A decision to only grant Hajj and Umrah visas to pilgrims travelling with Saudi Airlines has sparked concern among pilgrimage groups in the Maldives.
The Saudi embassy informed travel agencies Wednesday that visas would only be issued for Saudi Airline passengers.
“According to Umrah and Hajj visa issuing system 50 percent of Umrah and Hajj visa should be given to Saudi airline and the other 50 percent to the national airline of the hosting country,” a letter sent to Cyprea Hotel and Travels said.
“Since Maldives National airline is not operating to Saudi Arabia, all visa will be given to Saudi airline,” the letter added.
A spokesman from a local Hajj group said the decision meant that pilgrims and Hajj groups would have to spend more money.
“Saudi Airlines just want to take money. They have a monopoly in this. Last time for Umrah a ticket was for US$450 because there were other airlines for them to compete with. This time the price is US$740. That’s just for Umrah. We don’t know how much it will be for Hajj.”
“Before other airlines started operating to Saudi they had prices up around US$1300. That was around six years ago. We’ll see how it is next year,” added the spokesman, who did not want to be named.
Another group told online news site VFP they had booked hundreds of non-refundable seats from Sri Lankan airlines for Umrah trips in December.
Officials from the Saudi embassy were unavailable for comment. It is not clear when the new policy takes effect.