Tourism in Jordan – A Report

Jordanien Dana
Tourism in Jordan

After having spent three weeks in Jordan due to an invitation of the organisation Bi’a to give my opinion and advice how to market glamping and talking to many people about the general situation, I came to the following results:

Tourism in Jordan faces quite some difficulty. Tourists do not come any more to Jordan in the numbers they used to. This is for several reasons:

  • Travel warnings
  • Financial difficulties
  • Travel agency partners have distanced themselves
  • Tourists only come once
  • Well known touristic attractions

Jordan

Travel warnings

Several ministries for foreign affairs (e.g. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, USA) warn their people not to go to Jordan. Apart from that, tourists think that the whole Middle East faces a crisis and that there are riots or other dangerous conflicts everywhere. The month of May is supposed to be the high season in Jordan, but hotels and tourist attractions are empty, because a lot of travelers cancelled their reservations two months ago when they heard of problems in Syria or Egypt. They believe, that these countries are all the same and as Jordan is in the Middle East there is also a problem there. And because they believe it is dangerous to go there they would rather cancel their travel.

Financial problems

Due to the global economic crisis people try to save money, including when on vacation. Traveling to Jordan is normally a cultural experience and not an all-inclusive beach vacation. Of course there are some beach resorts but other destinations, which are in the meantime well known for their resorts, are dominating the market. Turkey, Spain or Thailand come to mind when you think of a cheap holiday but not Jordan.

Travel agencies

The average traveller used to travel to Jordan in conjunction with another country. Jordan alone and by itself was hardly ever the aim. People used to do tours to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. But now that most of the borders are closed, or the countries are facing warlike situations, these long roundtrips are not offered any more. Since 2007 these tours are declining. But Jordan still is not the sole target of a trip. So far tourists prefer to combine it with a tour through Israel.

If people do dare to go to Jordan they do this in a roundtrip with five days in Jordan and visit the hot spots like world heritage sites or one of the new seven world wonders. The travel agencies have planned and operated in that way all these years, hotels are used to it. Why change?

Even the JTB (Jordan Tourism Board) did not meet with us to discuss the situation and get new ideas. They sent us on a round trip with a driver to all the well known spots where tourists have been going since 1994 when tourism grew very strong in Jordan. Even they are not interested in new ideas or a new view or visions.

Once in a lifetime

I do not have figures to prove my statement but I very strongly believe that the average tourist travels only once to Jordan. A cultural trip to the holy land with all the treasures and unique attractions that you can find nowhere else in the world. Been there – done that; and he never comes back again.

Well known touristic attractions

The fact that Jordan has unique attractions like Petra leads to an somewhat arrogant attitude of tourism professionals who practice ‚sit-and-wait marketing‘ since the tourist will come anyway because he is so eager to float in the dead sea or to see Petra. And he will never come back so one does not need to be very creative or inventive.

Felsenstadt Petra

Petra Region

Petra / Wadi Mousa

I talked to a hotel manager in Wadi Mousa – a small town directly situated at the entrance to Petra. He told me that the average tourist stays two days at Wadi Mousa. Normally they arrive in the afternoon or evening, stay overnight, visit Petra the next day, relax at the pool after the visit, stay overnight and leave after breakfast. Some bus groups will even leave after the visit to Petra and spend only one night at a hotel.

One week in Wadi Mousa

I asked the hotel manager whether he would like the tourists to stay longer – let‘s say for a week in Wadi Mousa. He answered that four days would be the maximum because Wadi Mousa has not much to offer and after three days in Petra you would leave again. Shouldn’t he as a hotel manager tell me, that I am supposed to stay seven nights in his hotel? He is spoiling his own business. But this opinion I heard also from others, that Wadi Mousa has nothing to offer.

A longer stay would be better for everyone. The hotel costs would be lower and the impact on the environment would be weaker because you would not have to change sheets and towels every day and the consumption of water for laundry would be lower.

So much to do in Wadi Mousa

I personally would like to spend one week in Wadi Mousa and there is already currently a lot to do. Of course I would spend three days in Petra. Then I would go hiking, do horse riding, go to little Petra, relax at the pool, discover Wadi Mousa or the surrounding. Have you ever been to the point where you can look into the siq to Petra? It is a short trip by car and nobody goes there. The tourist buses normally do not stop there. Or after three days in Petra you could just ‚be‘ and relax at the pool, read a book or sit under a shadowy tree and meditate.

