International Writers Magazine: Jordan
Through Foreign Eyes
Noor Al Saleh
In a booth designed
setting, posters of Petra were on display luring walkers over. Many
of the passers-by didnt know what to expect but would invite
themselves to steal a look at the posters and the books that were
scattered on the table. Obviously they knew the booth has something
to do with Petra. That was tempting enough for any foreigner who
is willing to cross miles and oceans just to visit the unique site.
of who we are"? I would ask. "Not really". The answer
I was getting most of the time, but with a look of I-want-to-know-more.
We are the "Petra National Trust", I said, "we have existed
for 18 years and we are there to preserve and protect Petra."
"Tell us the story of Petra"? was the question that immediately
followed, addressed to me.
That was during the Jordan Travel Mart event that took place at the
King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center at the Dead Sea on Feb 10,
bringing together more than 100 tour operators-buyers of tourism products
and services and travel journalists from North and Latin America. The
three day event, organized by the Jordan Tourism Board North America
(JTBNA), aims to connect Jordans outbound and inbound tour operators.
The carefully qualified Jordan Travel Mart buyers met representatives
of more than 50 Jordan hotels, receptive operators, and other suppliers
of travel services in Jordan. Petra National Trust was invited by the
Jordan Tourism Board to participate in the event as an NGO among others
like the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), the Jordan
River Foundation, Noor al- Hussein Foundation, RACE, and the Jordan
Inbound Tour Operators Association.
The event included a pre-scheduled appointment format that arranged
specific meetings between American "buyers" and Jordanian
"suppliers". Each meeting lasted for 20 minutes. A good number
of the tour operators PNT met had never sent any groups to Jordan and
it was even their first time to the region. The political instability
in the Middle East was cited as the main reason among others.
The Experience of Petra National Trust
Petra National Trust (PNT) had a schedule of 21 appointments with North
and Latin American buyers. It wasnt surprising to see the significant
number of people flooding to PNTs booth with no appointments scheduled.
Ultimately, Petra is the site that draws the largest number of national
and international tourists in Jordan every year.
They were all keen to know about Petra. The awesome, thrilling, breathtaking
expressions that were drawn on their faces upon mentioning the Rose
Red city would soon turn into expressions of admiration of the organization
that is there to preserve this heritage site. Some of the tour operator
who already visited Petra have expressed with anger some concerns regarding
the services in Petra. The absence of enough bathrooms was a common
issue brought up by many. Another was the treatment of animals. Most
of them also voiced their irritation at the unlicensed vendors and their
harassment to the tourists.
Ever since I started working in the Petra National Trust I came to realize
that it is not easy to get people interested in supporting an organization
that preserves a heritage site. You see people supporting projects that
would build a house for someone, or would help a kid dying from cancer.
But how often do you find people willing to put their money to preserve
a heritage site?
At the Jordan Travel Mart, and to my great astonishment, I did meet
people who showed dedication to our cause upon hearing our mission statement.
One US tour operator for example, offered to donate to PNT 5% of the
total cost of each tour sent to Petra.
More commitment was shown by American journalists who were wandering
around conducting interviews and taking pictures, waiting impatiently
to be back home and write about their experience in Jordan which they
described as "unique". They were all eager to know about PNT,
expressing their happiness to know that there is such an organization
that is there to preserve Petra. They happily exchanged cards with me
with a promise and a commitment to publish press releases and stories
about PNT. They went on to explain how there is an international attention
to Petra and everybody is interested to know more about it.
Issues to Consider
Some tour operators expressed their interest in special tours and wondered
if PNT is considering adding this type of services to their agenda.
One of the tour operators for example conducts Learning Vacations especially
to Harvard students, and inquired if PNT will be conducting special
tours for students in the future.
There was an interest in the concept of voluntourism, which is gaining
popularity in the US. Voluntourism gives the opportunity to see and
experience new places and the chance to give back to the places and
people you interact with during your travels. The Jordan Tourism Board
North America is currently working with a number of organizations in
Jordan to develop volunteer opportunities for visitors to Jordan aiming
at engaging them in meaningful ways with the Jordanian people. This
question was also addressed to PNT, questioning the additional of such
programs for volunteers in Petra in the future.
Faith-based travel is flourishing in the US and the local tour operators
were encouraged to include that in their itineraries since this is said
will attract more tourists. However, this applies more to other touristic
places than Petra, like Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Madaba, etc.
One thing the Jordan Tourism Board North America stressed is how tour
operators should create more attractive itineraries that would make
Jordan look more tempting to the American tour operators and worth crossing
The old itineraries, on the other hand, were described as traditional
and not very appealing. Having bread with a local family was given as
a simple activity of how this might add to the experience of any tourist.
I came to appreciate PNT more and the role it has been doing all over
the years. It takes a believer to appreciate the existence of such an
organization which unfortunately has been and is still perceived by
many as an obstacle to urban development in Petra. Petras recent
designation amongst the New Seven Wonders has put more pressures on
PNT to stand firm against all the activities that are being introduced
to haphazardly increase tourism in Petra, failing to realize that such
activities seriously threaten and harm this fragile site. "We visit
Petra just to look at the monuments, nothing else would attract us,"
as one tour operator put it, stressing the fact that Jordanians should
work together to preserve the site from the impact of human contact.
I also came to appreciate Petra more. Like many Jordanians, I know that
Petra is awesome and unique, but my interactions with the people at
the event made me appreciate it even more. It really saddens me to see
foreigners coming together with a belief that Jordanians are not taking
care of Petra as they should. It is neglected in their eyes. It is neglected
by its own people.
One Canadian travel editor and publisher I met over dinner explained
to me that he has been traveling all around and visiting places. However,
"Petra", he said "is one of the few places that you cannot
find a replacement for anywhere in the world. Its definitely a
place that is worth crossing miles and oceans for." His statement
was to stress the fact that the government has to invest more in Petra
and work hard to make it a thrilling experience for any tourist from
I see this event as a wake up call for all tour operators and even Jordanians.
The three-day event helped open my eyes to an even more beautiful Jordan.
Does it usually take a foreign eye to admire the beauty of ones
own country where one is born and brought up? I wonder.
© Noor al-Saleh March 2008
* Journalism has always been Noor's passion. Noor started as an editor
in an English weekly newspaper in Jordan, but also got the chance to
write a good number of editorials and features, one of which won a second
prize in an international competition held at the national level. Noor
then worked as a Managing Editor for two English magazines in Jordan,
mainly responsible for the magazines' editorial line and supervising
Writing for a good cause has always been Noor's belief which made her
join Petra National Trust. Through her work, she believes that that
the role of the journalist is not only to solely cover sorties and report
what is happening, but a true journalist also advocates for change.
Noor is currently the Communications and Outreach Officer for Petra
National Trust. Noor is responsible about the media coverage for the
organization's programs, media training as well as the promotional materials.
Noor holds a BA degree in English Literature from the University of
Jordan as well as a Masters Degree in American Studies. Noor's interests
include reading, sports and travel as well as writing for a cause.
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