Cultivating potential: Public-private partnerships and investments in several niches are fuelling a rebound

Although Jordan does not have the oil and gas reserves of many of its neighbours, the country did not wholly lose out on the geological lottery. The presence of nat-ural hot springs, stunning desert landscapes and the shores of the Dead Sea are all natural tourism resources. These attractive geological features, combined with the ruins of the Nabataeans, Greeks, Romans and oth-er civilisations, have left the kingdom well poised to develop its tourism sector.

In addition, Jordan has the human capabilities need-ed to cultivate this tourism potential. With an econo-my that has prioritised human resources, the country has already developed a well-educated workforce, a fac-tor that helped it build up the IT, health and media sec-tors. It is this combination of natural resources and high-quality services that tourism stakeholders have been working to tap. So far, their efforts have not gone unrewarded, as tourism has grown into a centrepiece of the kingdom’s economy. The sector is the kingdom’s second-largest employer and in 2011 was estimated by the government to constitute 13% of GDP.

A GUIDING HAND: The government has taken an active role in guiding the development of the sector through several agencies and public-private partnerships. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MoTA) is the state’s main actor in the sector. It works to support private oper-ators, propose investment opportunities and build rela-tionships with tourism stakeholders in other countries. The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), another key actor, is an independent organisation that operates on both state and private funding. The JTB has taken the lead role on marketing and investment promotion abroad. The Jordan Investment Board (JIB), meanwhile, coop-erates with both the MoTA and the JTB to research and identify investment opportunities in the sector as part of its broader mission of promoting foreign investment in the country (see analysis).

NTS: All these organisations work within the guide-lines of the National Tourism Strategy (NTS), a five-year plan outlining the state’s goals for the sector. The cur-rent plan, covering the period between 2011 and 2015, was published in July 2011. The document has four major focal points: marketing, product development, the labour market and improving the business environ-ment. Each point has specific objectives attached to it. For marketing and promotion, the NTS aims to bring arrivals to 9.4m, tourism receipts to JD4.2bn ($5.9bn) and raise domestic tourism by 30% by 2015. Develop-ment goals include boosting air capacity by 20%, 20 new tourism infrastructure projects, and boosting the number of hotels and restaurants approved by a nation-al classifications scheme. In the labour market, the gov-ernment aims to support the creation of 25,000 more jobs, increase female participation by 15% and train 5000 students at vocational training centres. As for improv-ing the business environment, the NTS encourages the passage of a new tourism law and updates to the pro-fessional bylaws affecting the sector.

SECTOR PERFORMANCE: Progress toward these goals hit a stumbling block in 2011, when the tourism sec-tor saw across-the-board reductions as a result of the Arab Spring. Tourism data from 2012, however, has painted a positive, if uneven, picture of the sector, because the larger tourism revenues were accompa-nied by lower arrival figures. Total revenues increased 15.5% from JD2.13bn to JD2.46bn ($3bn to $3.46bn) between 2011 and 2012, according to a statement released by the Central Bank of Jordan in January 2013.

The gains come on the back of a low baseline in 2011, when revenues fell by 16.5% and visitor numbers in 2012 were down by 22% from 2010 levels. Thus, 2012 gains represent a recovery. While revenues increased, overall arrivals continued to dip in 2012, falling just over 7% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 6.3m. Min-istry officials are optimistic about the future, however. They cite total overnight visitor numbers, which actu-ally increased 5.1% from 3.96m to 4.16m between 2011 and 2012. Inbound visitor growth from Iraq, the US and North Africa were especially strong. During the first 10 months of 2012, the number of overnight visitors from Africa rose by nearly 28%, while the number of overnight visitors from other Arab countries increased by 8.6%, according to preliminary data from the JTB. More overnight visitors offered a welcome boost to the coun-try’s hotel industry. The kingdom’s hotels saw occupan-cy grow 12.6% y-o-y, according to Jones Lang LaSalle’s EMEA newsletter for the fourth quarter of 2012. Amman did particularly well, with 15.1% occupancy growth, giv-ing it the fastest-growing occupancy of any city in the MENA region. Revenues per available room (RevPAR) were also up across the country. Jordan saw the sec-ond-highest RevPAR increase in the region, at 13.6%.

A PACKAGE DEAL: Although 2012 ended on a fairly positive note given the sector’s gains, tourism in Jor-dan also faced its fair share of challenges. One preva-lent issue came from the cancellations of package tours. In the past, multi-country package tours were a mainstay for tourism operators. Many of these group trips were cancelled, however, since their itineraries often included stops in Syria and Egypt, where politi-cal instability made visits untenable. As a result, entire tours, including their segments in Jordan, were cancelled, said Bilal Abuzeid, the executive director of the Jordan Inbound Tourism Operators Association. Between 2010 and 2011, total package tour visitors fell by 40.7%. Euro-pean visitors, which made up more than half of the total, dropped by 45.8%, according to the latest MoTA data available at the time of publication.

