Nature abounds: Ecotourism is one of the most promising growth niches

With natural attractions such as the Dead Sea, where low elevation and mineral-rich water create a singular environment; the majestic Wadi Rum; and the world’s most northerly coral reef at Aqaba, which is home to over 1000 marine species, Jordan has plenty to offer nature-minded visitors. Additionally, the country has several other protected habitats that host numerous endangered species and offer a variety of environments in a comparatively small space, giving visitors a range of eco-experiences in a short holiday.

Unsurprisingly, ecotourism is emerging as one of the industry’s most promising growth niches, having continued to expand in 2011 despite the downturn in the wider industry. The segment also has the capacity to benefit from Jordan’s already well-established tourist trade and the country’s reputation as a stable and easily accessible destination.

NATURAL OFFERINGS: The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), whose Wild Jordan unit is responsible for ecotourism in the kingdom, operates six eco-lodges, camps and guest houses. The RSCN took in a total of JD831,336 ($1.17m) in revenues in 2011 from ecotourism activities, while spending JD661,035 ($928,886) on its programmes.

The organisation manages more than 1000 sq km of protected reserves, including: the Ajlun Nature Reserve, a forested area with a climate similar to the mountains of Lebanon; the Mujib Nature Reserve, which is the lowest elevation nature reserve on the planet; the Azraq Wetlands reserve, famous for the migratory birds that pass through it; the Dibeen Forest Reserve; the 308-sq-km Dana Biosphere Reserve, which includes the increasingly well-known Feynan Lodge; the Shawmari Wildlife Reserve, home to over 200 of the extremely rare Arabian oryx; and the Wadi Rum desert protected area, which is famous for its lunar landscape and is host to around 120 species of bird. The RSCN is also working to create new protected areas, such as the Burqu Nature Reserve, which includes both desert (Ruwaished Desert) and wetlands (Ghadeer Burqu).

RSCN sites received 173,649 visitors in 2011, up 4% on 2010 figures, despite the wider downturn in the tourism sector in 2011. The most popular site in terms of visitor numbers in 2011 was the Dibeen Forest Reserve, which was visited by 66,400 people. The 8-sq-km site, located in the north-west of the country, is Jordan’s newest nature reserve and consists of pine forests that host more than 17 endangered species.

REGIONAL ASSISTANCE: In addition to conserving natural heritage and boosting tourism, the RSCN aims to help poor rural communities through the development of ecotourism and activities such as the sale of local produce and goods to eco-tourists. RSCN projects under way include the restoration of Dana Village in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which will create Jordan’s first tourism heritage village. The project will feature a reception and interpretation centre, restaurants, guest rooms, and shops. Other projects include a nature academy in Ajloun that will incorporate geothermal energy and a solar-powered water-heating system.

ECOTOURISM: While Jordan’s ecotourism offerings are becoming increasingly well known, some players feel the segment remains under-promoted. According to Muath Sbeih, director of the outbound department at Travel One, a travel agency, “Ecotourism in Jordan is very promising but needs more development and marketing efforts. The RSCN does a good job but it does not currently attend trade fairs. The country lacks a coherent, strategic plan for the segment.” Nevertheless, Wild Jordan is currently working to create new promotional and marketing materials, such as brochures for the RSCN’s protected areas and activities.

The ecotourism segment also has the capacity to complement broader tourism offerings. For example, there is significant room for leveraging synergies between it and the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment. Some of Jordan’s ecotourism accommodation can handle MICE events, such as the Dana Guest House and the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, the largest such facility, at the Dead Sea.

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The Report: Jordan 2012

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