Jordan’s struggling tourism industry appears to have begun benefiting from a package of measures introduced last year that aimed to entice first time holidaymakers to the Kingdom and win back repeat visitors, particularly from the Gulf.
Thanks to its abundance of archaeological, religious, and leisure offerings, tourism has long been a major contributor to Jordan’s economy, accounting for around 13 percent of GDP.
However, the industry has faced significant external challenges over recent years, with arrivals dropping from more than 8.1 million in 2010 to 5.3 million in 2014. This was largely due to ongoing regional unrest scaring off travelers unaware that Jordan remains a safe place in the region to visit. “The biggest challenge we face in the short-term is the misperception among some foreigners that Jordan is unsafe,” Minster of Tourism Nayef al-Fayez said. “This is something that we are actively working to correct.”
To counter these headwinds, the government and private partners have doubled down on their commitment to developing tourism in the Kingdom, and are working to encourage growth through targeted marketing, the introduction of new visitor incentives, and ongoing expansion of transportation links.
This drive will continue into 2016, after the government approved a budget of JD37 million ($52.1 million) for marketing activities throughout the year.
As one of its main tourism promotion policies, the government has been working to lower the cost of visiting Jordan for targeted source markets. A move to decrease visa fees for visitors entering via a land border crossing from JD40 ($56.3) to JD10 ($14) looks to be yielding results, with the number of Arab-Israeli visitors entering Jordan for a stay of more than three nights rising by 50 percent during the summer of 2015, according to al-Fayez.
In a further bid to attract tourists from the region, in late December the country extended an earlier decision to lower entry fees for Arab visitors at tourist and archaeological sites to match those charged to Jordanian nationals. The incentive scheme will now be applied through to the end of 2016.
Other cost incentives include a unified-entry ticket, known as the Jordan Pass, which was introduced by the tourism ministry last year. The pass—which costs between JD70 ($99) and JD80 ($113), depending on the number of days visitors wish to spend at Petra—exempts purchasers from the country’s visa fee and grants them entry to key tourist areas and attractions across the country, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, at no extra cost.
Increasing charter activity could also help Jordan tap into niche markets in the region, such as international travelers looking for affordable side or day trips while visiting nearby countries. Other segments that the Jordan Tourism Board is targeting include religious tourism, for both Christians and Muslims; meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions; and ecotourism and adventure holidays.
Royal Jordanian has also been active in boosting Jordan’s air connectivity, signing an interline agreement with Spain’s low-cost carrier Vueling Airlines late last year. The deal is expected to open connections to more than 200 cities via Vueling’s Mediterranean hubs in Barcelona and Rome.
Ministry of Tourism data suggests these efforts are beginning to have an effect. While arrivals saw a general decline in the first half of the year, third-quarter arrivals were up 3.6 percent year-on-year, possibly hinting at the beginning of a turnaround.
Speaking to local media in late December, al-Fayez underscored the positive impact of national efforts to kick-start the industry’s recovery, citing an expected rise in tourism numbers by the end of the fourth quarter.
According to the minister, the government will also be looking to sync its tourism promotion strategy with the broader Vision 2025 development plan, released in mid-2015.
Oliver Cornock, Regional Editor THE INSIDE EDGE