(MENAFN - Arab News) The Haj Ministry website has started accepting applications from Saudis and expatriates who wanted to make use of the low-cost Haj scheme.
More than 40000 pilgrims are expected to benefit from the low-cost Haj scheme this year said Abdul Hameed Al-Sinani secretary general of the Coordination Council for Domestic Haj Service Firms.
Speaking to Arab News Al-Sinani said 53 companies and establishments have been authorized to provide low-cost services to eligible pilgrims for SR2500 to SR5000.
'About a third of the total domestic pilgrims are accounted for this low-cost service. The program which is introduced by the ministry will be a great relief for a good number of citizens and expatriates' he said.
Other domestic Haj operating companies have been striving to scale down the cost of Haj but can only slash prices to a certain extent since factors such as rising air fare and road transport costs food supply contractsnd rising labor charges are beyond their control.
'The cost of renting out tents furnishing tents and making additional modifications on them have also risen considerably' Al-Sinan added.
Such factors have made it difficult for the council to force companies to bring down their charges despite demands on companies not to hike prices unreasonably.
'The council did not directly force or interfere in the pricing policies exercised in domestic pilgrim companies. It is nevertheless the council's duty to advise them to keep their prices affordable' said Al-Sinani adding that he found that companies were cooperative and have slashed prices from last year's higher tariffs.
Saad Al-Qurashi owner of several domestic Haj companies reiterated that the coordination council does not have the authority to set tariffs of private companies. 'The council should uphold its fundamental roles and represent us effectively so we remain reassured' he added.