British regulators say pilgrims travelling to Makkah this year should avoid handing money over to unlicensed travel companies in case they fall victim to fraud.
At least 25,000 people are expected to travel from Britain to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and Umrah this year after the pandemic put the world’s travelling on hold for the last two years.
But the UK's Civil Aviation Authority says some unscrupulous operators could try to take advantage of unsuspecting travellers by sidestepping rules and regulations designed to protect holidaymakers.
The regulator has urged anyone looking to make the pilgrimage to ensure they book through a travel provider with Atol protection.
Atol, or Air Travel Organiser's Licence, is a UK-operated financial protection scheme that safeguards travellers against the financial collapse of package holiday companies. Under British law, all package holidays must covered by this scheme.
Some companies will incorrectly claim to have Atol protection but this can be verified by checking the Atol website.
Some non-UK travel companies offer Hajj travel to UK consumers but these are often not protected by the scheme. Pilgrims are urged to check what financial protection they are entitled to if they do become stranded abroad.
Pilgrims are also encouraged to check if their package includes a visa needed to enter Saudi Arabia and to be wary of hidden costs, including airport, baggage and accommodation fees.
Authorities in the Gulf country will permit one million worshippers to enter Makkah this year, significantly fewer than in the years leading up to the pandemic.
The pilgrimage, which takes place in July, will be limited to vaccinated Muslims aged 65 and under.
Those coming from outside Saudi Arabia, who must apply for Hajj visas, will this year also be required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours of travel.
The Saudi government wants to promote pilgrims' safety "while ensuring that the maximum number of Muslims worldwide can perform the Hajj", it said.
Britain's consulate general Seif Usher this month said he had spoken to authorities in Saudi Arabia about the return of UK pilgrims.
UK regulators' tips for travellers to Hajj
- Check for Atol protection: look for the Atol logo on your travel company's website, brochure or shop front. You can also look for an Atol holder through our ‘Check an Atol’ webpage.
- Research your trip: some companies will incorrectly claim to have Atol protection. Check the company’s name on the online database at www.atol.org
- Check if your package includes a visa: appoint a licensed travel agent and ensure it is arranging a visa as part of your arrangements.
- Watch out for hidden costs: ensure you check airport and accommodation fees, such as baggage allowance and accommodation transfers, to avoid any surprises.
- Check financial protection if booking with non-UK travel companies: there are some non-UK travel companies which offer Hajj travel to UK consumers, but these will often not be Atol-protected. Do your research and check what financial protection they provide.