Interivew: Taha Al Zboun

Given the important role that tourism plays in Jordan’s economy, how important is the Dead Sea?

TAHA AL ZBOUN: The Dead Sea is, without doubt, a jewel in the crown of Jordan. Throughout history it has been inhabited, hosting some of the most significant events in our shared history. As a geological feature – the lowest point on Earth – the Dead Sea is unparalleled, with a salubrious climate and mineral-rich saline waters that have proven to be of therapeutic value. The surrounding cliffs frame the sea with dramatic shapes and colours, and hidden, verdant wadis (gullies) reveal sculptural landscapes that teem with life. Yet unlike many of the other wonders of the natural and ancient world, the Dead Sea is within easy access of a major urban centre, meaning that it can be shared by Jordanians and international visitors alike.

The Dead Sea is acknowledged as one of the four primary centres for tourism in Jordan, located strategically in relation to other tourism sites and possessing adequate accommodation and support facilities. Moreover, the National Tourism Strategy identifies eight priority tourism segments and the Dead Sea provides options for six of these including: cultural; religious; ecotourism; health and wellness; meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions; and adventure.

What plans lie ahead to further develop and expand touristic activities around the Dead Sea?

AL ZBOUN: In 2010 the Jordan Development Zones Company (JDZ) launched phase one of the Dead Sea master plan, which sets out a series of demand drivers and enablers in the area. These range from spatial techniques to management and marketing, and reflect a more holistic understanding of how a healthy destination functions and what JDZ will need to do to realise these enablers and drive growth.

The most critical drivers lie in the successful spatial and economic logic of the master plan, and adherence to this plan is a critical prerequisite for the long-term success of the region. The plan adopts the notion of “urban value chains” as a means of achieving economic diversity while also consolidating existing development. This idea hinges on the diversification of the area’s current economy by initiating redevelopment that introduces a new set of economic sectors or segments, and at higher densities than the resort average at current coastal developments.

The existing mass of resort hotels have the potential to be spatially (and thus economically) linked through mixed-use tourism, and the tourism market has the potential to evolve from its current segregated experience to one that is more comparable to a Mediterranean-style environment, with higher densities and mutually-reinforcing value chains.

The Dead Sea will also broaden its market position, hosting, for the first time, offerings that are priced for domestic visitors. The master plan will improve the overall operational atmosphere of the destination, bringing infrastructure to support growth and creating a self-sustaining service backbone that enables the tourism industry to operate more efficiently and cheaply. The local and surrounding communities will benefit not only from the economic opportunities wrought by nearby developments but also from the civic and recreational offerings adjacent to their lands.

Given the region’s instability, how can Jordan promote itself as a stand-alone destination?

AL ZBOUN: There is something here to offer every traveller, with tourism products ranging from classical history and culture offerings – such as Petra, the site of Jesus’ baptism, and the ancient Roman city of Jerash – to leisure and relaxation at the Dead Sea, the Ma’in hot springs oasis and the coastal city of Aqaba. Because the country is constantly developing its products by focusing on what tourists seek, there is a lot of variety, from international to local cuisine, from five-star hotels to Bedouin camps. Also, given Jordan’s small size, sites are at most a three- to four-hour drive from each other, which encourages guests to visit multiple places.