Interview: Hani Mulki
How is ASEZA working to attract and retain tourists, and lengthen their stays in Aqaba?
HANI MULKI: ASEZA is promoting a sub-brand for Aqaba under the national brand of the kingdom. Part of our strategy is to attract local, regional and international tourists. We are working to create an environment that is conducive to longer stays. In addition to its beaches and sunny weather, Aqaba is an industrial and logistical hub, and is becoming a supplier of renewable energy to the kingdom. Moreover, it is home to many historical and religious destinations, as well as unique archaeological sites such as the oldest church in the world. The city is also part of southern Jordan’s “Golden Triangle” of tourism, which includes Petra and Wadi Rum. To accomplish our goal of extending the length of travellers’ stays in the city, we are further developing the city’s soft infrastructure, including more diverse and quality restaurants, entertainment venues, and other services. We are also cooperating on this with other Red Sea destinations. With the necessary infrastructure in place, Aqaba city is being positioned as a destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and events, as well as business tourism. We have successfully brought regional and global conferences to the city, and are keen to further develop this dimension of tourism in Aqaba.
How are real estate projects aiding the development of Aqaba as a tourism destination?
MULKI: Several large-scale real estate projects are driving Aqaba’s goal of becoming a tourism centre. The first to commence was Tala Bay, which contains several hundred residential units, two five-star hotels and one four-star hotel, in addition to a marina, a sports centre, a shopping centre and restaurants. This was followed by other multi-billion-dollar projects, such as Saraya Aqaba, Marsa Zayed and Ayla Oasis, each of which is currently at a different stage of development. These projects are based on “co-opetition”, whereby they compete on the quality of their products and clientele, yet cooperate by offering complementary services. Ayla Oasis, for example, is constructing an 18-hole golf course under an agreement with world-famous golfer Greg Norman that is expected to open in the spring of 2016. Saraya Aqaba, another real estate mega-project, is building a world-class water park, which will be the largest in the region. Residents and guests will be allowed to access both attractions, thus raising the value of both projects. Additionally, through our development arm, the Aqaba Development Corporation, we are investing in soft infrastructure in order to make Aqaba a more appealing location for expatriates, including international schools, three universities, several aviation academies, hospitals, special clinics and hotel training facilities serving Jordan and the region. By raising the quality of services such as education, health care and entertainment we will boost economic activities by catering to different interests.
What effect will the various enhancements being made to Aqaba’s terminal system have on the city’s prospects for trade?
MULKI: The terminal system upgrades will allow Aqaba to become an investment destination across a range of sectors. We have facilities for shipping, including cargo, chemicals and fertilisers, liquefied natural gas (LNG), petroleum gases and ship servicing ports. Indeed, the ability to import cheaper fuel via the new LNG terminal has major implications for the government’s fiscal standing and the broader economy. Aqaba has become the epicentre of energy supply in Jordan and is becoming a major port of the Red Sea.
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