The Kaaba, Mecca: Tens of thousands of travelers from Australia and Europe fear losing their Hajj travel reservations. Photo / Getty Images, Jasmine Merdan
A new eVisa process for international pilgrims intending to travel to Mecca has been met with frustration with thousands of travelers from Australia, the United States and Europe being left behind.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s new online portal was launched just weeks before the start of the pilgrimage, requiring visitors to apply for visas in an online lottery.
This has caused problems for many travelers and specialist travel agents who have already organized their trip. In previous years, pilgrims wishing to attend have been able to obtain visas from accredited travel agencies, which complain they have been barred by the new automated lottery.
The journey to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia is one of the most sacred rights of the religion. It is a religious journey that all Muslims are encouraged to take at least once in their lifetime.
In previous years, one of Islam’s Hajj attracted 2.5 million visitors from around the world, with a cap on visas allocated for each country during the period.
The travel industry dedicated to arranging trips is worth around $19 billion. It costs between $6,500 and $12,000 for the two-week trip.
Following the pandemic, Saudi Arabia said it would allow up to 1 million visitors to visit Mecca.
To do this, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has opened its portal to visitors from Europe, America and Australia.
A statement from the ministry says it is designed for ease and to “meet the aspirations of honorable pilgrims from these countries” and that visas will be allocated randomly, with priority given to travelers who have not yet embarked on the journey. .
It also added Covid 19 protocols for travellers, who must now provide proof that they are under 65, a negative PCR test result and fully vaccinated status.
The statement also says it aims to use the portal to streamline facilities, help book through accredited agencies and “provide competitive prices for pilgrims from these countries.”
The Hajj is due to take place in just a few weeks on July 7, with many travelers now having to reapply for visas.
Travel agents in Australia and Europe say the move changed the industry overnight.
After delays in being told how many places would be allocated for this year’s pilgrimage, some agencies now fear they will be left out of organizing the trips.
“We’ve been doing Umrah and Hajj for many years, and getting anything from the ministry is very difficult, so how pilgrims are going to get what they need is mind-boggling,” said Yusef, a travel agent. based in London. East eye.
Many Hajj travel agents serving New Zealand are based in Australia and it is unclear whether pilgrims from New Zealand will also need to apply through the official.
The Embassy of Saudi Arabia has been contacted for comment.