By: Kebba AF Touray
The Office in charge of Gambia Pilgrims’ Affairs (OGPA), convened a press conference on Friday May 25th, to deal with issues regarding the high cost of hajj tickets and different hajj packages, after Government’s decision to liberalize the hajj operation in the country.
Amir of Hajj Ousman Jah, said the conference was to dilate on the different hajj packages and the causes of high cost of tickets.
On the variation in hajj packages, Jah disclosed that the decentralization of hajj under the new dispensation is the lead factor; that this is meant to open doors for interested Gambian players in the sector, to register and be provided with the opportunity of giving their quota in the operations of hajj.
Jah disclosed that this year, six operators have been licensed to take part in the hajj operations and they are Gambia International Airlines (GIA), Banjul Travel Agency (BTA), Continental Travels Agency (CTA), Tivaon Travel Agency (TTA), Orbit Travel Agency (OTA), Travel Express Agency (TEA) and Alpha Travels Gambia Limited (ATG Ltd).
“These are the operators given license by this office, with the firm intention and belief that they will operate as expected of them. Operators may have different services, because packages are determined by the service provided. But all of them have different hotels, locations, service providers and standards. This has contributed to the cost of the different packages immensely,” he said.
On what led to the high cost of hajj packages compared to last year’s, Jah disclosed the main contributing factors as the introduction of the 5% Value Added Tax on all services rendered to pilgrims and the increment of fuel in Saudi Arabia, current standardization of hotels and food, distance between hotel and Kaaba (Haram) and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and the duration of stay in Medina by Gambian pilgrims.
During the question and answer session with journalists, Jah said the packages are D290,000; D280,000; D270,000; D260,000 and D250,000 respectively, with D290,000 as the highest; that the National quota of pilgrims from the Gambia this year, is 1700; that this has been shared among all the operators.
“GIA will uplift 460 pilgrims, Continental Travel 338 pilgrims, Banjul Travels 312 pilgrims, Tivaon 175 pilgrims, Travel express 150 pilgrims, Orbit Travel 100 and Alpha Travels 165 pilgrims. 20 Officials will also travel with the pilgrims. This is the national quota,” said Jah.
On how this has impacted on their operations, Jah responded that payment of hajj packages from overseas coupled with the late registration of new comers with operators and the high cost of the packages, may affect the departure of intending pilgrims.
Mr. Jah thanked urged intending pilgrims to make early complete all registrations.