‘Umrah scammers will pay’

KUALA LUMPUR: The Tourism and Culture Ministry (Motac) is looking at instituting heavier penalties for religious tour operators who cheat consumers with scam umrah (minor pilgrimage) packages.

Ministry Deputy secretary-general Haslina Abdul Hamid said this after launching the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents’ (MATTA) first B2B Umrah and Muslim Holidays for 2018 at a hotel here yesterday.

Since 2012 till May this year, Haslina said there had been a total of 359 cases of umrah fraud reported to the ministry, with total losses of RM12.4mil.

“We’ve also charged some of these tour operators in court, but it will take time because fraud cases are very complicated.

“It’s not like once you get the tour operator, you can fine them. It also involves a few companies which borrow other company’s name, and passing the licence to other operators and so on,” said Haslina.

She said that currently, the Tourism Industrial Act 1992 only provided for a compound issued to errant tour operators.

The ministry’s Licensing Division Secretary Hanum Amran said the ministry was also taking proactive measures by working with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNKK) and the police.

Other steps include using the local Motac offices to meet with community leaders such as village heads and their committees in rural areas, to inform locals against buying heavily-discounted umrah packages.

The best on offer: Haslina chatting with Sulaiman Abdullah Al Humaidan of Saudi Arabia as MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang looks during the event.

The umrah and haj travel industry in Malaysia is worth about RM2bil, an estimate given that Malaysia sent about 290,000 umrah pilgrims and 30,000 pilgrims to perform the Haj last year.

Umrah packages cost an average of RM6,000 per person, while the Haj costs an average of RM10,000.

MATTA president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said there were 356 licensed travel agencies offering umrah packages, of which 80 held the Special Umrah Licence (LKU) and held muassasah status (accredited agents) with the Saudi Arabian government.

“Seventy-nine of the LKU travel agencies are MATTA members, while 256 members are non-muassasah,” said Tan

The B2B Umrah and Muslim Holidays event was the first of its kind in Malaysia, Tan said, where worldwide, the number of Muslim travellers are estimated to grow to 156 million by 2020.

Nationwide, Tan added, the domestic tourism market has seen growth and cashflow has improved for many local travel vendors with the Goods and Services Tax’s zero-rating.

“We’ll have to see how the Sales and Services Tax will impact travel sales when the government implements it, but I expect it to have minimal impact,” said Tan.

Overall, he added, the Malaysian travel and tour industry was expected to see a conservative 5% growth this year.

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