Tech-conscious Indonesian pilgrims this year can count on their smartphones to make the pilgrimage easier by using the updated Smart Hajj application launched by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Available only to Android smartphone users since 2016, the app is available on Google Play Store and has been updated from its earlier version with more features on its menu.
“We have added more detailed information about the pilgrimage,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.
Pilgrims can get information about their hotels, modes of transport, and a menu of the food they will eat throughout the journey by logging in the app, he added.
By entering the code of their flight group, pilgrims can find out which hotel they will stay at in Makkah and Madinah, along with the map and online directions to get to the hotel and information on the facilities the hotel provides.
The pilgrims can also get information on the kind of food on the menu prepared for them on a specific day during their stay. Mastuki said this is an updated feature which previously only showed an example of a menu for the pilgrims.
The app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and has received mixed reviews from 395 users, of which 240 gave the app five stars. Some complaints in the reviews said the screen sometimes goes black and white and that it was still “too buggy.”
“Pilgrims can also submit complaints on problems they found during this year’s pilgrimage by logging in to the feature using their passport numbers,” said Sri Ilham Lubis, the ministry’s director for Hajj services, during the app launch on July 15.
According to data from the ministry, 81,618 Indonesian pilgrims had already arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
Up to 221,000 pilgrims are expected to depart from Indonesia this year and the last Hajj departure will be on Aug. 14.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of April.
The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta.
On May 30, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was debuted internationally in London and showcased at New York Fashion Week in Sep 2016, during which “her works received eminent applause,” according to the fashion week’s website.
“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.
“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.
Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.
Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.
“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.
Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost.
“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimurti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.
The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.
But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.
From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia.
The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.
Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.
“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.
The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.
“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.
The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.