Reiten Jordanien

So much to think of in the future

Imagine you spend a week in Wadi Mousa – whether you stay in a hotel or at a camp side does not matter – and you could experience more than the things mentioned above. So after three days in Petra you learn to cook maklouba, you go for a photo walk or do a photo workshop. With the local ladies society you can learn how to make yarn out of camel hair and weave it, lets say, into a nice bag. You do a mosaic workshop or go into the wilderness to learn how to capture the beauty of Jordan on a canvas. You go with an ecoguide and learn about the plants that grow around Petra, collect them and prepare a nice cup of tea or a delicious dish. In the evening you sit at a nice coffee place in town (not the street where the big hotels are – there are only souvenir shops. I mean the centre – where the locals are), have a shisha and look at all these people busy minding their business. Have a stroll around the shops. They are open until midnight. Or just sit and watch the traffic jam. It is fun. I promise.

Hotel per Inhabitant ratio

Around 25.000 people live In Wadi Mousa (so I have been told – getting figures is a bit difficult). There are around 70 hotels (the numbers given to me differ between 64 and 71). Currently there are only around 20 operating. The rest stopped trading. Tourism is the biggest income source for the people of Wadi Mousa. So any increase in tourism would be a direct benefit to all the people in the small town.

Attitude

As I wrote already, tourists come anyway and they only come once. So in better known touristic regions I got the feeling that some members of the staff of the hotels were somehow lacking the passion to be of any service to the tourist. They were quite arrogant at the check in at a hotel. Or they treat the luggage very badly.
But the worst of all, is that the touristic attraction themselves are treated badly. I found a huge amount of garbage at the entrance to the roman site at Jarash:

Visitor Center Jerash
And inside a lot of cigarette stubs:

Jerash
Prices

At Petra the normal one day entrance fee for people that have an overnight stay is 50 JD. So there is a very big turnover everyday. But what happens with the money? Reconstruction or preservation work, like on other historic touristic sites in the world, are nowhere to be seen. And there is a lot of garbage, too. In the siq you will find cleaners. But they only brush the way free from sand. Plastic bottles that lie around will not be touched. Also our guide showed us plastic bottles that had been lying around in the siq for more than two months. But did he pick one up? No! It would be so easy if any people working on the ground would carry a bag and collect garbage while guiding the people. (Tourist in – garbage out!)

I heard that the entrance fee will be doubled to a hundred JD for one day. Petra might be already the most expansive touristic attraction in the world. What will happen if the authorities double the price?

Passion

To me this carelessnes is a lack of respect towards the heritage and shows again the attitude “the tourist will come anyway”. Well he doesn’t. Not as much as before. Though I have to admit that the Jordanians are incredibly friendly. Every single one of them will greet you. Ask you how you are and let you know: “welcome to Jordan!” Maybe it is a cultural thing as every plan or agreement is ended with the saying “insha‘Allah!” Which means: “if Allah wants it that way”. So maybe it is also a form of insha‘Allah-marketing.

In Jordan you see a lot of signs telling you that e.g. water is a precious commodity. Yes but the environment is also a precious commodity. And Petra is a very precious commodity. So I would strongly recommend the exchanging of diesel engines with alternators for solar or photovoltaic panels. On the roofs of the stands and booths offering souvenirs and cold drinks there is enough space for them and Petra would become again the quiet peaceful place to spend time in and relax. With the constant humming of the engines inside the caves (and the acoustic is great – so the humming is reinforced!) it is difficult to relax. And of course it is expensive to transport the diesel to the caves. Let alone the pollution of the environment by the fumes and spills. And the electricity is only used for cooling the sodas. So maybe people should be offered the traditional hot tea. That you can prepare on a solar cooker. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cooker

And it seems to be also part of the culture to treat things as things. And when they are broken, they are broken. Which explains why we were faced with a lot of scratched, worn out or broken things in the hotels we stayed. Only in the international hotel chains we had the feeling that there is maintenance going on all the time.

Glamping Jordanien
Bi’a Glamping

Camps

Bedouin Camps or Nature camps are very well established in Jordan. All over Jordan you will find camps of different kinds. In the touristic part of Wadi Rum alone there are a hundred bedouin camps. They literally mushroomed after 1994 when tourism bloomed in Jordan. Today around thirty are open and taking tourists.

