MAKKAH: The number of Malaysian pilgrims performing the haj through private packages costing between RM26,500 to RM177,000 has seen a steady increase through the years.
Tabung Haji (TH) Haj Package Organiser operations director Mat Admara Alang Azizdin said this year, the number of pilgrims numbered 6,404. Last year, it was 5,021 and 2,300 in 2016.
Some 10,000 people applied to perform the haj via private packages this year, he said.
Malaysia's haj quota has remained 30,200 this year. Malaysian pilgrims under the standard Muassasah package pay RM9,980 each, while TH subsidises another RM12,470.
TH has licensed 20 travel agencies to offer private packages for haj pilgrims this year, including its wholly-owned subsidiary TH Travel and Services Sdn Bhd. The full list is available on TH’s website and is advertised by TH in the media prior to the start of the haj season.
He cautioned those who want to perform the haj through private packages to register with approved travel agencies.
"There are cases of individuals offering people packages costing RM9,200 but promising them RM18,000 when they return from haj. There are cases in Ampang and Melaka. It sounds preposterous but people have fallen for it. Police reports have been lodged."
He said pilgrims under private packages would get extra value-added services compared to those under the Muassasah.
"These include accommodation that’s closer to the Grand Mosque in Makkah, bigger rooms, three buffet meals, and special tents in Mina closer to the jamarat or pillars for the stoning ritual.
"We allow private packages as it gives pilgrims with the means a choice and Bumiputera entrepreneurs an avenue to participate in haj management,” he told the Malaysian media at TH headquarters Abraj Al-Janadriyah.
He said the services provided by the travel agencies were monitored by TH to ensure that they fulfil their promises as advertised.
Pilgrims unhappy with the services offered can lodge a report with TH, and their grouses would be investigated.
"They must do so while still in the Holy Land as it will be difficult for us to check and verify when everyone has already returned to Malaysia.
"We need to verify and cannot just take the word of pilgrims. We had a complaint from one pilgrim who claimed 90 per cent of those in his group suffered food poisoning but we later found that to be untrue."
He said in the past, there were more than 30 companies offering private packages.
"But some of them put more people in rooms than advertised, or the distance from hotels to the Grand Mosque was further than what they claimed.
"We are very serious in checking and will physically measure the distance with a roller to see whether the agencies keep to the promises in their brochures. We have four supervisors in Madinah and nine in Makkah.
“If they have lied, we will not renew their annual licence, and they will never be licensed again,” Mat Admara said.
He said the number of licensed companies has since been trimmed down significantly.
“The ones we have now, I feel, are the good ones. They know the consequences if they don’t meet their promise to the pilgrims,” Mat Admara added.
He said the steep increase in pilgrims opting for private packages could be due to the improved services provided by the licensed travel agencies, as well as their promotional efforts.