Jordan tourism anticipates an exciting year

Jordan’s tourism sector is looking forward to 2011 as another record year that should outperform a “tremendous” 2010. However, expectations are cautious since the fallout of the crises in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya has left some impact on tourism in the region.

The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) has said it was encouraged by indicators for January, which ushered a 7% increase in revenues over the same month of 2010, and a 6.1% increase in the number of visitors to the kingdom. On the other hand, it said that the blessings of being strategically located between east and west have been outweighed by the “stereotypes” of being part of a “volatile” Middle East.

JTB Managing Director Nayef Al-Fayez described the January figures as positive and encouraging, but said he expected regional developments to impact the sector’s performance in the coming few months. He said negative reporting and misconception have mistakenly put Jordan in the same basket of turbulent countries.

Mr. Al-Fayez stressed that while JTB was engaged in an effort to correct media misconceptions created by coverage of regional unrest, it remains concerned that media reporting of any healthy democratic and peaceful political activity in the kingdom was immediately stereotyped as “unrest” and “turbulent.”

Mr. Al-Fayez also stressed that Jordan has a long-standing reputation as a very safe, secure, and hospitable destination. He said JTB was working to correct false impressions in the west, which were driven by how the region was being reported.

But Jordan is not just betting on its reputation. It is also preparing a long itinerary of events, which started at the beginning of the year when Aqaba became the Arab tourism capital. The Red Sea port city was chosen as the “Arab Tourism Capital” by the Arab Tourism Ministers Council during their meeting in May 2009.

Aqaba has attracted about 400,000 tourists in 2010, mainly from France, Italy, Spain, USA, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Hungary, and New Zealand.

This year’s visitors to Aqaba will be able to enjoy a host of events that include marine sports activities, a festival for desert tourism in Wadi Rum including a full moon marathon, and Jordan’s Independence Day celebrations in May.

The Dead Sea will take center stage in 2011 as the largest natural spa on Earth, and the lowest point on Earth competes for a position among the world’s 7 natural wonders. The Official New7Wonders of Nature campaign started in 2007 with more than 440 locations in more than 220 countries. The qualification race put the Dead Sea on the list of 28 Official Finalist Candidates, from which the 7 wonders will be chosen by an estimated 1 billion votes. The Official Declaration of the New7Wonders of Nature will be on November 11, 2011.

The Dead Sea will also be under the spotlight during 2011 with a fascinating search for the lost cities of Sodom and Gomorrah believed to be buried under the waters of the Dead Sea. The search, by a Russian television crew, is based on NASA satellite pictures, which experts say reveal a terrain uncharacteristic of sea beds. The suspected location on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, will be subject to extensive probing with the use of sophisticated equipment. If the lost cities were found, it will be one of the most important international archaeological discoveries of all time.

Another form of Dead Sea discovery will take place on April 4 as more than 6,000 runners take part in the Dead Sea Ultra Marathon to raise money for the Society for the Care of Neurological Patients, which provides neurological patients with medical aid and covers the cost of necessary surgeries for the needy.
Ten days later, Jordan will celebrate its third appearance in the World Rally Championship (WRC) with its popular all-gravel event based in the Dead Sea region between April 14-16.
The Dead Sea will, for the 6th time, host the meetings of the World Economic Forum, which have become a regular mark on Jordan’s meetings and incentives calendar.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2011 will be held between October 21-23 at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center under the theme “Innovation and Change in the Middle East.” The WEF meetings, influenced by regional developments such as the ones in Egypt and Tunisia, will engage a full range of stakeholders to provide a holistic and timely perspective on the future direction for the region.

In 2012, Jordan will be celebrating 200 years on the rediscovery of its lost red rose city, Petra. Many festivals and celebrations will start taking place this summer to commemorate this very special event.

The capital Amman will continue its vibrant cosmopolitan rhythm to a wide spectrum of activities planned throughout the year including festivals and special activities for the summer and the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

JTB Managing Director Nayef Al-Fayez expressed hope that the region would overcome its volatility and return to stability, and that more people will have the chance to discover Jordan’s countless and priceless treasures.

Mr. Al-Fayez commented on recent demonstrations in Amman and said they were peaceful in nature and that they reflected the kingdom’s democratic practices and tolerance. He said international media has not been interested in such exercises in freedom of expressions until after the turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt.

The JTB Managing Director expressed hope that as Jordan moves towards its busy season, more travelers will act as ambassadors for Jordan as they reflect the true experiences they had.
“In the meantime,” he added, “Jordan remains to be a safe destination, and tourists from all over the world continue to enjoy its countless and priceless treasures.”