Tunisia: Pilgrimages, strong arm cabinet-travel agencies

State requested to give 25% of market to privates

11 January, 16:04

(ANSAmed) - TUNIS, JANUARY 11 - Revenue prospects for those managing pilgrimages to holy Islam sites in Saudi Arabia, which Muslims must take at least once in a lifetime, are major as they have to be managed either by state companies or state-authorized bodies. If a Muslim faithful decides to take a pilgrimage (omra or hadj, small or big according to the time of the year), he or she must first present an application to be validated by a commission also on the basis of health in order to avoid, as often happens, that dozens of pilgrims die from fatigue and the Saudi heat.

In Tunisia this issue, which is much more attuned to economic interest than spiritual concerns, has led to a strong arm between travel agencies and the state which is weary of loosing control of this remunerative business. In a war of statements and proposals, the president of Tunisia's association of travel agents, Mohamed Ali Toumi, has officially asked the state to leave 25 percent of this market - which totals some 15,000 pilgrims a year for Omra - to private entrepreneurs. The market could help crisis-stricken travel agencies after this business was taken from them in 1998 by then-dictator Ben Ali. Pilgrims are awaiting for an outcome in hopes that the return of private businesses can lower expenses which, with the devaluation of Tunisia's dinar, have increased by up to 20% with some having to borrow money in order to undertake their mandatory pilgrimages.

Last year for the Omra, Tunisia's religious affairs ministry which is in charge of pilgrimages, established prices which went from 2,500 dinars (some 1,250 euros) for the first 15 days of the holy month, to 3,100 (1,550 euros) for the second fortnight, sparking protests given the increase by up to 500 dinars, too much considering the average salary in Tunisia and the weak currency.(ANSAmed).

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