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Hajj: Western pilgrims left 'with no hotel room' days before pilgrimage

Pilgrims describe hotel as like a 'madhouse' and guests being double-booked into the same room
Muslim worshippers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on 5 July 2022. (AFP)
Muslim worshippers around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on 5 July 2022 (AFP)

Western pilgrims, using the Saudi-backed Motawif portal, say their hotel in Mecca has "run out of rooms", with some people given keys to rooms already occupied by other guests, just days before the Hajj pilgrimage is due to begin. 

One British pilgrim, staying at the city's Fairmont Hotel, who wished to remain anonymous, said pilgrims were left "crying in the hotel lobby" after they were not allocated rooms.

"People have paid for and been told they have rooms [by Motawif] - but the hotel has no rooms," the pilgrim from Coventry told Middle East Eye. 

Images sent to MEE confirmed that pilgrims had been left waiting for hours in the hotel lobby. 

Some pilgrims at the Fairmont were also given key cards by the hotel, only to discover their rooms were already occupied by someone else.

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"One woman was kicking off, as she paid for the platinum package, and they kept giving the card to her room to other people so random people kept walking in."

The pilgrim said there appeared to be no "real coordination" between Motawif, who had pre-assigned rooms to pilgrims who paid for their services, and the hotels tasked with handing out guests their keycards.

Another western pilgrim who arrived two days earlier in Mecca from Medina said it felt like being in a "mad house".

"They have volunteer kids manning the front desk and supervisors nowhere to be seen," said the western pilgrim. 

"These kids are at university so most people don't understand it's unfair to have a go at them.

"When we checked in they didn't have any rooms for us. Anyone who said they were in a group of three were able to get a key card, but it was not checked which package they had paid for."

A spokesperson for the Fairmont Hotel said it is "unable to disclose any information for third parties as per hotel policy." 

Fairmont Hotel is located in the clock tower that oversees the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Supplied)
Fairmont Hotel is located in the clock tower that oversees the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Supplied)

The problems faced by pilgrims in Mecca mirror similar issues reported by visitors to Medina. 

Last week, a female pilgrim, who booked a platinum package, had told MEE that she was placed in a room with a "random bloke" in the Pullman Hotel in Medina.

"The night before, there were about 30 people still waiting for beds. I offered a lady the chance to store her luggage and have a shower in my room as we had all endured 24 hours of travel," the pilgrim told MEE. 

"One couple, the lady was constantly in tears because she was pregnant." 

"The hotel staff were also knocking on doors to find out how many people were in each room because they were worried about fire regulations."

MEE had requested comment from Accor, which runs the Pullman hotel in Medina. 

The Hajj pilgrimage lasts six days and consists of various rites. Hajj pilgrims typically arrive in Mecca before completing other rites associated with the pilgrimage. 

From Mecca, they will head to Mina, an area outside of the city, before heading to Mount Arafat and Muzdalifah. 

Packages 'downgraded' by Motawif 

On Saturday, pilgrims told MEE that their Hajj packages worth tens of thousands of dollars had been "downgraded", with no offer given of partial refunds to make up the difference. 

In early June, the Saudi government made a surprise decision to sideline traditional travel agencies and instead use Motawif, a government-backed portal run by an Indian company with links to New Delhi, as revealed by MEE, to carry out a lottery system.

Motawif organised a random draw that Muslims from Europe, Australia and the Americas had to go through to attend Hajj this year, set to start on 7 July.

Since then, applicants have told MEE of numerous problems, including being turned away at airports and bookings failing despite full payments going through.

Many pilgrims who had previously been in the "paid but failed" category have since had their bookings approved, but have now complained of not receiving what they've paid for. 

Additional reporting by Rayhan Uddin. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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