A concerted drive is under way in Jordan to reinvigorate the important tourism sector that has been curtailed by regional instability.
The total number of visitors in 2014 dipped 1.2% year-on-year (y-o-y), reaching 5.3m, as the number of tourists arriving on daytrips slipped 7.4% y-o-y to 1.3m, according to data provided by the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). The number of overnight visitors fared slightly better in the year, rising 1.1% to reach nearly 4m, but according to the latest data, the tally for January and February is down 8.3% y-o-y.
Despite the drop in overall numbers, tourism receipts remained stable throughout 2014, totalling JD3.1bn ($4.37bn), according to Central Bank of Jordan data, up 6.3% on the previous year, thanks in part to a rise in tourists from the Gulf region.
Jordanian expatriates accounted for the largest number of all visitors in 2014, making up just under a third of all overnight stays in 2014, marking an increase of 10.8% y-o-y. Overnight arrivals from Gulf countries, which made up 17.3% of the total number of visitors, rose 3.1%. However, visitors from other Arab countries, which represented the largest group of visitors in 2013, slipped 7.6% to make up 27.6% of total overnight arrivals in 2014.
The various regional conflicts, and most notably the rise of the so-called Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, is largely responsible for visitors staying away, even though internally Jordan remains stable.
Industry players believe that other regional events are also causing problems. “A lot of winter bookings were cancelled in the wake of the Gaza conflict and since then the issue of Islamic State…has become more and more prominent,” said Peter Hoesli, general manager of the Mövenpick Resort Dead Sea in Sweimeh, near Madaba.
The fall in visitor numbers has prompted the authorities, supported by industry representatives, to introduce measures aimed at boosting activity. A cabinet reshuffle in early March led to the reappointment of a dedicated minister for tourism in a widely welcomed move.
Later in the month, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities launched a campaign in conjunction with the JTB and tour operators to galvanise domestic tourism. The campaign includes promotions on travel packages to the Dead Sea and historical sites such as Petra. But keen to see more done, industry players have also drawn up a number of proposals, which include a reduction of entry fees to Petra for visitors staying in nearby hotels, as well as proposals to support the struggling hotel industry with cuts to taxes and lower electricity prices.
Reaching for the skies
New developments in the aviation sector could prove instrumental in boosting air traffic, and visitor numbers, to the kingdom.
In a significant development at the start of the year, UAE-based budget airline Air Arabia bought a 49% stake in Jordanian charter carrier Petra Airlines, to be rebranded Air Arabia Jordan.
The firm plans to open a new international hub at Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA), becoming Air Arabia’s fifth in the region and operating flights to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. “The acquisition is good news for the industry, as Air Arabia represents a new, large potential source of capital,” Kjeld Binger, CEO at Airport International Group − which operates QAIA − told OBG. “It will bring more jobs and contracts for services, and more competition will give rise to market growth and more innovation.”
Industry players hope that the merger of these low cost carriers will help counter the 15% y-o-y drop in passenger traffic seen at QAIA last year. This was compounded by the UK’s budget airline easyJet cancelling its three-times-weekly London Gatwick route to Amman last year.
Directives from the government to boost tourism numbers are spurring other carriers into action. In March, the national flag carrier, Royal Jordanian, announced plans to offer discounted tickets to tour operators for use in package deals. The initiative is targeted primarily at the GCC and European markets, which, between them, account for almost half of overnight arrivals before the inclusion of Jordanians living abroad.
The tourism industry is also calling for other measures to be introduced including the abolition of a departure tax for charter flights and low-cost carriers using Amman Civil Airport at Marka.
Whilst perhaps little can be done to boost sentiment amongst travellers, the Jordanian authorities and stakeholders in the tourism sector are looking to do all they can to try to create an environment for the industry to grow. In the long-term, they will certainly be hoping for more favourable regional headwinds.