NEW TIES: To counter the negative effects of instabil-ity in other countries, tourism stakeholders are work-ing to build stronger tourism-related ties with differ-ent neighbours. Turkey and the UAE have come into focus. Both have remained stable throughout the tur-moil elsewhere in MENA, and both have seen contin-ued economic growth in recent years. Their tourism offerings, meanwhile, are quite different from Jordan’s. “Our tourism products do not compete with each oth-er. On the contrary, they are very complementary,” said Siham Gammoh, the director of research at the JTB. Indeed, Turkey’s tourism sites cover different civilisa-tions and historical periods, while the UAE’s offerings are focused more around shopping and family attrac-tions. In addition to their complementary tourism prod-ucts, both the UAE and Turkey have some of the region’s best long-haul air connections, thanks to the presence of airlines like Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Etihad. Teaming up with these carriers could help Jordan attract more visitors from far-off target markets. “We want to work together with airlines to create packages for longhaul travellers that include Jordan,” Gammoh said. “Brazil is definitely a growing target market for us, along with India, Japan, Australia, Thailand and South Korea.”

INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY: While growing ties with other countries in the region could improve interna-tional connections, Jordan’s own aviation sector is also set for a major fillip with the opening of the newly ren-ovated Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA). Amman-based international consortium Airports International Group (AIG) is heading the new terminal’s construc-tion. The firm signed a 25-year rehabilitation, expan-sion and operation agreement with the government in 2007. In total, the upgrade has cost about $750m for new construction and another $100m for alterations on existing buildings, the company said. Once com-plete, the project is set to increase QAIA’s annual pas-senger capacity from 3.5m to 9m. It would also leave open the possibility for further expansions that could bring that number up to 12m.

The changes will be welcome, given the current over-crowding at the airport. Over 6m passengers used QAIA in 2012, about 70% more than the airport’s intended capacity. A larger terminal will likely be necessary in com-ing years, too, as traffic at the airport continues to rise. Combined arrivals and departures reached 5.8m for the first 11 months of 2012, a 16% increase on the 5m pas-sengers served during the same period in 2011, accord-ing to data from AIG (see Transport chapter).

Although overall traffic is on the up, the traffic pat-terns in and out of QAIA have changed since 2011. Arrivals from tourism mainstays like Europe and North America are easing, while MENA arrivals continue to grow. “[G]rowth is heavily concentrated regionally. Traf-fic from Europe and the US is relatively weak, whereas traffic to and from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and the entire MENA region is growing dramatically,” Kjeld Binger, AIG’s CEO, told Amman-based Venture magazine in a Decem-ber 2012 interview. “One of the reasons for this is that the general situation in the region stimulates regional tourism. The entire political situation has dictated [that] Amman [become] an important transit hub for the region, which has stimulated our growth enormously.”

MORE FLIGHTS: The trend of growing intra-regional traffic has proved useful for Royal Jordanian (RJ), the country’s national flag carrier. In recent years the air-line has been positioning itself as an air hub for the region. The airline has continued to be one of the first flying routes to North African countries affected by the Arab Spring. Even now that political transitions are in progress, RJ is still seeing increased traffic from these areas. In February 2013 the airline added three regu-lar flights between Amman and Tripoli, bringing the weekly number of flights up from seven to 10. It also added another flight between Amman and Misurata increasing the weekly frequency from one to two. These changes were implemented to meet rising demand, mostly from Libyan businessmen, students and patients seeking care in Jordan, the carrier said.

In addition, RJ announced the introduction of routes between Amman and Algiers on February 25, 2013. The route will be important for medical patients, as well as Algerians en route to holy cities in Saudi Arabia for the hajj and umrah pilgrimages, the carrier said.

Increasing capacity and demand for air connections through Amman could offer a major boost to Jordan’s tourism sector, making it easier for visitors to come to the kingdom. “It is easier to make the decision to go somewhere if it is a nice place and if you have a nice experience going there,” Binger said in the Venture interview. “But on the other hand, just because you built a new airport doesn’t mean people will start flying to that destination. So it is the airport itself, the policies of the country and the developments of other infra-structure like hotels, that all have to go hand-in-hand to create a positive experience.” Indeed, the authori-ties realise that air connections are just one piece of a tourist’s choice to visit the kingdom, but a newly ren-ovated QAIA is likely to make that part of the decision a much more appealing option.

