Leeds professor appears on BBC’s Rip Off Britain over ‘epic fail’ of Saudi Arabia changes to Haj pilgrimage bookings

Professor Seán McLoughlin spoke about the ‘epic fail’ of changes to Haj tour packages made by the Saudi Arbian government, which introduced a new system earlier this year.

The BBC consumer show featured the story of a Leeds family who paid £24,000 to a travel agent for a Haj pilgrimage package to Mecca this summer – only to have it suddenly cancelled.  

The programme explained that earlier this year the Saudi Arabian government said Haj packages could only be booked through its own portal, Motawif, leading to bookings secured through travel agents being refunded.

Hopeful travellers had to enter a Motawif lottery system to secure a package for this year’s pilgrimage. 

And even if they secured a place via the lottery, people trying to book reported problems with making payments and receiving confirmations. 

I have described the launch of the Motawif portal as an epic fail.

Professor of the Anthropology of Islam, Seán McLoughlin

A Haj pilgrim interviewed claimed once they arrived in Mecca, there were no guides, confusion about where to go and visitors getting on the wrong buses and getting lost.  

Professor McLoughlin, who has been researching the Haj industry since 2011, appeared on the programme to discuss the impact of the changes made by the Saudi Arabian government.  

Read more about Professor McLoughlin’s research via The Hajj and British Muslims website.

He explained that the government wanted to double the number of Haj pilgrims, improve pilgrims’ experiences, and make the process more efficient using technology – and would also like to keep more of the money made from buying and selling Haj packages within the Kingdom. 

But the changes earlier this year have been met with criticism. 

Holy Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca>
Picture via Unsplash/Ishan @seefromthesky


Filmed on campus for the show, Professor McLoughlin, of the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, said: “I have described the launch of the Motawif portal as an epic fail. 

“It’s failed at every stage from its launch and registration through to the ability of people to pay for packages and that seems to be a symptom of late planning - communication was perhaps the single most concerning issue that people fed back about. 

“The Motawif did not communicate clearly about what was happening day to day, hour to hour and they didn’t seem to understand the need of pilgrims to know what was happening.” 

Motawif and the Saudi Arabian government did not respond to a request for comment from Rip Off Britain. However the government has previously said it introduced the new system to crackdown on fradulent Haj packages.  

The episode is available to watch via BBC iPlayer.

Main image via BBC iPlayer.

Image of Holy Mosque Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca, via Unsplash/Ishan @seefromthesky