On 18th August, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) announced a new visa on arrival, which enables some countries to stay for 90 days. The visas are meant to facilitate religious journeys, foster familial connections, and enhance tourism. Among those countries, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam are included in the list from Southeast Asia, while Indonesia is excluded. It is very unfortunate for Indonesians not to be on that list, considering that millions of pilgrims have traveled to Medina and Mecca yearly.
This exclusion might raise another question on why the Kingdom issues such a policy and selectively chooses some countries. Among other reasons, one of them is digital transformation. It is widely known that KSA is currently moving in a direction that involves a massive digital transformation in numerous governmental fields and services. Undoubtedly, the Hajj and Umrah sectors have been the top priority and gained significant attention from the Kingdom. It aims to maximize the services provided to the pilgrims. From this point, it might be understood that the Kingdom prioritizes some ready countries in terms of facility, digital literacy, and supporting infrastructure.
In dealing with such digital transformation, Hilman Latief, General Director of Hajj and Umrah for the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) Republic Indonesia, has responded that such transformation can be a new challenge for the Indonesian government. The Umrah pilgrims and travel agencies must adapt to the latest technological transformation and digital services, mainly mobile applications.
“Saudi Arabia has provided Nusuk, a platform for Umrah and Hajj, which also provides services in Bahasa Indonesia. Therefore, people can easily perform Umrah using this application like Traveloka,” Hilman Latief asserted.
Likewise, the Indonesian government needs to address this regulation change; otherwise, it will become a barrier. In state regulation No. 8/2019, Umrah must be organized and conducted collectively by Umrah Travel Organization, known as Penyelenggara Perjalaan Ibadah Umrah (PPIU). Meanwhile, the Kingdom has allowed pilgrims worldwide to perform Umrah individually, which is easier and more convenient for some people.
Such regulation has contributed to the growth of PPIU. So far, the number of PPIUs has increased by approximately 30 percent, from 1.600 in 2021 to the current 2.180. Some participated in Umrah Travel 2023 in Jakarta last July, conducted by certain Airlines and the Saudi Tourism Authority. It cannot be denied that the Kingdom’s policy might affect PPIU. However, quick adaptation is necessary, which enables Indonesian Muslims to travel individually.
Apart from focusing on digital transformation, there are issues underground that must be considered. As a Muslim-majority country, the demand for Umrah is considerably high. Although it is expensive for the average citizen, performing Umrah can be done quicker than waiting for Hajj, which is almost queuing for approximately 30 years from the day one registration.
To Indonesian Muslims, it is understandable that Umrah is a shortcut to go instantly to Mecca and Medina. This condition has, in one way or another, made authorities pay attention to protecting the pilgrims from any possible fraud mode.
Fraud and money laundering have been the big issues in Umrah and Hajj management in Indonesia. Instead of using money from the customer properly, the owners spend it on personal happiness and another form of excitement. Among problematic travel agencies are Abu Tour, Hanien Tour, and the notorious one that had deceived a hundred thousand customers, First Travel. The owner of the latter is jailed for 20 years.
The latest issue was conducted by an agency, PT Naila Safaah Wisata Mandiri (NSWM). More than 500 hundred customers were deceived, and this agency was caught issuing false barcodes for the pilgrims before leaving for Saudi Arabia. To protect the customer from this issue, the Government must take firm action and anticipate by applying strict regulations.
Other serious issues are much more related to technical problems in the field. Some pilgrims might encounter problems such as being left by the organizer, failing to return to the country, being lost in Saudi, having health issues, and passing away. Therefore, it is necessary for the Government, especially MORA, to work with PPIU to address these issues and to improve service quality. In addition, just like performing Hajj, the medical check-up is imperative to track the medical history and records of the pilgrims, so unwanted things can be anticipated.
Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas has emphasized the istithaah policy, which considers the medical records of the pilgrims, especially from the elderly, as the main requirement before performing Umrah or Hajj. These issues, either pre-departure or during Umrah and Hajj, must be addressed seriously through digital services. MORA has released an app called Haji Pintar (Smart Hajj) which covers plenty of services regarding Umrah and Hajj needs. However, the app needs an upgrade that can integrate the user (the pilgrim) with the organizers and MORA officials to be more responsive and quick regarding the emergencies of the pilgrims.
The high demand for Umrah and Hajj must align with the government’s ability to control the organizer, improve the quality of service, and provide the best and most convenient assistance. The integration of certain governmental bodies is required to assist the pilgrims from their hometowns to Mecca and Medina and return home safely.
To deal with digital transformation in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia must adapt, prepare, and upgrade with sophisticated digital services for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims. Digital transformation is a part of modern life that needs to be addressed; otherwise, we will be left behind. The role of MORA, travel organizations, and pilgrims is crucial to determine whether Indonesian Muslims are ready for digital transformation in Umrah and Hajj.
Editor: Moch Aldy MA