Indonesia’s DIY Umrah app opens new doors for pilgrims

Homepage of the Indonesian do-it-yourself Umrah platform, www.umra.id.
Updated 01 December 2019

Indonesia’s DIY Umrah app opens new doors for pilgrims

  • Users can customize their experience to their own preferred time and schedule
  • The digital platform allows travelers to design their own trip and choose their schedule so that they do not have to fit into the schedules set by regular operators

JAKARTA: Ferry Ardian’s recent pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia included many firsts — he was performing Umrah for the first time and was among the first batch of pilgrims to customize their pilgrimage through a do-it-yourself digital platform.

“I had always wanted to perform Umrah but I could not find a package that suits me in terms of schedule or price. A friend offered to try to arrange my own trip on this platform. The trip went well even though I did that without a guide,” Ferry told Arab News.

“I was able to do all the rituals by myself just by following an online tutorial. This is a new experience since we don’t need to have a guide to show us around on how to perform Umrah,” he said.

The 46-year-old customized his six-day trip on Umra.id, a digital platform operated by an Indonesian Umrah operator that was launched on Thursday. It enables prospective pilgrims to customize their pilgrimage so that they can go at their earliest convenience without having to adjust to the dates and schedule of an Umrah package arranged by a tour operator, which in general takes nine to 12 days.

Ferry got to choose his own flights and selected one with a stop in Dubai as he wanted to experience the transit.

He also applied for the visa using the platform, had it sent to his email address once it was approved, and chose the hotels he would be staying in in Makkah and Madinah. The trip cost him 23 million rupiahs ($1,634) and three days after he made the payment he left for the pilgrimage.

“With this customized trip, I had more flexibility to arrange my own schedule and to choose which mode of land transport I wanted to take to move from one city to another. I got to share a shuttle van with a pilgrim from China. He was also on his first Umrah,” Ferry said.

Ma’an Muadz, director of the Central Global Network, the Umrah tour operator that developed the platform, told Arab News that the idea behind it was to respond to changes in travelers’ behavior and use technology to make the journey much easier.

“This is a new marketing tool for the Umrah package business. Pilgrims are no longer required to stick to the package set up by an Umrah operator,” Ma’an said.

After submitting the customized trip, a prospective traveler will get a call for an interview to verify all data submitted before the visa is issued.

“This is a do-it-yourself trip designed by the pilgrim, but we adhere to all the regulations in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. This is also a response to the changes in Saudi Arabia with its Vision 2030, which treats Umrah pilgrimage as religious tourism,” Ma’an said. The platform is not a travel marketplace but operated by a legitimate Umrah tour operator registered at the religious affairs ministry, he said.

The Indonesian government does not allow a tour operator to sell Umrah packages if it is not registered to do so. The Umrah business is very lucrative in the world’s Muslim population where the waiting list to go on a regular Hajj could stretch for more than two decades. The lure of the business has created an opportunity for dishonest operators to exploit aspiring pilgrims with promises of a cheap package.

Ma’an said that the idea to develop the platform had been floated for some time and Ma’an and his colleagues paid more attention to the idea in 2017 when many travel agents were out of business. It took them a while to develop the platform since they had to adjust to the changing regulations in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

In March 2018, Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs issued an amendment on its ministerial regulation about Umrah operators, which included new and stricter rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by.

The amendments were made following a major Umrah scam case by the operator, First Travel, which deceived 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims who lost a total of 848.70 billion rupiahs. The husband-and-wife owners of the travel agent, Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, were sentenced to 20- and 18-year prison terms respectively by the Depok district court — on the outskirts of Jakarta — last year after they were found guilty of money-laundering would-be Umrah pilgrims’ money.

Umra.id chief executive officer Ahmad Husaini told Arab News that the platform was developed to respond to the changes in the behavior of aspiring pilgrims, which are dominated by those in the 25 to 50 age bracket: 70 percent of them are millennials who prefer to arrange their own trip and are used to traveling.

Aspiring Umrah pilgrims can customize and arrange the trip anytime within the Umrah season in accordance with the time set by the Saudi authorities, he said.

“With this platform, we aim to grab 5 to 10 percent out of the average 1 million Indonesians who go on Umrah per year. We are launching the app for smartphones soon and we are preparing a tutorial feature in the app for travelers who have never been on an Umrah trip before,” Husaini said.

Now that Ferry has experienced the ease of going on the Umrah pilgrimage, he is thinking of repeating the experience by taking his wife and their two children.

“I felt like I was treated more as a tourist arriving there on my own, compared to the pilgrims who arrived in groups,” Ferry said.


A hairy situation: Facial hair proves a hot topic as coronavirus worries grow

According to the CDC, beards can interfere with the correct usage of masks and respirators. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 31 March 2020

A hairy situation: Facial hair proves a hot topic as coronavirus worries grow

  • We take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on mustaches, mutton chops and suave soul patches

DUBAI: With conflicting news reports from media outlets around the world stating that men should — or don’t need to — shave off their prized facial hair in order to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus, we take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on mustaches, mutton chops and suave soul patches.

Earlier this month, the Welsh Ambulance service advised that medical personnel should “reach for the razor (as) facial hair can disrupt the effectiveness of personal protective equipment” in a tweet and the head of France's ER doctors association advised medical staff to shave off their beards for hygiene reasons. However, these measures are mainly aimed at medical staff who rely on masks and respirators, while advice for the general public has not yet touched upon facial hair as a potential danger in the spread of coronavirus.

What’s clear, however, is the fact that beards can interfere with the correct usage of masks and respirators.

Masks and respirators are being utilized all around the world in a bid to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. But according to a recently resurfaced 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infographic, one’s facial hair can interfere with how effective these filtering items are.

The infographic shows 36 different facial hair styles and provides names for each of them — some of which could be unknown to even the savviest barbers. It also tells you which facial hair styles would and would not work well with a “filtering facepiece respirator” like the P2/N95 respirator, that may protect you against small airborne microbes if worn properly.

While handlebars, lampshades and soul patches are deemed good to go, other facial hair styles, such as mutton chops and a full beard are advised against.

According to the infographic, facial hair can pose a risk to the effectiveness of masks because it may interfere with respirators that rely on a tight facepiece seal to achieve maximum protection.

In short, making sure there’s a good seal between the mask and the wearer’s face is a vital part of respiratory protection, however facial hair can compromise that seal.

The CDC recommends that any facial hair that can fit entirely under a close-fitting respirator should be fine. Where it looks like you might have some problems is if your facial hair is long enough or covers enough of your face that it pushes against the seal of the respirator, thereby allowing airborne particles to leak through.

However, it’s important to note that the CDC only recommends facial masks and facepiece respirators for those who work in the healthcare industry and those who are coming into contact with people who could be potentially infected with the disease, as well as individuals with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19.