Jordan expecting bumper summer tourist season

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Petra, surrounded by mountains as high as 1350 metres above sea level, is an ancient site extremely popular with tourists. Photo – Triptourism.com

Jordan is welcoming tourists from abroad with its vibrant music, fascinating art festivals, stunning landscapes, ancient ruins and a mouthwatering cuisine amid soaring political tension in the country and simmering unrest in neighbouring Syria and Lebanon.

According to Jordanian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Nayef Al-Fayes, tourism was down last year by 16.5% and the country’s tourism sector lost $1 billion dollars when most bookings by European tour operators were cancelled in the wake of uprisings in neighbouring Egypt and Syria.

However, come this summer and wealthy tourists from the Gulf and Europe are planning their vacations in Jordan again.

Reports suggest tourism revenues grew by nearly 40% during the month of May as the number of visitors started climbing.

The surge in tourism has led to an increase in the demand for Jordanian dinar, according to experts from the foreign exchange industry. The rising demand, coupled with financial transactions of Jordanian expatriates in the Gulf, which reached nearly $1 billion, has helped consolidate the strength of the under-pressure Jordanian dinar which is resisting a looming financial meltdown due to the country’s bad shape of the economy.

Tourism industry analysts insist revenues will be essential to help Amman deal with its severe financial difficulties, as the country grapples with a foreign debt of $20 billion and a fiscal budget deficit which just widened to 34.2% to 3.24 billion dinars ($4.56bn) in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2011, due to a higher energy import bill.

Jordan Hotel Association reported that the current hotel occupancy rate stands at around 80%, and expected it to reach 100% in days to come. The Hashemite Kingdom relies heavily on tourism as it has few natural resources to draw upon.

Minister of Tourism Al-Fayes said the government is planning a series of summer festival in Amman, Karak, Fuheis and other parts of the country with the Jerash summer festival kicking of this week and promising visitors an array of activities for families including concerts by famous artists, musical shows and cultural activities.

He also announced plans of a variety of street festivals in Amman with artists and musicians including samba bands, fire breathing acrobats, and stilt-walkers to entertain local residents and visitors.

The government is boosting its tourism revenues by making it easier for foreign tourists to travel to the country. It has also hiked visitor fees at key tourist sites such as Petra and Wadi Rum to make more money. A one-day entrance to Petra, for example, costs $125, although the fee goes down if a tourist decides an overnight stay in Jordan.

The country is benefiting from the growing instability in Egypt and Lebanon, two major destinations for holiday-makers from the oil-rich Gulf region. However, Jordan’s tourism board insists it is welcoming tourists from other regions like Far East as well.

The government has relaxed laws over drinking and night life to accommodate needs of other market segments.

Abdul Razaq Arabiat, a senior official at the Jordan Tourism Board, believes changes in the region carry with them new opportunities.

“The current political, economic and social changes as well as market trends represent a major challenge to tourism, but also provide new opportunities,” he said. The tourism board official also added that the government has invited more than 400 journalists this year to come to the country and see the situation in Jordan for themselves, which in his words, is stable and peaceful.

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