Saudi Arabia: Hajj packages for UK pilgrims won't be 'Atol' protected
Saudi Arabia has confirmed that its proposed Hajj packages for western pilgrims will not be protected by the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme for British pilgrims hoping to perform the pilgrimage this year.
The Haramain Twitter account, which tweets on behalf of Saudi Arabia's holy sites in Mecca and Medina, confirmed the situation on Wednesday.
"Pilgrims will not be Atol protected as is currently the case for UK pilgrims," the Haramain said.
"If you are successful [in applying to attend Hajj], you will receive an email with more information that will be required in order for you to complete the next stage of the process."
Atol holiday protection covers holiday packages sold by UK travel companies. This protection means that if a UK travel company collapses whilst a consumer is on holiday, the UK government will provide a refund for the trip and arrange accommodation and flights home.
The clarification comes after Saudi Arabia said pilgrims travelling from Australia, North America and Europe will no longer be able to book their Hajj journey through travel agents.
Western pilgrims have been told to register their interest via a Saudi government portal, where they will be randomly selected to attend Hajj by an "automated lottery," or online draw.
Successful candidates will then be directed to three separate packages, which will include flights and accommodation. No confirmation has been made by Saudi Arabia on the price range of these packages or when the results of the draw will be announced.
But a layer of consumer protection has been taken away from prospective British pilgrims with Hajj packages no longer being protected by ATOL.
Sean McLoughlin, a professor of the anthropology of Islam at Leeds University, is the author of Mapping the UK's Hajj Industry and produced the first report on Britain's Muslim pilgrimage industry.
McLoughlin said Atol protection has been the "first line of defence for pilgrims against Hajj fraud where unlicensed vendors did not deliver what is promised".
"The Atol Regulations (2012) provide financial protection for UK consumers, including pilgrims, should their travel package provider go out of business," McLoughlin told Middle East Eye.
"Individuals and groups typically pay out quite large sums of money for their Hajj packages, so this protection gives them peace of mind that their money is safe.
"Hajj organisers selling packages in the UK are required by law to pay a bond to cover the support of any consumers stranded overseas and/or requiring reimbursement for the loss of any part of their package."