Tourism in Jordan: threat or opportunity for the country?

Tourism in Jordan: threat or opportunity for the country?
Credit ©Simon Schöpf

As in many countries with high economic development needs, nature conservation is not really the priority for the Jordanian government. There is great pressure on natural resources, particularly around the Dead Sea, the Azraq Oasis, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Dana Valley (copper mines), as well as in Aljoun and Dibeen Forests (much illegal deforestation).  The Dead Sea is drying up, and a major canal project is underway to bring water from the Red Sea. An environmental impact assessment raises many questions, but it does not seem to be listened to.

It is in this unfavourable context that the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) has been working for more than 50 years to preserve the environment in the country. With less than 8% of its budget coming from the government, this organization is rather independent. It has developed a sub-branch, Wild Jordan, which works in particular on socio-economic development within nature reserves. Wild Jordan manages the eco-tourism activities of five of its nature reserves. There are a total of nine, to which can be added the Wadi Rum protected area, which represents less than 2% of the total area of the country.

Among the many good practices implemented by Wild Jordan, we can mention the fact that 100% of the employees (guides, accommodation, catering…) come from local communities and in Nature Shops shops all souvenirs are crafted and sold at fair prices.

But Wild Jordan also faces many challenges:

  • Large hotel resorts (around the Dead Sea and Red Sea in particular) prefer to have foreign rather than local employees because it is culturally easier for them. How can we successfully encourage them to train and recruit members of local communities?
  • How to find and keep qualified employees in remote areas? Once trained, it often happens that the best employees finally leave to work elsewhere (especially in hotel resorts in Jordan or in the Gulf countries). New people must be found and trained in perpetuity.
  • During the winter, some reserves are sometimes closed for several months. How can we mitigate this seasonality effect and keep prices that remain reasonable without leaving tourism employees in a precarious work situation?
  • How to facilitate quality interactions between travellers and tourists without losing the authenticity of these exchanges?
  • International tourists require a certain level of comfort and services (such as Wifi etc…). It is not always easy to provide such levels of services in natural locations and far from cities.

Also, sports and adventure tourism is expanding in Jordan. How to ensure the safety of visitors? There is a strong need to put in place international procedures and standards in this area. This is in progress, in particular thanks to the support of the American association ATTA (Adventure Travel Trade Association). 

More than 1000 km of mountain bike and hiking trails

Two major routes, each covering more than 650 kilometres of the country, have recently been developed:

  • The idea for the Jordan Trail was born more than 30 years ago. The association was officially created in 2015 by a group of 40 volunteers. Supported by international donors, the trail crosses 8 major regions. The thru-hike can be done in 45 days. Each year the association organizes one to which everyone is invited, this makes it possible to mark or re-mark certain sections.
  • The Jordan Bike Trail is an initiative led by the local tour operator Experience Jordan, the website has been online since 2017. The entire trail can be done by mountain bike in a fortnight.

The Jordan trail and bike trail are not yet fully marked, but all GPS coordinates are shared on their respective websites. There also suggestions for accommodation in local communities and contacts with qualified guides. Projects are also underway to better develop the tourist offer along these two routes in direct collaboration with local communities that so wish. A group of women guides is also being formed.

Exemplary tourism companies

EcoHotels

The “EcoHotels” adventure started in 2009 with the 26 rooms of Feynan Ecolodge in the heart of the Dana Valley. This lodge is a very good example of sustainable development. Two other similar hotels are planned: in Petra and in the north of the country in Himmeh (next to the hot springs and Roman ruins of Um Qais). Some examples of good practices implemented at Feynan Ecolodge:

  • There is electricity only in the bathroom, and in the evening the lodge is lit by candles, which are made on site.
  • This is the first hotel in Jordan to have completely eliminated plastic.
  • Briquettes of dried olive stones are used to heat the lodge.
  • Meals are vegetarian.
  • The local community is made up of 80 families (400 people), and 50% of the travelers’ expenses at the lodge directly benefit this community.
  • Many activities have been designed to make travellers want to stay longer: watching the stars, hiking (from the most accessible to the most sporty), discovering plants (including medicinal plants), meeting the local community, workshops to learn how to build a Bedouin tent, cooking classes….
Baraka Destinations

To encourage the promotion of new places and thus better distribute tourism throughout the country, Baraka Destinations (www.barakadestinations.com) conducts development projects in several cities/villages in Jordan. This social consulting company, currently funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development USAID, has been working in the village of Um Qais for two years. She accompanies 7 small companies, playing the role of “doctor”, in order to see what is working more or less well and implement the necessary actions to improve their economic health, but also to innovate and help the suppliers of these tourism companies to improve as well.

Storytellers” of the places have been identified: inhabitants who are a bit the memory of the places, and who help to transcribe and communicate the history of the village. In the last year it is estimated that US$ 50,000 has directly benefited the village. 86% of travellers’ expenses remain on site. 50 jobs would have been created. The next village in sight for Baraka Destinations is Pella… a business to be continued!

The meaningful travel map of Jordan

The Ministry of Tourism has published a map that identifies social enterprises of interest to tourists. Some craft centres are among them, offering high quality products at fair prices to support economic activity in rural areas, especially those of single women for example.

Tourism in Jordan: threat or opportunity for the country?
Meaningful Map Jordan
JITOA Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association

A voluntary organization that refers Jordan’s tour operators: www.jitoa.org

Need to raise awareness among travellers

There is a need in Jordan, as everywhere, to raise awareness among travellers to adapt their behaviour, in particular on the following points:

  • Save water: when taking a shower for example,
  • Buy filter bottles: to avoid buying plastic bottles all the time.
  • Do not encourage animal abuse: say no to camel, horse, donkey tours that are not well treated (follow the advice in this article).
  • Respect local traditions: in particular cultural and religious differences, dress and behave “decently” (cover shoulders, knees and head for women in holy places), ask permission before taking a picture of someone, do not eat or drink in public during Ramadan.
  • Inform himself : about the services of eco-responsible tourism companies and buy souvenirs made in Jordan, in craft centres where the profits are donated to local communities.

Balancing the need to increase tourism revenues with the ecological cost of increasing the number of visitors is the challenge of any destination, and Jordan is no exception. With sensitized travellers, a management plan with the government’s long-term vision and the cooperation of tourism professionals, would this be possible?

This is an excerpt of the original article published in Voyageons Autrement: Tourisme en Jordanie : menace ou opportunité pour le pays ?

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