Monopoly

When you are in Wadi Rum you should preferably take two days to visit it. The only way to spend a night without losing too much time by going back and forth is staying in Wadi Rum in a tent camp. And again it is costly. We stayed at the sunset camp and they take a hundred JDs for the tent and half board. Do you want to see photos of the sheets and the towel? (at least there was a towel – in Dana we did not get one. Well you can survive without a shower for one day…) this is how it is: take it or leave it. Sounds like the rumoured Espresso in St Mark’s Square in Venice for 15 Euros… A typical tourist rip off.

Eco Glamping

Near Wadi Musa a new camp has opened which offers not only full furniture in the tents and is therefore called glamping (glamour camping) but it also wants to be eco friendly. This camp also faces difficulties in finding customers e.g. tourists. I spoke to a tour guide and apparently travellers who do a round trip through Jordan and stay in a camp in Dana or Wadi Rum will not spend a second night in any other camp. (I certainly know why!!) So when the tourist arrives in Petra or Wadi Mousa he is not willing to stay at another camp.

Challenges

The new camp in Wadi Mousa is faced with several challenges. The overall
number of tourists in general being low only a small percentage of this number will book a camp stay, let alone a vacation of several days. The initial plan of the camp also focused on one night stays and the idea was to send the guest from camp to camp as 22 of those eco friendly glamourcamps are planned. To me a daily change of camps sounds quite stressy though my luggage will be transported while I hike or go on a horseride. And at the time being with only two camps operating – one in Munifeh and one in Sahwa – the range of tours is limited.

Eco friendly

During our stay we discovered that the idea of eco friendly or organic differs from the already well established sustainability standards in Europe. For example the toilets in the camp are chemical toilets, which have to be emptied once in a while and the content will have to be transported to a place in town to be depolluted. So the chemicals, the transport and the depollution are three obstacles to sustainability. And this is just one subject: the toilets. Let alone all the other things used in a camp. The camp operator is a member of the international ecotourism society (TIES). So either they have very low standards or nobody controls the members. They say that the ecotourists are “responsible consumers interested in social, economic and environmental sustainability.” And ”
eco-tourists are also seeking to minimise the carbon footprint of their travel.”

Overall check

To really make the camp eco friendly every item in it has to be examined and checked for sustainability. And maybe they have to be replaced. On the subject of toilets I am sure that they have to be exchanged for dry compost toilets. But I believe that open communication telling the future guest that they will work on this aspect and exchange item for item for a more sustainable one over the coming years will be accepted by the tourist if these steps are really taken. A follow up on a blog or other communication is needed to be regarded as a reliable host.

Wadi Mousa Blick auf Felsenstadt Petra

Next steps

The camp should focus on advertising longer stays – maybe a week and communicate the willingness to become really eco friendly. But deeds must follow the words.

The Petra region development authorities should collect all touristic offers in the region and present them to travel agencies, tour operators and tourists. In the future additional programmes and activities should be developed to make the region a full vacation place where you can stay one or two weeks or even longer.

There is already a fine for not staying in a hotel in Jordan. I am not a friend of negative impact. I prefer motivation. So instead of punishing those tourists that do not spend a night in Jordan I would rather see some nice offers to make people come and stay.

Cooperations with travel agencies abroad should offer the individual tourist support in any question concerning his stay in Jordan.

The Jordan tourism board should start to not only communicate the dozen spots known so far but to present Jordan as a country where you can spend your vacation in beautiful surroundings with very friendly people.

To further market the beauty of Jordan the film and photo industry could be attracted. A flight to Jordan is much shorter than to fly to South Africa for example. Nature in Jordan is untouched and there are beautiful surroundings for movie scenes and fashion shoots. The guides know every stone and will lead you to the best spots. And as the landscape changes behind every corner there will be many different locations not far away from each other.
As as support for these tasks there could be students invoveld with the following topics e.g. for their thesis:

– gather all the possible activities in Petra region and make them available to touristic professionals and tourists
– Research the reputation of Jordan as a touristic destination in Austria or Germany, Europe
– Evaluation of a Petra Region Tourist Card
– Evaluation of ecofriendly camps and hotels in Jordan
– Evaluation of organic food and cosmetics in Jordan
– Evaluation of accommodation possibilities in Jordan
– Evaluation of number and offers of camps in Jordan
– …
During my stay I really fell in love with Jordan and the people. If I could be of any assistance to help to empower the tourism in Jordan I would love to do so.

If you also have a project where I can be of any help – let me know!