BUILDING UP: The airport is not the only major con-struction project set to boost the sector. Other tourism developments are sprouting up quickly in other areas as well. In Amman several new hotels and mixed-use developments are growing up around the city. In Kan Zaman, a historical village in Al Yadoudeh south of Amman, a planned 4000-sq-metre mixed-use develop-ment called Mirage is moving ahead. Headed by the Jor-dan Tourism Investments Company (JTI), the project will include shops, restaurants and pubs. In October 2012 the JTI presented the first phase of the project to investors. Its opening date is set in mid-2013.

Other tourism construction includes the St. Regis Amman, an 18,000-sq-metre group of residences, to be located in the Abdoun district of the city. Building of the residences is scheduled to finish in 2015, accord-ing to Abu Dhabi-based Al Maabar, the company that has been heading the project.

DEAD SEA: Major developments are also under way in the Dead Sea, an area that has long been a centrepiece of Jordan’s tourism offering. The region has a mix of attractions; in addition to its religiously and historical-ly important sites, it also has beaches that are less than an hour’s drive from Amman. To streamline the invest-ment process there, the government created the Dead Sea Development Zone, one of the six special devel-opment zones spearheaded by King Abdullah II in 2008. The Development and Free Zones Commission (DFZC) is charged with creating and managing these areas.

Nestled between the shores of the Dead Sea to the west and mountains to the east, the Dead Sea Devel-opment Zone stretches about 40 km. As a special zone under the authority of DFZC, businesses operating there enjoy privileges like a flat 5% corporate income tax rate, 100% foreign ownership and exemptions from Customs duties, sales tax and social services payments. The area has already attracted hotel investments from international brands, including US-based Holiday Inn and Marriott, Germany’s Kempinski, and Switzerland-based Mövenpick. In addition, the InterContinental Hotels Group opened the Crowne Plaza Jordan Dead Sea Resort and Spa in October 2012.

PROJECTS: Even with the new addition of the Crowne Plaza, however, there is still significant room for growth. In early 2012 the DFZC completed a 25-year, six-phase master plan for the area. The final vision includes a set of small to medium-sized mixed-use developments that will increase the variety of attractions in the area. A four-firm consortium led by Boston-based Sasaki drew up the plans for the first phase: 4000 ha of development along the north-east corner of the sea. Upon comple-tion, this is set to include 1227 hotel rooms, 1318 apart-ments and 50,000 sq metres of retail space.

Major tourism projects are in the pipeline for Aqa-ba as well. With its mild climate and sunny beaches, the area has significant potential as a leisure destination. Investors have taken note. In addition to the $1bn real estate mega-project, Saraya Aqaba, more than 1000 hotel rooms are set to come on-line over 2013-15, according to Hotelier Middle East. These include the Coral Aqaba Jordan, opening 2013, the Luxury Collec-tion Al Manara in 2014, the Westin Aqaba in 2014, and the JW Marriott Aqaba Hotel and Spa in 2015. The area is also set to host the Red Sea Astrarium, a $1bn resort that includes a Star-Trek-themed amusement park and other attractions (see Aqaba chapter).

These developments will likely help Aqaba’s cruise seg-ment, which has come far in the past decade. In 2012, 107 cruise ships called on Aqaba Port, up from eight in 2003, according to data from Aqaba Ports Corpora-tion. Although 2012 arrivals dropped slightly, from 112 in 2011, monthly data pointed to a stronger recovery toward the end of the year. In the last quarter of 2012, an average of 17 cruise ships per month called on Aqaba, up from 10.3 during the same period in 2011.

DOING BUSINESS: While tourism-related construc-tion across the country is set boost traditional focal points like leisure and cultural tourism, they are also expected to have positive knock-on effects for other segments. A series of new luxury hotels, for example, will likely expand options for business travellers. Indeed, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment has been on the rise across the region, and tourism operators in Jordan are working to ensure they get a piece of the action. New conference and exhi-bition areas are set to come on-line in Aqaba’s Saraya development, which will include several luxury hotels as well as stand-alone MICE facilities.

In addition, Amman already has several medium-sized venues, which include Zara Expo Amman, the Royal Convention Centre and the Royal Cultural Cen-tre. These venues can host between 300 and 1200 par-ticipants. The country’s largest MICE facility, however, is the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre (KHBTCC). Built in 2006, the centre is located on the shores of the Dead Sea. The 20,370-sq-metre complex has 25 meet-ing and conference halls spread over three floors, which together can host up to 3000 guests.

