People who applied to go on the annual Hajj through a new Saudi-backed platform have described their experiences as a ‘nightmare’ following a lottery which picked UK travellers.

They were reports of people suffering ‘panic attacks, anxiety and stress’ over the lack of transparency from what is meant to be a state-of-the-art booking system. Others told of being offered ‘extortionate’ prices which meant they simply could not afford to go.

Around 12,000 people were meant to be heading out on the annual pilgrimage which is open to British citizens for the first time since 2019. Many of these are pilgrims who had booked to make the holy journey to Makkah in Saudi Arabia in 2020 before the Covid pandemic. They had been forced to defer their pilgrimage to 2022.

These bookings had been made with licenced tour operators.

Then, at the beginning of June, a new Saudi website – Motawif - was launched and people were now told to show their ‘interest’ in attending the Hajj. This weekend potential pilgrims waited for a decision of what has been coined a ‘Hajj lottery’.

Successful travellers were meant to ‘drop everything’ and head out in the coming week with the Hajj taking place in early July.

However, there were growing concerns over the booking system which had left people ‘confused’, drained and frustrated’.

Today, Motawif said they were working through applications and had ‘received a number of enquiries related to payment completion.’

Understandably, travellers did not wish to be named as they thought it may affect their future applications to go to the Hajj.

One traveller described the whole situation as a ‘nightmare’.

He said: “We paid on Friday and the rest the following day. The money has been taken from our accounts but our booking shows ‘failed’.

“It’s been a nightmare many of us have fully paid and just getting a generic response is difficult.

“Many of us have work and family commitments that we need to take care of before departing yet with less than a week to go we are mentality drained.”

The website had advertised packages ranging from £6,000 to £9,500. The reality was different, especially those wanting to travel from Manchester the north of England.

In recent years Hajj prices had started at around £5,000 for many travellers.

A couple said they had just received a message stating ‘Congratulations your profile has been verified please select the package of your choice and proceed to payment.

They said: “We saw the package prices available and we were shocked.

“A Gold package is £20,700 for two people with flights from London. If we want to go from Manchester then it comes in at a staggering £27,300 – that is £13,650 each!

“We are being priced out completely. Who is going to afford to pay that?”

A woman said she was had deposited their money with an agent this year and then told that they could only go through the portal. 

She said: “It has been absolute nightmare. The portal kept crashing until 1.30 in the morning. When it went live on Friday and it looked like, Sunday, it was still pending and it hadn’t even been verified or checked.

“Four of us were meant to go. Then one of us got an approval e-mail and this should have been a moment of elation. But it was a bittersweet moment because we heard of so many people who had paid but then got told their booking had failed.”

She said that sharing private and personal information was an ongoing concern as financial details would now have to be forwarded.

“We haven’t proceeded with the booking because we have all these concerns.

“The only affordable package was the silver package that was coming up at just over £9,500 each. The issue is we just don’t know what we are going to get?

“I still haven’t officially booked leave for the Hajj at work. I don’t know what to say to them. We have young children we are leaving behind. They need to know.

“It has been absolutely shambolic experience. The Saudi government had two and year half years during the pandemic to do this.

“Because of this, me and others won’t be proceeding with the bookings.”

One 40-year-old said: “It has been total chaos from the minute go. We applied and then had to wait over the weekend for an answer. We just got a ‘pending’ update and then all of a sudden nothing.

“I know of people who have got through the Hajj lottery and decided not to go at all.

“One couple got told they had succeeded only to learn the price was nearly £10,000 per person. They just couldn’t afford it."

Another man said: “You don’t test a new system at the busiest time of year. They should have done this with the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) first and then looked at asking for applications for the Hajj in 2023.

“In our case they kept moving the goalposts so we decided on Sunday to just not go.

“It is not worth the risk. It just doesn’t seem professional at all.

“We are not going to hand over a lifetime of savings to someone we cannot speak to and won’t answer our questions.”

A further Hajj applicant said: “It is the simple questions you want answers to. Who will meet at the airport? Who will be our guide? What is the schedule?

“If you are putting thousands of pounds into a trip you would expect your questions to be answered.

“I know there will be people still going but it was not in our destiny to go this year.”

There are 124 officially licenced Hajj Tour operators in the UK as well additional sub agent who would normally be the first port of call for Hajj and Umrah trips. Travellers who booked through them were given personal guidance and financial protection such as ATOL. The new portal does neither.

Pilgrims who had booked with these companies in 2020 had been entitled to money back.

On Monday (June 20), Motawif said they were working through applications.



The portal posted: “Most approved applicants have now completed their booking. However, we have received a number of enquiries related to payment completion and booking confirmations.

“We want to make sure you know that we are working through each request and will contact you within the next 72 hours.

“We know you are eager to complete your booking process and join us for Hajj - rest assured we are also eager to complete any pending steps and welcome you to Saudi Arabia. Thank you for your understanding.”

The Licensed Hajj Organisers (LHO) said they had been ‘inundated with calls from concerned pilgrims who have had payments taken and bookings failed.’ And added, ‘they could not help’.

The LHO meanwhile was being tagged in from complaints from across the country,

One posted: “The whole process has been absolute shambles, sleepless night’s, high level anxiety. We received approval on the 18th, eventually we started to see a light of happiness, but then to have no response UK number not in service, several tweets pleading for help.”

Another said: “Emailed no response whatsoever, had a panic attack due to the stress, pain in shoulders, pain in chest due to stress and lack of sleep , severely affecting my mental health.  

“Waking 4 to 5 times in night to check phone or updates, heart is aching have a heavy heart.”

A third tweeted: “I applied as soon as the portal opened. After many hours of trying finally managed to enter my status still today is in pending. The costumer service has been the worst. Emailed many times, No replies . Calls don’t go through.”

This year’s Hajj will take place from July 7, but travellers normally fly out weeks in advance and can spend up to four weeks in Saudi Arabia.

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It is an obligation on all financially and physically able Muslims to perform Hajj at least once in their life. 

On April 9, the Saudi Hajj Ministry announced one million pilgrims will be permitted to carry out the Hajj, with quotas for all countries.

The new Motawif website was launched just weeks before the Hajj is said to have received thousands of requests to book Hajj from across the world.

Under UK law any person that organises packages for sale in the UK must act in compliance with The Package Travel and Linked Travel Arrangements Regulations 2018.