Businessman Ayoob Angullia is getting used to losing money in the haj travel business, but he does not see it as a problem.
Last year, the founder and managing director of local travel agency Shahidah Travel lost $700,000 when 130 of his Mecca-bound customers did not get their visas after the Saudi Arabian government tightened quotas on people making their pilgrimage there.
"We had already booked the transport, accommodation and necessary services, and because they were non-refundable, the company had to absorb all the losses," says the 57-year-old Singaporean. "It was a painful lesson."
This year, because of more quota restrictions, even more of his customers - 200 - had their applications rejected.
Having prepared himself for a repeat of last year's predicament, Mr Ayoob managed to limit his losses to $100,000. "We make a loss through our haj travel packages," he says bluntly.
However, he is not known among the local community as Haji Ayoob for nothing. He declares: "But we will never stop offering a quality haj experience to our customers. It's not even a business for me anymore. I see it as a form of service to the Muslim community."
He can afford to shrug off these losses. While his name has become synonymous among the local Muslim community with travel and tourism, he has also branched out into other industries such as Islamic insurance through another of his companies, ST&T International, and residential property in not just Singapore but in regional countries as well.
He also runs Easytickets, a website that sells general tour packages online.
With offices in Singapore, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, his businesses record a total turnover of $12 million to $15 million annually.
ST&T International, which also provides services to Brunei travellers, recently won a government contract to provide medical insurance coverage for Singaporean pilgrims travelling for their haj this year, a compulsory requirement set out by statutory board Muis, or the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.
With his desire to offer a quality experience, it is no surprise that Mr Ayoob is a hands-on presence with the annual haj season in full swing, shuttling between Singapore and Saudi Arabia to ensure his company's operations are running smoothly.
The haj, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all able-bodied Muslims that sees about three million pilgrims gathering in Mecca yearly, culminates with the religious holiday Hari Raya Haji, which will be celebrated on Friday.
The man is not just a major player in local haj matters but also in the overall local Muslim tourism industry.
Shahidah Travel, the company that he co-founded with his wife Hamidah Abdul Hamid and named after his elder daughter of three children, has cornered a share of about 25 per cent of the local market, made up of Muslims who wish to buy specially prepared packages that include halal meals and allow them to fulfil their religious obligations.
"Since we did our first tour in 1983, I have taken more than 50,000 visitors to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem," he says.
Affable and gregarious, the man speaks at a rapid-fire pace and was keen to show off his 3,000 sq ft, three-storey semi-detached house in Frankel Avenue where the interview was held. His family moved there in 2010.
Inspired by his travels around the world, he proudly points out that the tiles and granite in the house are made up of 11 types of materials sourced from different countries including Iran, Spain and Italy.
Shahidah Travel customers are loyal and faithfully use the company's services.
Take Madam Faridah Rahmat Ali. The 57-year-old, who works in insurance, has travelled to Mecca for haj and umrah, a minor pilgrimage, annually since 1990 and uses Shahidah Travel whenever she can. She also engages the company when her family travels to places such as Cairo, Jerusalem and Jordan - tourist spots steeped in Islamic history.
"The reason I keep coming back to Haji Ayoob and his staff is that they always put their customer's interests first," she says. "Sometimes I like to do my own research on the places I want to go and the things I want to do. After that, I leave the logistics and planning to them and they do everything according to my requirements.
"And if I have any problems during my travels, all I need to do is call them and they will be there to sort everything out."
Mr Ayoob says it is important that his company treats customers like friends. "We pride ourselves in maintaining a strong relationship with our customers. We are very serious about building up a tradition of warmth and trust."
His formal education and early years of working were in a field that is far different from any of his current trades.
He studied engineering in Singapore Polytechnic and his first two jobs were in the electronic consumer products industry. In the early 1980s, he made the news for designing chilli-packing and satay-making machines that helped small-time food traders streamline their business.
Still, travelling and trade are in his blood. He hails from the Angullia clan, whose roots can be traced back to India and Mauritius.
His grandfather, Ismail Ajum Angullia, came to Singapore from Mauritius in the 1930s to join his uncle here, property and trading tycoon Mohammed Salleh Eusoof Angullia.
The family's legacy here includes having a road named after them, Angullia Park, as well as the mosque they founded - Angullia Mosque - where Mr Ayoob currently sits as chairman.
