The Hashemite Kingdom: Jordan Travel Mart

By Ilona Kauremszky

Jordan - You don’t have to look far to find the next new destination. In fact, tour operators today are scratching their heads on how they can best capitalize on this new-found product.

The place? The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

It’s ironic how one of the oldest places in the world has only recently started to put the big push on tourism. A stable government, a peace treaty with neighbouring Israel and a young devoted king highly popular among his people are certainly big bonuses.

At the first-ever Jordan Travel Mart held last month, a three-day conference attracted over 100 tour operators from North and South America with many reps from Canada who attended workshops, seminars and 25-minute carefully timed appointments with 50 hotels and tour operators. Pre and post trips were also available, allowing many to observe first-hand the hospitality of the Jordanians.

Canada’s own Baxter Travel Media was one of the key media sponsors, demonstrating the commitment Canada’s largest publisher of travel trade publications has toward showcasing Jordan as the next new hot destination.

“Participation at the Jordan Travel Mart in a sponsorship role provides us with an opportunity to bring our readers and clients the latest on a fascinating and for the Canadian market relatively new destination,” noted Baxter Travel Media’s ace sales guy, Rodney Tugwell.

Where’s the best place to woo new business? On the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1,400 feet below sea level, and to boot, in the country’s newest convention facility, the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center. “It’s from here where you see the lights of Jerusalem, the heights of Mount Nebo, and the baptism site where Jesus was baptized,” said His Excellency Senator Aqel Biltaj, a noted godfather of Jordan’s tourism industry and former Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.

Knowing we were at the earth’s lowest point didn’t disrupt the high accolades coming from the A-list of tourism developments that Jordan Tourism Board was unveiling either. Among the hot list: voluntourism, religious tourism, eco-tourism, luxury, spas, leisure, cruising and a burgeoning MICE market.

Having one of the newest wonders of the world, Petra, is also a big win for this country where only 11 years ago it opened its first North American office. The ancient site of Petra meshes Greek, Roman and Nabataean influences. Once “the” hub where all of the merchants in the Levant kept their secret accounting as they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the entire Byzantine Empire today Indian Jones’ fans will recognize this as the setting for the Temple of Doom.

Lawrence of Arabia is another big seller. The legendary Brit whose exploits and military genius during the 1900s later unleashed a Hollywood blockbuster film named after him also boasts a list of landmarks with his name on it. Desert buffs can venture to Wadi Rum and sleep under the same sky as T.E Lawrence did.

The current Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Her Excellency Maha Khatib, headed up the Jordan River Foundation and says this voluntourism initiative is near and dear to her heart. While Malia Asfour, the Jordan Tourism Board’s North American Director who not only established the North American Office but also spearheaded this travel mart into reality, smiles broadly as she explains how voluntourism is an ideal way to meet locals and give something back to local communities. “Jordan has emerged as a multi-dimensional affordable destination that matches the expressed needs of travelers from this (voluntourism) market. From voluntourism to adventure, religious to cultural travel, cruising to spa retreats and so much more, 21st century travellers want what Jordan has to offer,” she noted.

Tourism represents 14.4 percent of Jordan's GDP and employs 11 % of the total workforce. The government has been working hard on developing new tourism products. In 2004, the government established a national tourism strategy to double tourism receipts by 2010. It has already surpassed the targeted receipts last year and now hopes to double these figures by 2010.

Hot up and coming areas:
Convention business
Naif Zureikat, general manager of the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center tells me the Dead Sea is becoming a convention destination and there’s a great effort right now to establish a Jordan Convention Bureau as Jordan is new to the convention business industry. “We are networking with international organizations like MPI and are proud to be hosting the World Tourism Forum next year,” he explains of this forum which is estimated to welcome over 2,000 delegates.

To accommodate the large attendance numbers, new hotels will be popping up along the Dead Sea coast. Watch for the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and an expansion of the Dead Sea Spa and Hotel to be completed later this year which will create an additional 1,500 rooms to the area.

Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority(ASEZA) This resort town on the coast of the Red Sea bordering Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel is encountering a massive development boom that is fast and furious. Insiders here say it’s the rising of the Red Sea as luxury hotels, golf courses and cruising will shape the local economy. Once a barren desert outcropping, today Italian architects and the best international companies are being consulted to create a vibrant seaside city where you can shop, dine, relax and sun in the bluest sea I have ever laid my eyes on.

End notes:
Currently Royal Jordanian Airlines has two direct flights a week departing from Montreal with direct daily flights in other US cities like Chicago and New York City. RJ Airlines assures us there will be more developments announced at a later date.

The average length of stay for leisure travellers from Canada is 8.5 nights. We stay longer than our American neighbours who average 7.4 nights.

Once you get your head around the wave of strife splaying outside its borders, you realize this small country has big ideas and has only just begun. I can hardly wait to see what progress lies ahead in the next few years.

For travel information and to find out how your company can get involved in the exciting tourism initiatives see or call the Jordan Tourism Board at toll-free 1-877-SEE-JORDAN (733-5673).


photos: Stephen Smith

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