LAHORE - Saudi Embassy in Pakistan has started issuing visas for Umrah pilgrims for the year 2012 but they are granting this travel permission only through some specific travel agents, The Nation has learnt.
More than 400 companies are operating to facilitate Umrah pilgrims for performance of their religious obligation, but only two to three travel agencies have been entertained so far by the embassy for the issuance of Umrah visas, a travel agent who sought anonymity said on Sunday.
Sources said that most probably the embassy would start issuance of Umrah visas to Pakistanis by January 20. Saudi government after completion of Haj keeps the visa processing closed for two months for renovation of hotels and renewal of the agreements between hotel owners and travel agents across the world.
“We are waiting for renewal of our IATA certificates to process Umrah Visa because renewed IATA certificate is must for visa processing” said a travel agent. He said that all the IATA certificates are renewed simultaneously.
Another travel agent said that it’s the embassy that decides as to which companies will be selected for Umrah visa operation and the travel agencies with more resources all always in an advantageous position.
Though visa issuance has yet to commence formally, but different airlines operating in Umrah sector have sold their seats to different travel agents against the payment of 25 percent of the total amount. And these travel agents in turn are selling air tickets on even higher prices to the intending pilgrims. A certain travel agent has reportedly sold tickets for even coming four to six months. Most of the Muslims desire to spend twelfth of Rabiul Awal in Madina and every year 2.5 Lac Muslims visit Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah.
A travel agent said that poor people always suffer or have to pay more because of their ignorance and poor planning whereas rich and literate people pay less and enjoy more facilities.
The travel agent said that poor always take decision at eleventh hour to perform Umrah and purchase tickets after long preparation. The rich and literate people on the other hand perform Umrah with well planning and make bookings months before departure which cost them relatively cheaper.
Airlines though declare low fares for pilgrims but travel agents are of the view that all that is just eyewash and no discount is given to passengers. A travel agent claimed that an airline, which issues low fare to its passengers, claims the reclaims the offered discount from the passengers at the time of travel.