?
The airlines charge exorbitant fares during peak periods. The private tour operators reserve seats as per their quota and their city of departure through the airlines, mostly on scheduled flights but also on chartered and special flights. High fares are fixed because such a large number of pilgrims are confirmed to travel in a stipulated time and period. Nearly 3,50,000 confirmed air travellers in a year is lucrative business for airlines and IATA agents.
QWhich airlines offer services for Haj and Umrah?
Saudi Airline and Air India are the two biggest carriers for Haj pilgrims. Other airlines like Jet Airways, Emirates, Gulf, Etihad and Air Arabia also follow these national carriers. But the biggest profiteers are Air India and Saudi Arabia in the business of Haj.
QHow do you think this matter can be resolved?
The government’s focus should be to control airfares during the peak season. The pilgrims are the target. The agencies/airline takes undue advantage of the demands of peak season and pilgrims are compelled to pay high fares. The normal Umrah fares used to be between ` 20,000 and ` 28,000 but it now ranges between ` 30,000 to ` 40,000. For Haj, it used to be ` 50,000 which now touches ` 65,000 to ` 72,000 on scheduled flights. A point to note is that no group can reserve seats in advance. They can only block them on the condition that they will accept the fares that are declared at that time.
QWhat is the reason behind such high airfares?
The airlines cite negligible occupancy one way for chartered flights and extra flights during Haj. For this they can charge more but not exorbitant fares. The airlines take undue advantage of this and charge the same fares for scheduled flights which is totally unjustified. The government of India has to take steps for controlling the fares on scheduled flights for Haj and Umrah during the peak period. It should also control unregistered tour operators who are cheating pilgrims. Their advertising should be restricted. Only registered recruiting agents should be allowed on the strength of their license number.
Nearly 3,50,000 travellers in a year is lucrative business for airlines and IATA agents
Ebrahim Hasham Kolsawala Chairman, All India Haj Umrah Tour Organisers Association