In September 2012 the KHBTCC received a major victory when the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced its selection of the venue for its Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. The event, which took place May 24-26, 2013, attracted nearly 1000 government officials, business representatives and oth-er civil society stakeholders. In addition to the event’s economic implications for tourism development, host-ing it may also further Jordan’s political aspirations as a peacemaker in the region.

“Building on Jordan’s recognised role in the region and internationally, the aim of the 2013 meeting is to drive the dialogue needed to overcome long-standing fault lines and foster the spirit of multi-stakeholder partnerships that are so essential for ensuring peace and security at this time of fundamental change,” Miroslav Dusek, the director and head of MENA at the WEF, said following the venue selection.

The KHBTCC received some additional good news in November 2012, when the International Academy of Pathology selected it as the location for its 32nd pathol-ogy conference, to be held in 2018. The conference’s planners expect 5000 delegates from around the world to attend the biennial conference.

NOUVEAU NICHE: Along with the MICE and business segment, the tourism sector is also developing sever-al other niche markets with the aim to increase the coun-try’s profile as a stand-alone destination. Doing so, stakeholders hope, could further remove the sector from the effects of political strife elsewhere in the region. “Jordan has yet to distinguish itself as a stand-alone des-tination for travellers, and its traditional tourism mar-kets have been devastated by the surrounding turmoil, which has left Jordan unfairly classified as a “danger zone,” Mazen Tantash, the CEO of Tantash Group, told OBG. With ancient ruins, religious pilgrimage sites, stun-ning natural scenery and sandy beaches, the country is certainly viable as a destination on its own. The JTB has incorporated this diversity of activities into its mar-keting strategy, dividing the tourism market into six focal points: history and culture, religion, leisure and wellness, adventure, business and ecotourism.

The wellness and medical segment has seen impres-sive growth in recent years. Wellness and spa tourism in the country has largely been centred on the Dead Sea, whose mineral-rich waters and coastal mud have long been said to exhibit therapeutic and healing prop-erties. These services are popular with visitors from Western Europe and Russia, who often combine spa treatments with leisure trips to the beaches of the Dead Sea. The hills of the surrounding region, a mix of arid rock faces and patches of green vegetation are home to a few dozen natural hot springs and water-falls, which are also known for their therapeutic value.

TRAVELLING PATIENTS: The medical tourism seg-ment, meanwhile, has seen significant growth in recent years, as outside demand for treatment in Jordan con-tinues to rise. Medical tourism receipts grew to more than $1bn in 2012, up from the $850m generated in 2011, Fawzi Hammouri, the head of Jordan’s Private Hospitals Association (PHA), said at a conference in December 2012. In the past, medical tourism was pri-marily a choice by patients from more developed economies looking for lower costs. In the past two years, however, Jordan’s hospitals have seen increased demand for medical care from elsewhere in the region. Thousands of patients coming from North Africa flew into Jordan in 2011 and 2012 as civil conflict struck areas like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. About 55,000 patients came from Libya alone in first-half 2012, according to the PHA. More recently, the conflict in Syria has driv-en large numbers of refugees into the kingdom. Dur-ing the first two months of 2013, Jordanian authorities estimate 10,000 Syrians crossed the border each week, bringing the number of officially registered refugees or those awaiting registration up to 275,000. Author-ities estimate the actual total, including undocument-ed refugees, is closer to 380,000.

ADDED PRESSURE: This influx of people, many of whom are wounded or sick, has put pressure on Jor-dan’s health care system. Syrians received JD65m ($91.4m) worth of treatment in 2012, Minister of Health Abdul Latif Wreikat said in February 2013. In addition to the challenges associated with a spike in patients, treatment of foreigners is also expensive, raising the issue of who covers the costs of care. The sector appears to be treating first and waiting to collect until later. Local private hospitals are owed over JD250m ($351.6m) from institutions at home and abroad, according to the PHA: JD150m ($211m) from the Libyan government, JD50m ($70.3m) from health insurers, JD30m ($42.2m) from the Palestinian National Authority, JD30m ($42.2m) from the Jordanian Ministry of Health’s kidney fund and JD20m ($28.13m) from Jordan’s public health sector.

Although the receipt of payment has been sluggish so far, ongoing talks between Libyan and Jordanian stakeholders, for example, yielded some positive signs in the beginning of 2013. By that point, the Libyan gov-ernment had paid about JD30m ($42.2m) of its debts. For the remainder, the PHA and Libyan representatives agreed on an auditing scheme, after which payment is set to continue. If political conflict in the region calms down, Jordan’s health sector could stand to gain in the long term, having shown its mettle under increased pres-sure. To prepare for improvements, stakeholders in the sector are working together to improve regulations and tweak visa requirements to make the country more competitive. In addition, the industry is looking to untapped markets in Africa, such as Nigeria and Chad, to fuel future growth (see analysis).

