This year’s pilgrim package to Mecca fixed at D220, 000 a little above $ 5,000 is among the highest Hajj fees in the region. With the planned cut down in the number of days to be spent in Mecca many were hoping that this year there would be significant reduction in the high-priced hajj package. Spending less days in Mecca should logically translate into more cost savings for both the pilgrims and GIA, the agency responsible for hajj operations. But the fees for this year’s package is exorbitantly high.

Muslims in Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Senegal will pay less than what GIA is demanding from ordinary Gambians pilgrims. Although there are variations in the quality of services offered in some countries through the introduction of VIP services, the price for this year’s Hajj in Senegal has been fixed FCFA 2, 600, 000 about D 182, 000. This is almost D40, 000 less than the asking fees from GIA.  In Ghana the fees are $ 4, 375 (D183, 750) with possibility for rebates. The cost of the air ticket to and from Mecca alone in Senegal is FCFA 1, 100,000 equivalent to D 79, 200. It is incomprehensible to add over D 140, 000 on top of the cost of air ticket for transportation and hotel charges within Saudi Arabia.

Since the Gambia International Airlines (still without an aircraft) were given complete monopoly over hajj operations the fees charged for the annual hajj have always been prohibitively expensive. With the agency’s chronic financial difficulties still of national concern, it is financially imprudent to rely heavily on the revenues from the hajj to service their bank overdrafts and overdue loans. From 2013 to date the fees have increased by 62% (from D130,000 to D220, 000).

Performing the Hajj should not be the exclusivity for the rich and powerful. An increasingly growing number of ordinary people are becoming concerned about not ever meeting one of the fundamental pillars of Islam in their lifetime as the hajj tickets are prohibitively priced beyond their reach. In the absence of competition GIA will continue to control hajj prices and running it for profits without due consideration for affordability and value for money.

The overcrowding in hotels and the general welfare of hundreds of Gambian pilgrims all housed in one single hotel with inadequate toilet facilities have been the subject of serious complaints in the past. Allowing other agencies to operate could ease the burden of overcrowding and movements of pilgrims from Medina to Mecca. it is time to break the monopoly over hajj operations and allow GIA to compete effectively with the few responsible travel agents under strict operational guidelines so that performing the hajj in fulfilment of one of the basic requirements in Islam will not be exclusively for the rich and powerful only. A little competition in the least competitive hajj operations in this country could be useful in making the hajj package affordable in the future.

Written By An Insider

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