The International Writers Magazine: Jordan an Oasis of Safety in Middle-East
‘Safe, secure, and stable’, this is how tourists describe Jordan
“We loved being in Jordan. There was no safety concerns while we were here at the International Autism Conference put on by the Autism Biomedical Center and the Autism Academy,” says Marie Adams, spouse of Dr James Adams who gave a research paper at the 2nd Jordanian International Conference and Exhibition between 9-10 April.
They had flown from Arizona in the United States, had been here for one week, and were taken to such places as Petra, which Marie says was wonderful. Her voice was echoed by another Slovenian lady who flew from her country to attend another major international conference on “Learning Environments and Ecosystems in Engineering Education in Amman between 4-6 April, 2011.
“This lady kept sending me emails about how nervous she was in the light of the media coverage, about the protests in region, but I impelled her to come also through email and text messages, telling her it was perfectly safe in Jordan, she finally came, enjoyed the conference, and we later took her on various trips around Jordan,” says Lena Younis, Events Executive at Petra Tours.
One sms text message to Lena, Titana wrote: “…We are on the way back to Amman from Petra. It was amazing. I sobbed when we approached the Treasury….also the previous day, we had a great day with Ahmad [tour guide], and we made a marvelous tour of Jordan that will forever stay in our hearts.” She also visited such tourist attractions as Madaba, Dead Sea, Mount Nebo and the Baptism Site, which are favorite places for Christian tourists.
Marie says both she and her husband were hesitant to come at first, but once they made up their mind, they felt completely at peace, relaxed and enjoying their trips to the country’s diverse sojourns.
||Ghassan Barqawi, an events organizer, refuses to recognize the bad light of the international media in lumping Jordan with the other states undergoing protests. “Where, I simply can’t see it affecting us," as he looked around of bustling foreign delegates.
Pic: Street Market Amman
We had four bus-loads of tourists this morning, and this is just in one Five-Star hotel, we have four major conferences here at the same time, not to mention the activities at the Dead Sea Conference Center and in other areas,” he adds. “At this conference, we had people from America, Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Gulf States who had no qualms about being taken to Jeresh, Ajloun, Dead Sea and Petra, there is no talk from anybody about the country being unsafe, or that security is being compromised," he points out.
While there has been much drum beats by the international press about Jordan following a chaotic road and the economy slaging behind, the atmosphere on the Jordanian street today is completely different. Look at the downtown for instance. Whereas in the past, downtown Amman has been largely left in favor of the capital’s upscale districts, tourists have been streaming to the old part of the city which has famous attractions as the Roman Theater, and the Citadel, which graphically looks unto the mountains of east Amman.
In Hashim’s foul and falafel restaurant, tables were eagle spread out, connecting together when there is a need to, as tongues happily nattered away. On one table, there was a group of Americans dipping into their foul and homos plates. On another table, the voice changed with languages appearing from countries of East Europe. After they leave, other groups assemble in a restaurant which is open around-the-clock. Smiles, chats, talks, moving of hands to better explain orders, cups of tea or soft drinks, and the waiters happily obliging in their broken English.
This certainly does not seem to be a tense city with people sitting outside enjoying the light April breeze as the winter has been surprisingly mild this year in Jordan. People wonder about sitting in cafes, some puffing on an argieleh, Turkish coffee or peppermint tea, there are no evidence of policemen around. “If the situation was tense, surely there would be more guards around the streets, and certainly there wouldn’t be any tourists mulling in restaurants or cafes, they would be at least locked up in their hotels, or at worst leaving the country in droves,” one major tour operator specializing in the inbound trade stated.
|In Jordan, there is none of that. As a matter of fact, a few weeks after the Egyptian protests ended in February, tour operators started saying visitors were slowly returning to the country’s key resorts as Sharm Al Sheikh and the pyramids which is good news to Jordan because the traditional touristic linkage has always been strong for the tourists especially those who prefer a package holiday rather than a stand-alone destination.
The tourism sector in Jordan contributes annually around 14 percent to the country’s GDP. It made a high figure of $3 billion for the first nine months of 2010, making the sector a great national earner. In that year as well, total tourism arrivals increased by 20 percent to 4.6 million over 2009 with visitors coming from the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
Tour operators are particularly upset about the way some international mediums like Duetche Welle, the German TV station, are portraying the tourism situation in the country as being in ”crisis”, “economy stagnating, and Jordan’s top travel destinations—from Aqaba to the carved stone city of Petra—are largely empty of visitors and the fact tour guides in the country are accustomed to earning between $200 and $300 per month. Without that income, they could find it hard to feed their families,” it stated.
Officials from the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association (JITOA) have since said that such reporting is grossly untrue. In a statement (http://jitoa.org) that was sent to Duetche Welle, they stressed that while there has been a drop in the visitors to Jordan, this is definitely not a crisis as shown by the visitors to Petra. “In the first three months of 2011, the number of foreign visitors to the Petra site reached 154,439, compared to 191,255 during the same period of 2010, a drop of 19.25 percent, hardly correct in being described as ‘largely empty’”.
Officials from JITOA, an association of tour operators accounting for 80 percent of the inbound tourist trade to Jordan add: “Our biggest disappointment was in realizing that the German television station did not try to verify the facts before reporting it on air on 8 April. An average tour guide earns at least $800 to a $1000 in the low season, and amount doubles in busy periods”.
The Kingdom’s Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) is today working hard to promote the country as a safe destination through its offices all over the world, and through its continuing statements on its website www.visitjordan.com and to local and international medias. The JTB is also working with JITOA and the Jordan Hotel Association to promote the country as a safe tourist destination for great holidays.
In such efforts it held a full seminar last March to impress upon local tour operators to use greater social marketing techniques through websites as facebook and twitter to spread the message that Jordan is a safe haven for international tourists.
The social marketing seminar suggested those in the industry may like to create videos about different touristic events around the Kingdom as way of innovation and posting them on such providers as http://www.youtube.com and so on.
But something along these lines is already being created in Jordan. One local agency emulated its glossy Travel and Tourism Guide online in a clever interactive format at www.jordantravelandtourism.com where viewers can look, search, and turnover its pages in a delightful way. Similar interactions are today made because of the new technologies. On one group website, www.facebook.com/JordanTourism, a survey question asked ‘Is Jordan a safe destination for tourists?’
Two Americans last month recorded their hitch-hiking journey from Jordan’s border with Syria right down to Aqaba documented on http://engagingcultures.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/is-jordan-safe-heres-what-we-found-out/
It was a very engaging journey, with the post dated 21 March at the heights of the protests in the region. The two showed Jordanians were indeed hospitable, being received warmly by many of the people they met, and travelling through the country’s so-called outback.
Everyone in the industry recognizes such efforts are going a long way to send messages to the world that Jordan is indeed a safe place, and help in creating the right impressions that the country is well, with people going about their business as an everyday fact of life. It is business as usual.
© Marwan Asmar May 2011
*The writer is an editor at the Amman-based SADDA Agency