Hajj pilgrims urged to check before you travel | Oldham Council
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Hibbert,David,councillor,Labour,Chadderton,North Published: Tuesday, 17th February 2015

Oldham Council has found three travel agents were displaying fake Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) logos during a recent snap inspection.

Oldham Council has found three travel agents were displaying fake Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) logos during a recent snap inspection.

The discovery was made during a joint operation between trading standards officers and the Birmingham Trading Standards National Hajj Fraud Project.

They have been working together to ensure a holiday of a lifetime does not turn into a trip to forget.

Each year borough residents are among the many thousands from across the region who travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Makkah and Medina.

Many enjoy a once in a lifetime experience, but recent checks show that if things go wrong travellers may end up losing their money or being stranded abroad.

Trading standards officers and their counterparts from the Midlands recently called at Oldham travel agencies which sell Hajj and Umrah packages to make sure they were able to guarantee that customers and their money would be protected.

Seven businesses were visited, which was when the fake ATOL logos were discovered.

If an operator is ATOL protected then a travellers’ interests are guaranteed if the business ceases trading.

Other concerns raised included essential information, such as flight itineraries, and the hotel details and contact details of the company’s representatives at the destination, were not being given out in writing and prior to departure.

Some agents also appeared unaware of their obligation to inform travellers of health requirements for entry to Saudi Arabia, such as meningitis vaccinations.

All the businesses have received advice and warnings that if they continue to trade in this manner they will be investigated with a view to taking formal action.

Councillor Dave Hibbert, Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning and Transport, said:
“Every Muslim is expected to perform at least one Hajj or Umrah pilgrimage during their lifetime if they are physically and financially able. 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 packages for the Hajj and Umrah, also need to be accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and registered with the Ministry of Hajj, which is responsible for visitors once they have arrived in the kingdom.

Trading Standards advise travellers to ask the following questions before and during booking:

• Is the business approved by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj? Travel agents need to be accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and registered with the Ministry of Hajj, which is responsible for visitors once they have arrived in the kingdom 
• Do they have a Munnazzam Card bearing their licence number?
• Is their business ATOL approved with a valid ATOL licence and number?
• Were you provided with an ATOL certificate when money changed hands?
• Has written confirmation of the cost of the package been provided, with details of itineraries, travel, hotels, and trader contact details?

Any residents with concerns should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0345 04 05 06.

Sajeela Naseer, National Trading Standards Hajj Consumer Protection Lead, said: “Every year British Pilgrims going on the Hajj fall victim to deceptive frauds who offer travel packages that are either misleading or false. Some people who have paid money for five-star accommodation have ended up in cramped shared rooms with strangers while others have bought flights and accommodation without ever hearing from the company again.

“National Trading Standards has responded to these issues by establishing a National Task Group led by Birmingham City Council to help tackle the practice, which has led to a coordinated approach across different local authorities to clamp down on the perpetrators. 

“This has resulted in Trading Standards Officers from Birmingham joining colleagues in Oldham to conduct proactive inspections of Hajj package tour operators, revealing significant non-compliance with consumer protection legislation.  We are now working to ensure appropriate enforcement action is taken.

“Most Pilgrims will have a memorable trip, but we urge you to be vigilant when making your travel and accommodation arrangements: make sure your booking is ATOL-protected and check that your package tour operator is approved by the Ministry of Hajj. Avoid paying for your trip by cash and always make sure itineraries and relevant paperwork are sent to you as part of your booking.”

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