My Struggle with the Booking Process for 2024 Nusuk Hajj (1445 Hajj)

Disclaimer: We are here not to criticize anyone. The main objective of this story is to give an honest opinion of the entire process, platform, customer service, and more. We are writing this story from our personal experience without being influenced by anyone. Our opinion could be right or wrong. Please make your own opinions and decisions. The story covers experiences from North America.

“And Proclaim to mankind Al-Hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway.” Quran Verse 22:27

Process

Nusuk Hajj has laid out the clear 10 steps of the booking process. The first 5 steps were spread out across months and were reliable. Nusuk must have produced a guide for each step on its needs and how to complete those within the platform. Several people were facing difficulties with step#6, the eWallet top-up. Some pilgrims were getting errors, and for some, the funds took time to show up in the wallet. One of the most important steps #9 is to book your package, where things failed disastrously for several reasons; pilgrims couldn’t buy the packages they wanted and left furious.

We found that the system had a glitch that showed the birth dates as 1 day off compared to the profile. When you edit the profile to change anything at any stage, it goes to the verification and audit step. The Nusuk team took more than a week to complete that process. Some pilgrims made last-minute changes to their profiles, which went into the verification and audit phase. They called Nusuk daily to get it approved, but it didn’t happen in time, and they missed the sale.

10-Step Booking Process Workflow || Source: Nusuk Hajj Website

“Allah (swt) give us PATIENCE to go through this Nusuk booking process and lifetime Hajj journey and make us successful in this world and hereafter.

Hajj Packages

The platform had a good number of packages from various service providers. However, it was not structured well, so it was difficult to understand which package was meant for which country. One cannot determine the package details just by looking at the card (the large icon picture on the front page); you have to view the details. The filtering options within the platform weren’t working and were giving bad results.

The data entry of the package was not done well; we found a lot of information missing, e.g., the zone was null, hotel info was missing, it was difficult to find if it was first Makkah or Medina, total days/nights, etc. Consuming and analyzing the data was very difficult to make an informed decision. The platform does not allow you to choose, filter, and export the data.

Service Providers — The Savers

The information on the service providers within the Nusuk platform was very helpful. We know a few service providers who created Telegram and WhatsApp groups and ran Zoom meetings to help Hujjaj. It will not go unnoticed that few service providers went above and beyond to guide it through the booking process. On the other hand, some service providers did not provide any help. We contacted them with WhatsApp questions but haven't received an answer.

Nusuk Hajj Platform

Catastrophically Failed! The platform simply failed in the modern age of cloud computing, auto-scaling, machine learning, microservices, containers, and AI. We agree that selling hajj packages directly to the pilgrims is the right way. This removes all kinds of fraud and brings transparency to the whole process.

The Nusuk Hajj platform was used to launch the Hajj bookings for approx. 127 countries from Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceania. Every country has its quota and recommended packages. A strategic, thoughtful, systematic, efficient, seamless, and functional launch plan was absent. Within seconds of going live, the platform couldn’t handle the load, custom flight integration failed, sign-in issue, delayed OTP, long wait time (queue), time-out error, automatic logging out, Adahi, Wheelchair selection issues, etc. The platform continuously had technical problems throughout the day; some things kept failing, so they had to stop and start three times.

Screenshot of System Error

The Nusuk platform has integrated Al-Mosafer, a part of the Seera Group (one of the service providers) for custom flights. Firstly, the original integration didn’t have a multi-city, and on the day of launch, they made the multi-city available. Almosafer shows the market price for the custom flights. During the live sale, pilgrims informed that some custom flights doubled/tripled the price they had seen a few minutes before. The pilgrims must buy the flights from the Nusuk platform, so you cannot skip them.

Before Going Live

Nusuk posted a message on its Twitter account about the booking going live within 24 hours. In various Zoom meetings, Telegram, and WhatsApp groups, the service provider mentioned that Nusuk would give 48–72 hours’ notice before going live. Their contacts in the Hajj ministry were in agreement. However, Nusuk did not observe the agreement to provide enough notice and decided to go live within 24 hours. They must have checked their preparation to see whether all the ducts are in rows. A few hours before going live, the system gave sign-in errors, time-out errors, delayed OTP, forced terminated running sessions without any reason, and many other errors. With all that, they still went live within a couple of hours.

1st Time — Bookings Went Live

On March 13th, 2024, the booking on Nusuk went LIVE at 2:04 pm central Chicago time. On the day it went live, they introduced a feature called “Queue,” which displayed a generic message: “Estimate wait time is more than an hour.” The platform started queueing pilgrims, and the wait time was over 8 hours. The pilgrims who were already inside the platform couldn’t finish the booking due to technical difficulties, so nobody exited to allow new pilgrims to enter.

