Islamic Lifestyle 

Malaysia Airlines targets regional pilgrims with new dedicated haj, umrah service

| 12 February, 2019
 Richard Whitehead
Malaysia Airlines targets regional pilgrims with new dedicated haj, umrah service
FILE PHOTO: Indonesian haj pilgrims wait to enter the departure area before leaving for Mecca at Soekarno-Hatta International airport near Jakarta, Indonesia, September 16, 2015. Malaysia Airlines hopes to attract regional pilgrims, including from Indonesia, to its dedicated haj and umrah service Amal. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airlines has dressed up its pilgrim service with a new identity in a bid to capture more haj and umrah passengers from neighbouring countries.

The airline claims to be the only one now to offer a full service for pilgrims after the Amal brand and logo were launched officially on Tuesday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Until now, the service has been operating unbranded flights under Malaysia Airlines livery.

Malaysia Aviation Group chief executive Izham Ismail said he hoped Amal would contribute significant revenues for the airline.

“We see big potential for the haj and umrah market and we have the added advantage of having years of experience providing such a service,” Ismail said at the launch.

“The opportunity is not just in Malaysia, but also in Thailand and Indonesia, which are just next door.”

Amal’s specialised charter service for haj and umrah is expected to account for 10-15 percent of the airline group’s revenue over the next two years, up from 5 percent currently, Amal chief executive Hazman Hilmi Sallahudin said at the event.

The pilgrimage flights will use Airbus A380 aircraft with 489 seats.

“We want to position Amal as the preferred regional pilgrimage airline, penetrating Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand,” he said.

“We are trying to increase our local market share to about 55 percent with 250,000 umrah pilgrims this year.”

BETTER SERVICE 

Speaking to Salaam Gateway later, Sallahudin claimed service quality was typically lacking on pilgrim flights and hoped Amal would buck the trend.

“In Malaysia and maybe Indonesia, when it comes to pilgrimage flights, there’s this perception that it’s a bad flight: there’s no need to serve [passengers] well because they would be going to umrah anyway,” he said.

“We think that’s wrong and we want to change that. That’s one of the key reasons why we have done this. It’s a focused programme on an A380—it’s very comfortable.”

Amal’s onboard experience includes several dedicated features, including religious music and the talbiyyah, or the prayer recited before umrah and haj, played as passengers board.

Cabin crew will read relevant musafir prayers before flights commence and announce prayer times.

A mutawwif pilgrimage guide will give a short presentation during the onboard meal and the in-flight entertainment system will also be programmed with more religious content.

FARES BENCHMARKED AGAINST GARUDA

Fares will be benchmarked against those charged by Garuda, Indonesia’s national carrier, Sallahudin said.

These will help persuade pilgrims from the Indonesian heartland to opt for flights that transfer via Kuala Lumpur.

“In terms of access from secondary cities, it’s limited for them to be able to do umrah,” said Sallahudin.

“Say you’re going from Sumatra for umrah: you would have to fly for two hours to Jakarta, then wait a few more hours before flying to Saudi. For them, Kuala Lumpur is just one hour away. We want to tap into those cities to provide access to fly to Saudi Arabia.”

Unbranded Amal Umrah services took off last October with 113 charter flights on A380 aircraft carrying a total of 50,000 pilgrims so far.

BOOST FOR ECONOMY

Also at the launch economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali said Amal could help boost the domestic economy as the number of Malaysians doing haj and umrah continues to grow.

Malaysian haj pilgrim numbers increased 22.4 percent annually from around 22,300 in 2014 to 42,900 in 2017, according to Tabung Haji, the government-backed savings fund for pilgrims.

Saudi authorities reduced overall foreign pilgrim quotas from 2013 to 2016 to accommodate the expansion of facilities at Masjid Al Haram in Mecca.

At the same time, umrah travel grew by 8.4 percent annually to around 250,000 in 2017.

“Umrah and haj has opened up more business opportunities for local tourism players and jobs creation,” said the minister.

“The statistics show that umrah and haj hold huge potential with Amal adopting innovative products and services for pilgrims,” he added.

Ali also urged regional airlines to work with Amal to connect pilgrims in far-flung parts of Indonesia and Thailand with Kuala Lumpur.

“I propose that low-cost carriers support Amal… from secondary cities in Indonesia and Thailand,” he tweeted in Bahasa Malaysia after the event.

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim emmy.alim@refinitiv.com)

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