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The International Writers Magazine:Middle East Travel

Tourism guru Mazen Kawar dwells on Jordan’s niche but says more is promotion required
Interviewed by Marwan Asmar

Jordan is a booming tourism destination. More and more international tourists are visiting the Kingdom than ever. One of the oldest tourism agencies in Amman, Petra Travel and Tourism Co., and formerly known as Petra Tours, is helping to create this boom. Following is a full interview with Mazen Kawar, one of the managing partners, on Jordan’s latest product offerings, the type of international tourists who come the Kingdom and on the promotion needed to promote the country as a tourism destination in the world.
1) What makes Jordanian Tourism an attractive destination in the world?
Jordan has much diverse product offerings that appeal to the international traveller. We, that is the Kingdom, and at Petra Tours are adaptable and flexible to the needs of the international visitor who is no longer necessarily looking for classical tours and traditional places, but wants to explore new aspects of travel like desert tourism, eco-tourism and hiking, and cultural tourism.

2) Where do your tourists come from?
They come from all over the world, especially Europe—France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Russia, China, the United States and Canada. Visitors also come from Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and from Lebanon.

3) How important is the Middle East Region is as a market for Jordan?
Official figures suggest 60 percent of Jordan’s tourist intake is from the Gulf countries every year. The North American market—the United States and to a lesser extent Canada used to be very good before 11 September attacks, but, it is picking up. This market is likely to grow because Americans like diversity such as ecotourism of which we are continually developing with the cooperation of the RSCN who look after 6 nature reserves in Jordan.

4) Do you think Jordan can enhance its eligibility as a holiday destination for holiday-makers?
On the whole when international tourists come to Jordan say from Egypt and or Israel, they say to themselves "oh, we should have spent less days in these countries and less in Jordan." This is a view being heard more by tour operators from visitors including Petra Tours. Some of the views heard is Jordan is a nice place, security is good, it’s clean and the food is good. The Jordanian government, through the Ministry of Tourism and the Jordan Tourism Board, has to build on these factors and project an international image that Jordan is indeed a tourism destination because of its product diversity.

5) How many visitors/guests did you receive in 2006 compared to 2005 and what are your projections for 2007?
According to official figures in 2006 we receive around 6573669 million, up on 2005 which was 5817370 million. The projected figure for 2007 is definitely on the rise.
6) Do you believe enough is being made to market and promote Jordan, and if not what more can be done?
No, more promotion, marketing and advertising needs to be done on the international level. While this is presently being made by the Jordan Tourism Board and especially in different countries like the UK, more visibility is definitely needed. It is not always good just to rely on the private sector, on tour operators, travel agents and Management Destination Companies as promotion as advertising, marketing, press releases, features about Jordan has to be made in total, written with the idea of promoting Jordan in total.
7) Have you got any major marketing drives on at the moment to really promote Jordan to the rest of the world?
Yes, we at Petra Tours have lots of brochures to promote the different sites and products in Jordan for incoming tourists. We have pamphlets (made by Jordan Tourism Board) in different European languages. Also at Petra Tours and the Petra Travel Tourism Company we have a full listing of the tourism products we offer as well as provide different features on Jordan, on our websites, so that international visitors can log in and see the kind of destinations that exist in Jordan. Tour operators do their fair share of travelling to different travel exhibitions in places like Spain, France, Germany and the UK. Some of the travel exhibitions are jointly made through the JTB to underline private-public sector cooperation in tourism.
7) Are there going to be any international events held in Jordan between now and the end of 2008, and if so, what impact do you think various international events hosted in Jordan will have on the region’s tourist economy?
Jordan has become a traditional place for hosting international events. These are split between the cultural events (like the yearly international Jeresh Festival, the Fuhais Festival and all the other festivals that take place in the summer), and there is also the permanent type of events/exhibitions, conferences, meetings, and incentive travel. The Kingdom is a clear destination for that, and has been building itself through out the region from the 1990s onwards. Today we host events like the Rebuild Iraq conference and Expo where many international exhibitors come to Amman in the hope of striking deals with their Iraqi counterparts, we have the annual China Products Fair as well, we have SOFEX, and a host of other international conferences organized by the United Nations, World Bank, international NGOs and so. Other big events including providing logistics—transport—for the World Economic Forum that takes place in the Dead Sea (last time May 2006) and next year it will take place in Sharm Al Sheikh and then return to Jordan in 2009. These events have a very clear impact on Jordan’s gross domestic product whose between 10 and 12 percent of that was generated from the tourism sector in 2006. The MICE aspect has a very clear impact on the region’s economy. A distinct example of that is the Rebuild Iraq Exhibit where companies from Europe, North America and Far East come to Jordan to meet Iraq government officials and those from its private sector; similarly companies say from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates come to Jordan during the venue to exhibit for the Iraqi market. In the last Rebuild Iraq Exhibit, there were around 700 exhibitors and over 400 international brand names from over 40 countries from the world. Such exhibits and conferencing are making the Kingdom a place of connection for the region and between the region and the outside world.
8) Have you noticed a shift in accommodation preferences, with tourists opting for accommodation outside of traditional hotel settings?
There is certainly an increase in night accommodation across the board since 2003. The 2006 figures saw a slight decrease on 2005, but they show a great rise since 2003. Concentration in classified hotels is still strong but visitors are sleeping in hotel apartments, hotel suits, and camping more. They show a consistent rise although still much less than the classified hotels, particularly 5, 4 and 3 Stars. More people are using camping in reserves accommodation but this may be because more visitors come to the Kingdom because they are nature tourists and like to camp. And there is more variety in accommodation which pull tourists rather than as distinct preferences for hotel apartments or suits. It’s rather more of what you can get type of accommodation, but hotels are still leaders. Maybe in the long-term, say five years down the road there will be changes, but at the moment the increase appears to be upwardly stable
9) Do you believe that cultural projects and with Petra being one of the new 7 Wonders, there will be an increase in the number of tourists to Jordan, or will it mean increased tourism within these areas, draining other resort areas of tourists?
There will definitely be more tourists to Jordan but there are two schools of thought: Some believe, yes more tourists would want to see Petra as it is now one of the new seven wonders of the world; others say no, the win will not actually affect the tourists since Petra is already known by a great deal of many around the world, and thus the flow will continue to be stable. Still others see a bright economic future for Petra that involve the creation of more tourism infrastructure and thus urge the government to step and guard the environmental terrain.
10) Are you promoting any niche tourism activities like golf, MICE, health or Spa packages?
A definite yes! We are promoting all types of sports activities, MICE and different health packages. These are niche markets that exist in Jordan; another distinct one is for example more and more international visitors want to have their weddings in such places as Petra, Wadi Rum and Madaba. We at Petra Tours do provide health and Spa packages especially to the Dead Sea as well as provide different kinds of incentive travel.
12) How important is health tourism for instance?
It is very important. Between 1998 and 2005, 116,000 patients each year came to Jordan for treatment. According to official statistics the number dropped somewhat in 2006 and 2007, but the overall long-term trend is expected to be high. In Jordan there is also a therapeutic health market in such areas as the Dead Sea and the Ma’en Spa. However, this is an area that still can be further tapped through more marketing.
© Marwan Asmar October 2007

on Reading in Aqaba

The Writing Escapade
Marwan Asmar

‘Words and sentences take a life of their own, dancing in front of you, picking themselves up from the gray lines and pages and appealing to your senses and thoughts.'

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