DUSTING OFF: In the archaeological segment, Jordan is already a well-established destination thanks to the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. The archaeological site, over 2000 years old, is located about 240 km south of Amman and 130 km north of the port city of Aqaba. Visitors there have increased significantly in the past decade, growing from 148,837 in 2002 to a peak of 975,285 in 2010, according to MoTA data. In 2011 visitor numbers decreased by 35.4% y-o-y, likely the result of civil strife in the region.

Preliminary numbers from 2012, however, are prom-ising. Visitor numbers at the end of March 2012 reached 325,251, according to official data. Invest-ments have also been on the up. The Marriott Petra recently finished a $2m renovation project, and oth-er international hotel brands like Mövenpick have already established operations nearby. While Petra often takes the spotlight for Jordan’s ancient sites, the country also has well-preserved Roman ruins in its northern regions. Tourism and investment authorities have already proposed a series of projects in these areas, which are centred on Jerash and Ajloun. The idea is to improve infrastructure at the sites, which could also kick-start other niche segments in these areas, like culinary visits and ecotourism (see analysis).

Funds earmarked for the country’s archaeological sites could increase as a result of recent changes in regulation. In February 2013 the cabinet approved a plan to allocate 20% of revenues generated from archaeological site entry fees for maintenance and development. Revenues, which amounted to JD11m ($15.5m) in 2012, according to MoTA data, are also set to pay for infrastructure improvements on the sites. Changes to the education curriculum could also offer Jordan’s archaeological sector a boost by improv-ing general knowledge of the field. In February 2013 the Ministry of Education announced a new curricu-lum called Ana Jerash, or “I am Jerash” in Arabic. The programme focuses on cultural and historical topics surrounding Jerash, 48 km north of Amman. The final product came about thanks to the joint efforts of the ministry, the Jordan-based Friends of Archaeology non-governmental organisation and the UN Educa-tional, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of UNESCO’s Engaging Young People in Their Own Heritage project.

HUMAN RESOURCES: The role of education in the tourism sector has become more pronounced in recent years, as more visitors demand more hospitality per-sonnel. The country has been working for some time to raise the level of its training programmes. Hospi-tality education received a major boost in the coun-try in 2005, when the Jordanian government teamed up with US Agency for International Development to create the Jordan Tourism Development Project, or Siyaha. As part of the three-year programme’s broad-er goal of encouraging tourism development, all of the country’s tourism and hospitality vocational train-ing centres (VTCs) received facilities and curricula upgrades. Following the changes, attendance at VTCs rose significantly. Applications to the Jordan Applied University and Jordan Hotel School rose by 20% by the end of the programme, according to Siyaha’s final report. Even years after the programme, the tourism VTCs are still attracting a growing number of appli-cants. Some 1000 students enrolled for classes at the country’s 12 VTCs, well past the 600-student tar-get, Siyaha media officer Mona Abusaleh told The

A growing pool of tourism knowledge at home has helped the sector leave its mark across MENA. “If you look at hotels in other countries in the region, you will find Jordanians who trained in hotels right here in Jordan,” Bassam F Maayeh, managing director of the Amman-based Arab International Hotels, told OBG. “We are proud of it. We see it as the result of thousands of hours of training and professional development.”

Jordan-based tourism businesses have also begun setting up operations abroad. Amman-based Amlak Hotels and Investment now owns and operates hotels in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. The firm announced in October 2012 that it has plans to expand within the GCC, including a second hotel in Dammam, Saudi Ara-bia, along with one in Riyadh and another in Muscat. Further down the line it is also looking at locations in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. “If we get one hotel in each country, we are moving in the right direction,” the company’s CEO, Naji Alia, told sector website Hotelier Middle East in October 2012.

OUTLOOK: Although the past few years have pre-sented stumbling blocks for tourism, data from 2012 indicates that the sector has already begun to gear up for a rebound. The country’s tourism operators are working to fill up their reservation dockets for the coming year, bearing in mind the realities of political tumult in neighbouring countries. “Advance bookings look good so far for 2013, but ultimately, we know they can be affected by political developments in the region,” Abuzeid told OBG. “Those matters are out of our hands.” Indeed, in the coming year keeping visi-tor numbers high is expected to be a main priority.

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The Report: Jordan 2013

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