Interview: Nasser Shraideh
What areas are being targeted to maximise Aqaba’s strategic location and meet future demand?
NASSER SHRAIDEH: It is high time for Jordan to solidify its efforts and fulfil promises by bringing in high value-added investments to strengthen the backbone of the economy. Jordan needs to emerge as a competitive and dynamic logistics hub, and Aqaba can be the figurehead of this strategy, as much effort has been put into building competitive infrastructure and a wide range of logistics facilities there. In order to maximise its strategic location and to meet future demand, King Hussein International Airport has been upgraded to handle up to 2m passengers a year. There are also plans to increase the number of containers handled annually at Aqaba ports from 875,000 to 2m twenty-foot equivalent units, as well as increasing volume handled through other ports from 20m to 40m tonnes by 2025. The number of logistics centres will also be doubled to reach 10. In addition, it is hoped that new legislation that gives free zone status to logistics centres will boost re-export activities. Moreover, following the success that Aqaba has witnessed, additional development zones have been added to the special economic zone with a total area of 18 sq km in the Al Quweira region, where the legal framework and investment incentives are the same as what Aqaba offers.
How will the land port in Ma’an and the national railway project complement Aqaba’s offerings?
SHRAIDEH: These two projects are strategic for Aqaba and Jordan and will have a major impact on trade. They will add significant value to Aqaba’s supply chain by reducing traffic congestion, increasing safety measures and road capacity, improving trans-shipment, creating new land-use opportunities, improving seaport access, and creating jobs for the local community. As for Aqaba’s plans regarding the railway, they are still in the design phase. The project is essential and will connect Aqaba’s port community with the Ma’an land port, for which both feasibility studies and preliminary conceptual designs were finalised in early 2017. This initiative will serve to support and increase the capacity of Aqaba’s seaports and create new logistics areas in the Ma’an governorate. This will also have a positive impact on local social development.
Further steps are being taken to enhance transportation in the zone, with the development of truck marshalling yards to control and monitor truck traffic into and out of the ports, for instance. In coordination with Customs, smart electronic gates will be installed at major Customs yards to decrease the time required to complete clearance procedures.
What is being done to achieve the goal of attracting 1.5m tourists to Aqaba per year by 2025?
SHRAIDEH: The tourism sector remains an important pillar of the Aqaba vision. We are thus working to increase the number of hotel rooms from 4600 today to 12,000 by 2025, and to raise tourists’ average length of stay from 2.6 days in 2017 to 6 days by 2025. This will be achieved through aggressive marketing and promotion, as well as the development of our offerings. Promoting the area as a world-class tourism destination on the Red Sea comes as a priority, given that the aim is to establish new source markets. A recently adopted incentive scheme also aims to mobilise and directly engage the private sector in this process, in a manner that delivers a steady and sustainable increase in the number of tourists visiting Aqaba, as well as the desired economic growth in the tourism industry. Our main goal is to unlock Aqaba’s economic potential by mobilising private investment through positively packaged opportunities and prudently leveraging public resources to transform Aqaba into a leading destination for commerce, industry and tourism.