PETALING JAYA: Travel agencies have urged the government to reconsider its decision to suspend umrah pilgrimages, which were put in place following a high number of Covid-19 cases including the Omicron variant detected among returnees.
Associations representing travel agencies – the Association of Bumiputera Tourism Operators of Malaysia (Bumitra), the Umrah and Hajj Travel Agencies’ Association (Papuh), and the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) – said that the postponement of umrah travel would lead to large financial losses to pilgrims, reported Sinar Harian on Saturday (Jan 1).
Bumitra secretary-general Ab Rahman Mohd Ali reportedly said the decision was made too hastily and creates a big impact on the umrah pilgrims and relevant tourist sectors including a huge loss of money due to cancellations.
“We also request to be given a period of one month to review the existing standard operating procedures (SOP) and monitor those who are performing umrah,” he said in the press conference in Grand Barakah Hotel, Ampang on Saturday.
The associations also requested financial assistance from the government to bear the extra costs – including transportation costs, hotel and airline cancellations – if the government follows through with postponing the umrah.
Also present at the press conference were TH Travel & Services CEO Datuk Ahmad Ruzman Ahmad Razali, Papuh president Datuk Seri Razali Mohd Sham and Matta vice-president Mohd Azri Abd Razak.
Ab Rahman hoped that Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin could meet the associations to discuss the matter for the benefit of all parties.
“We will comply if there are additions to SOP, other than those involving financial matters because the money has reached the people (service providers), and the contract states ‘non-refundable’ so we are unable to do anything else,” he says, adding that pilgrims’ money would be lost.
Earlier on Saturday, Khairy said that umrah pilgrimages for Malaysians will be temporarily suspended from Jan 8, while returning pilgrims would be subject to mandatory quarantine at designated centres from Monday (Jan 3).
Khairy explained the decision was made due to concerns over the Covid-19 Omicron variant and that ticket sales for new umrah pilgrimages would be suspended starting Saturday.
As of Dec 31, 2021, there were a total of 64 confirmed Omicron cases, of which a total of 32 cases, or 50%, were detected among returning Umrah pilgrims.