Huge Wait Time: It does not tell you the actual wait time of 9+ hours

By Allah (swt) willing, my estimated wait time finished at 2:05 pm central time, and I could log in to the portal using incognito mode. I immediately check out the cart by selecting the custom flight. First, it gave me a screen of a wait time of 5 minutes, and then it took me to my package, where it showed an “in-process” booking for at least 35 minutes. While staring at the screen, my first impression was that it went through because I was at “My Package.” After all, wait; it then gave me a message that said it had failed. At the same time, a window appeared asking me to extend my session. It did extend my session and did not throw me out.

Many things were going into my mind; for example, it was taking too long to process and confirm the booking, the quota may get full, the system may time-out or force terminate the session, etc., and I decided to choose the one with group flights, which I knew was under-subscribed by the service provider. The booking went at the speed of light, and I got the confirmation email from Nusuk. Within seconds of completion, the system throws me out of the platform automatically. Alhumdulillah, All Praise is to Allah.

Although I didn’t get what I needed, I have no complaints. With this setup and frustration, I am glad that I got something. Alhumdulillah.

Screenshot for Errors and In-Process

2nd Time — Went Live.

After about 45 minutes of being live, the pilgrims could not complete the bookings due to various technical problems. The Nusuk finally decided to halt the sale. The service providers informed the pilgrims nearly in real time about what was happening. They guided pilgrims — (i) not to refresh the page and stay in the queue, (ii) OTPs were coming very late, (iii) Al-Mosafer flight booking had a lot of issues, (iv) a huge waiting, (v) the wheelchairs and Adahi limits were exceeded.

The Nusuk Hajj resumed the live sale at around 3:41 pm central time. The service providers asked pilgrims not to add wheelchairs and Adahi (do not select additional services because they are causing problems).

3rd Time — Went Live.

Nusuk continued to work on the technical difficulties and turned on the sale again at night, 11:14 pm central time. The pilgrims waiting for more than 9 hours were still in the queue and didn’t get a chance to get into the portal to buy the package.

Live Sale was Suddenly Paused

The sale was paused around 11:55 pm. Around 12:29 am, the service provider informed on their WhatsApp and Telegram group that the visa for North America had concluded. All of the packages within the Nusuk platform were greyed out (you cannot make any selections).

Session Expired || The line was paused at Nusuk || Time out Error

Customer Service

The Nusuk Hajj platform has provided the email address and phone number on its website. Upon contact, they had very general answers. The representative does not know- (i) why some people could book flights and get the confirmation from airlines but could not see the package; (ii) some saw the amount deducted from their e-wallet but did not see any package; (iii) some were not able to book anything with custom flights, (iv) birth dates were a day off, (v) delayed in completion of audit and verification. etc. We found some service providers started a Word document to capture those details and to pass them on to the Nusuk.

It would have been awesome if they had allowed Hujjaj to create a ticket within the platform, and the customer service team behind the scenes would have worked on it. They could have established service-level agreements to handle the tiering-based tickets based on urgency.

Notifications / Awareness

It was clear that Nusuk’s team was fixing things even at the last minute of the launch. There was no planning on the launch date. Two hours before Going live, they released a 30-second video showing the purchase step. They could have used various mediums to keep Pilgrims informed on what was happening — email notifications, banners on their site, text messages, live YouTube or Zoom, etc.

Value Added Tax

Frustration and Anxiety

The whole process and experience have created frustration and anxiety among the pilgrims in North America. The platform/technology failed miserably from sign-in to receiving the OTP, choosing custom flights, Adahi, wheelchair, checkout, receiving confirmation, and more.

I did not see proper planning and strategy for launching the whole setup. The package details were incorrect; some group flights were arriving after a day of check-in, some group flights were leaving early, a day before the check-out, etc.

Conclusion

As we reflect on this experience, it becomes evident that crucial lessons must be learned. The foremost among these is the importance of rigorous planning, testing, and scalability in deploying digital platforms for significant events like Hajj. Additionally, transparent and timely communication with stakeholders is not just beneficial but necessary to foster trust and manage expectations.

In conclusion, while the 2024 Nusuk Hajj booking experience was far from smooth, it offers valuable insights into the complexities of organizing such a monumental event in the modern age. It underscores the need for a thoughtful, robust, and user-centric approach to technological solutions, one that honors the profound significance of the Hajj pilgrimage. As we look forward to future pilgrimages, it is with the hope that these lessons will pave the way for a more seamless and spiritually fulfilling journey for all Hujjaj.

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Aakif Shaikh, CISSP, CEH, CHFI, CISA, GWAPT

Over 18 years of experience in a wide variety of technical domains within information security including information assurance, compliance, and risk management.