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The International Writers Magazine:Tourism Middle East

Petra between the rock and the hard place
Awni Kawar

By Having achieved our goal of getting our Rose-Red Petra voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World it is up to us to act now and put our tourism house in order. If we don’t do that we are very likely to lose our sense of perspective and short-change Petra, the ancient city that came a surprising second beaten only by the Great Wall of China in a global voting contest held in July 2007 that brought in other new wonders like Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Machu Picchu of Peru, Chichén Itzá, Mexico, and Roman Colosseum in Italy and Taj Mahal in India).

Out of 100 million votes through the internet and sms messages, the vote for Petra hovered on the 22 million mark which shows many people around the world identify with the slab-structured stoned city in the southern part of Jordan.
The balloting for Petra, and its new status as one of the new seven wonders is already posing opportunities and challenges to Jordan and the region. We, tour operators and government must now adopt a forward-looking approach of advocating responsible tourism through planning well-ahead to protect the 2000-year-old marvel in the middle of the desert and which has experienced the glories of different civilizations, including the Greeks, Romans and Nabataen Arabs.

The government must put forward judicious and prudent policies to ensure there would be less impact on the antiquated site and that the long–term preservation of this national treasure withstands the vagaries of time as it has done so in the past.
Mass tourism is expected to flow greatly into Jordan and to the Rose Red city as a result of its new-acquired status. Many people have been visiting Petra over the last years, and this is likely to continue. And in the interest of the convergence of global cultures and positive developments and bringing people together, we are hardly likely to stop this, but we can act to prevent a potentially divisive situation spiraling out of control while protecting our heritage for generations to come.
And here different organizations, local, regional and international and those interested in maintaining heritage, we must push the government to come up with innovative ways to improve its best management practices and techniques to preserve the site and draw out specific plans of action to ensure least damage and erosion while maintaining the benefits of a steady tourism flow.

This shouldn’t be difficult since Petra is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site watched over and monitored by international organizations and committees. That means the government can draw on these and local and international experts to provide the best advise, plans and methodologies.

Because of the eco-tourism perspective that is developing in Jordan, particularly regarding nature reserves, which the Kingdom already has six of, and where the prevailing views is to aim at a happy medium between economics and environment, and business and heritage and culture, protecting Petra from human tread can be done while ensuring the double-edged sword element of tourism is kept under lock and key.

In spite of the unfortunate environmental impact—which is why it needs to be managed effectively—tourism is the largest industry in the world. By itself it is a global economy having many derivative sectors and supporting environmental conservation, and cultural heritage.

Tourism supports poverty alleviation in different areas of the globe, including Jordan, by creating real sustainable local economies and is much involved in community developments, local projects and different cottage industries especially in rural areas.

But we must also brace ourselves for the inevitable. After the Petra victory, a great demand for this environmentally sensitive product will begin to permeate the insatiable demands of the tourism sector that is likely to set an economic wheel and chain in motion.
Investments in Petra is expected to rise sky-high and in all directions, starting from hotel properties (various categories), through to convention centers, shopping malls, aqua water parks, fun fairs, horse-riding clubs, and helicopter sight seeing trips.

This is why extra caution and a putting the breaks on philosophy must be exercised despite the fact such infrastructure would create much work and development in the central and southern regions of the Kingdom and general prosperity of the area.
An extra degree of caution is required where heritage preservation and economic development must go hand-in-hand to ensure non is made at the expense of the other and that resource optimization is maintained to ensure equilibrium and balance.

Existing hotel infrastructure already exists in Petra, there is good solid base to build on, although hotels owners here suffered immensely since October 2000 and after the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.
For five years the tourism situation flagged in the Kingdom and many were not able to fulfill their obligations to the banks due to lack of business in that period, and due to the issue of seasonality since the Rose-Red City has always been dependant on cultural tourism from American, Canadian and European markets especially.

But the situation has returned to normal over the last year or so. With the new Petra win as well, new niche markets are likely to start evolving such as MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events) and other forms of leisure tourism.

All new expected investments should stretch seasonality and lengthen the average stay and result in higher room occupancy levels in the hotels.

Such developments should also stress the principles of responsible travel among local tour operators especially in respecting local cultures, values and traditions and in minimizing waste due as many expect to see the doubling of numbers of tourists to Jordan and Petra, now and in the coming few years.

© Awani Kawar November 2007

Mazen Kawar
Interviewed by Marwan Asmar
Jordan is a booming tourism destination. More and more international tourists are visiting the Kingdom than ever.

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