His first trip overseas was when he did his first haj in 1982, while he was still working as a production superintendent with French electronic consumer product company Thomson.
"The haj travel industry wasn't as modern and developed as it is now. After I did my pilgrimage, I started to think about how I wanted to help raise the standards by organising my own travel packages to Islamic destinations."
He and his wife Hamidah, 57, formed Shahidah Travel as a part-time business and took their first customers to Islam's holy sites in Jerusalem in 1983.
"My bosses in Thomson allowed me to do the business part-time because I was exceeding all the productivity targets that they set for me. That's how the French work and I love it," he says.
"While I was working there, I would spend my lunch time attending to Shahidah business and I would take a month off every year to travel."
By 1990, Shahidah's business had expanded so much that Mr Ayoob left Thomson to concentrate on his travel business full-time.
Shahidah's Singapore headquarters are run by a 10-man team based in an office in Golden Landmark at the Kampong Glam area. He also has three staff members working in Malaysia and four in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Ayoob says he has a simple and open management style. "I don't get involved in my staff's operational work. I guide them and give them briefings every morning before the day starts.
"I also don't have a laptop at my desk, only this," he says, holding up his BlackBerry. "Anyone can just call me and e-mail me - I make sure that I am always accessible."
He even entertains calls from his customers personally because both his e-mail address and mobile phone number are listed on his companies' websites.
While Mr Ayoob still hangs on to his Mauritian ancestry - he speaks Creole to his cousins and Mauritian cuisine is a staple in his household - he identifies strongly with the local Malay community.
"I grew up in my father's house in Burnfoot Terrace. But because I spent so much of my childhood studying the Quran at the mosque in Kampung Siglap, my father decided to move to a house in the Malay kampung itself when I was 15."
Mr Ayoob, his late parents and his seven younger siblings immersed themselves in the Malay community. His late father, Mr Yaacoob Ismail Angullia, worked in the freight shipping industry while his late mother, Madam Mariam Bee Hasia, was a housewife.
He became active in the mosque and one of his duties was to be the muezzin, reciting the call to prayer five times a day.
Although his Malay wife is from the same village, their first conversation took place only two years after he moved there, at a bus stop outside the kampung.
Madam Hamidah says: "He asked me for the time. I told him I did not have a watch because I could not afford it then. Though that was the first time we spoke to each other, I knew who he was because I was hearing his voice five times a day when he does the call to prayer."
He bought her a watch for her next birthday and courted her for five years. Their dates were limited to just lunch, however, as her policeman father had her under a strict curfew.
The couple married in 1978 and now have three children and three grandchildren. Their daughters - Shahidah, 32, and Shahirah, 29 - are both married and are teachers, while son Ammar, 24, is studying medicine at the National University of Ireland.
At the same time, Ammar also holds a post as a director in dad's insurance firm ST&T International and does work for it during his free time.
Mr Ayoob says he has instilled the spirit of entrepreneurship in his children and he is confident that they will start their own businesses in the future.
And while both husband and wife are listed as founders and managing directors of Shahidah Travel, Madam Hamidah says she plays a support role and lets her husband make all the main decisions.
Asked if the couple are strict about separating business and family matters, she says "no". She adds: "We talk about the business all the time, even at home, late at night."
Still, she describes Mr Ayoob as a loving husband, father and grandfather who is always looking out for his family's best interests.
Shahirah and her husband live in the Frankel Avenue house with Mr Ayoob and his wife, as well as two maids.
On weekends, Shahidah and her husband and children come over and the whole family bond over a hearty meal.
Mr Ayoob takes pride in the fact that his is a multiracial family - Shahidah's husband is Arab, while Shahirah's spouse is Indian. Ammar's fiancee, who also joins in the family gatherings here while he is in Ireland, is Chinese.
"We all love good food. We cook all kinds of cuisine when we get together - Mauritian, Malay, Indian, Arab, Chinese and Western," Mr Ayoob says.
He adds that retirement is far from his mind and he plans to keep on working for the rest of his life. "I hope that Allah gives me a long life and that I will be able to work for as long as I can."
He is also keen on raising the standards of the Malay-Muslim community by grooming young professionals and entrepreneurs.
"I want to spend more time giving back to the Malay-Muslim community that has helped me grow my business. I want to mentor the next generation of Malay-Muslim businessmen."