A travel agency and tour operator which specialises in Islamic pilgrimages is urging reputable travel businesses to start organising packages in a bid to clean up the trade.


Haj and Umra Travel managing director Dr Ali Jafari-Fini claimed many companies are selling pilgrimage trips without the relevant ATOL or IATA licences.


In December 27,000 UK Muslims undertook the hajj. The five-day annual pilgrimage to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia is expected of every able-bodied Muslim at least once during their lifetime.


Last year as many as 31,000 UK Muslims took the umra, an optional shortened version of the hajj.


However, of the 148 companies advertising the packages to the Islamic community, many take advantage of people’s belief that companies selling organised pilgrimages are unlikely to be dishonest, said Jafari-Fini.


He said: “Customers are not getting good service or a fair deal, as there are lots of different businesses which set up the trips with no knowledge of the travel business. Many are operating without IATA or ATOL licences and many of those that do are overstepping their licensed capacity massively.”


While Jafari-Fini called upon the Civil Aviation Authority to do more to police the trade, he called on respected travel agents and operators to start providing the tours instead.


He believes it is not an issue if the agents or operators are not Muslims themselves. He said: “As long as they give the correct advice and put together the right package it is not an issue.”


A CAA spokesman said an information leaflet created in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is produced for anyone applying for a visa to visit Saudi Arabia for the hajj.


“We will look into any allegations that companies are trading illegally. We’ve done a lot to raise awareness of the dangers of booking with unlicensed companies.”