There is no denying that Jordan is rich in cultural heritage sites from several civilizations. A unique landscape from the Wadi Rum deserts to the Dead Sea in the Jordan Rift Valley attracts global tourists. Its prized destination is Petra, the country’s most visited destination.
There has been a big jump in Jordan’s tourism in recent months. International arrivals to Jordan between September and December are expected to increase 17% compared to pre-pandemic levels, says Olivier Ponti, VP of Insights at ForwardKeys. Similarly, the last seven months have witnessed a rise in tourists by 50%, up 60% from the previous year.
There are a bunch of factors driving the growth: a positive post-COVID response, reasonable airfares, promotional content involving visits from A-list celebrities such as Salma Hayek or Oprah Winfrey, and shooting films such as Aladdin in the Wadi Rum desert, among others.
The sector is responsible for about 16% of Jordan’s GDP.
“The tourism sector contributes effectively to the operation of an excellent percentage of local employment in Jordan, which entails the partial and total recovery of the country’s economy,” says Dr. Jassim Al-Ghasawneh, Head of the Marketing Department and a faculty member at the Applied Science Private University of Jordan
However, experts say that for Jordan to keep up the momentum and create a lasting impact, careful attention needs to be paid to the factors that got it to this point, and extra action must be taken to preserve its sites.
One key factor making Jordan an attractive tourist destination is its improved air connectivity from Jordan’s priority outbound markets.
“The improving connectivity and accessibility facilitate the visitation and eliminate pain points in the ‘getting there’ travel customer journey phase. The aviation industry plays an essential role for Jordan due to its geographical position and distance from its key outbound markets,” says Naiara Giner, Associate Manager of Hospitality & Tourism at Colliers MENA.
Knowing this, the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) collaborated with airlines to further boost connectivity. The board recently extended its partnership with RyanAir until 2028 to connect the country with 12 European cities and attract a new tourism demographic while focusing on Eastern Europe and budget segments. Wizz Air and United Airlines have also launched new routes to connect Jordan with key source markets.
Ponti shares that ForwardKeys’ Seat Capacity Data points to a 5% increase in international seat capacity to Jordan in H1 of 2023, as compared to 2019 levels. The second half of the year’s capacity is predicted to rise to 9% versus 2019, with capacity originating in North America performing at 43% more in seat availability arriving in Jordan, contrary to 2019.
Airfares to Jordan are also seeing significant price competitiveness with most regional players. “Fares to Jordan, on the other hand, have decreased by 21%, which in the current global economic climate could play a key role in the strong tourism performance this year,” says Ponti.
Additionally, digital marketing has been boosting Jordan’s image and providing new global travel patterns. “With the acceleration of technology, most travelers currently use digital tools to book their trips and choose their tourist destinations. It greatly affects the tourism sector in Jordan,” says Al-Ghasawneh.
THE KEY SUB-SECTORS
For a long time, culture and heritage have been priority tourism categories for Jordan. Petra is among the top reasons tourists visit Jordan. The country has received international recognition through films featuring landmarks, further boosting its appeal to visitors.
Adventure tourism comes in second as a priority sub-sector in the country, especially glamping in Wadi Rum and sun and seas tourism in Aqaba. In the short term, the supply of bubble domes has grown as a form of camping in Jordan.
Giner says that increased government interest in developing smaller villages, such as Umm Qais, has also resulted in a growth of independently operated, small hotels.
She highlights that medical and wellness tourism significantly contributes to tourism revenue. Should the demand for this sub-sector continue to grow, more medical-tourism-focused hospitality concepts may enter the Jordanian market.
Data also shows that people like to travel to Jordan and experience these sub-sectors in groups. Ponti highlights that tickets issued for September to December travel signify that the strong performance of international arrivals is driven by group travel, up 29% over 2019 volumes.
While this boost in tourism is a positive step for Jordan’s economy, there is still work to be done and challenges to confront. Some roadblocks relate to tourism policy planning and regulations, the need for up-to-date statistics for easy decision-making, inconsistencies in regulation enforcement, constant regulation changes, and several pain points in the licensing process.
“It is important to start immediately assessing the extent of tourist satisfaction to ensure the quality of services, identify strengths to enhance them, and monitor weaknesses to address them,” says Al-Ghasawneh, listing ways Jordan can expand.
To unveil Jordan’s true potential for becoming a tourist destination, Al-Ghasawneh suggests that partnerships with the private sector while encouraging the establishment of joint ventures or Build, Operate, Transfer projects in tourism and entertainment sectors can go a long way.
With the average socio-economic status of most tourists, more suitable three- or four-star hotels must be provided. “Creating a committee or unit that combines key stakeholders from the public and private sectors and identifies and manages any challenge in Jordan is key,” says Giner.
Another important element Al-Ghasawneh outlines is to focus on the large tourist markets in Southeast Asia and provide them with tourism services that align with their culture in the food and entertainment field. As low-cost aviation has proven to increase the number of tourists to Jordan, if cooperation is made with national airlines, they can play a similar role.
Presenting encouraging programs and projects for tourists to engage with is one of the ways Jordan can ramp up its tourism.
“Just as our ancestors carved Petra in the rock, we can complete a major project with the private sector in the heart of the Golden Triangle in the south of the kingdom, away from the main cities, to contribute to a quantum leap in the number of tourists and the development of the south. In the middle of the Golden Triangle, we must think of establishing an integrated tourist city that represents our heritage and provides tourists with accommodation and various services that meet all their needs,” says Al-Ghasawneh.
Among the most critical issues is preserving its historical and natural wonders. As climate change takes the world by storm, the country must remain aware of its cultural heritage sites and find ways to maintain them, experts say.
“Any significant change in these wonders would directly impact tourism demand,” says Giner, citing the Dead Sea as an example.
“One of Jordan’s most famous tourist attractions is shrinking and has become home to numerous hospitality establishments. This combination poses a challenge for Jordan as commercialization drives mass tourism. However, mass tourism may in fact need to be deterred if the shrinking sea is to be salvaged.”
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