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Tourists beginning to catch on to more than the wonder of Petra

Jordan tourism Reuters/Muath Freij
The ancient city of Petra remains one of Jordan's most popular tourist attractions
  • Tourism increases 122% year-on-year in January 2023
  • Wellness and religious history proving attractive
  • Wizz Air and Ryanair introduce low-cost flights to Amman 

Given the Hashemite kingdom’s surfeit of historical sites – from the Nabataean city Petra through the natural beauty of Wadi Rum to the Roman towns of Jerash and Gadariyya – Jordan could be forgiven for being blasé about the need to market its tourism attractions more aggressively. 

But the authorities in capital Amman are determined to push ahead with the transformation of the country into a multifaceted destination which offers more than tradition, culture and natural beauty.  

After developing a wellness and religious history industry at the Dead Sea, Jordan is now looking to go further.

Tourism income increased by 122 percent year-on-year in January 2023, according to Central Bank of Jordan data.

That growth reflects a surge in visitor numbers, rising by 292,400 over the same month in 2022, reaching a total of 504,000. 

This also represents an increase on pre-Covid numbers – almost 100,000 more than the 408,000 seen in the same month of 2019.

Though newer pursuits such as wellness are capturing the spending power of well-heeled Western guests, it is the traditional strengths represented by the likes of Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, and the Christian baptismal sites on the Jordan River which have seen the biggest surge.  

This matters for Jordan as tourism remains a bedrock of its economy. 

Net tourist receipts have grown from only four percent of GDP in the early 2000s to around 10 percent, displacing remittances by overseas citizens as the largest source of services receipts.  

This translates into prized hard currency in a sector that is also a substantial source of local employment.

“The ongoing recovery in tourism, alongside manufacturing and IT services, will contribute to Jordan’s real GDP growth which we forecast at 2.5 percent in 2023-2024,” Toby Iles, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, tells ABGI.

Wadi Rum
The red sands and rock formations of Wadi Rum are a unique Jordan attraction. Picture: Unsplash/Lior Dahan

Aside from economic performance, tourism will also help Jordan’s external finances.

“We expect tourism receipts in 2023 to surpass pre-pandemic levels, helping to narrow the current account deficit, which widened sharply in 2020-2022 due to a combination of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and high commodity prices,” says Iles. 

Tour operators attest to the improvement.

Hanna Sawalha, owner of Amman’s Nebo Tours, says that the arrival of low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air and Ryanair over the past year has helped market the country to a new customer base. 

That ties in with the Jordan Tourism Board campaign which has identified untapped markets in Europe and North America.

“Jordan is becoming a popular destination,” Sawalha says. “These airlines have a huge marketing budget and suddenly they are driving the product – Jordan —  in their portals and in their apps and this has helped the recognition factor.” 

Wizz Air launched a new low-fare route from its base at London Luton Airport to Amman at the end of 2022, and is now flying to the capital three times a week. Ryanair is servicing both Amman and Aqaba airports. 

The Ritz-Carlton hotel opened in Jordan’s capital Amman in June 2022. Picture: Ritz-Carlton

The higher visitor numbers are also evident in the increased aviation traffic. Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport welcomed almost eight million passengers in 2022, a 72 percent increase on 2021.

“After Jordan opened up again after Covid, the Tourism Board pushed to get tourism back onto its feet. Markets like India are opening up to us,” says Sawalha.

“Put that together with the increase in what’s been happening in Europe, and we can see a big increase in tourism coming this year.”

Jordanians also expect more visitors from the Gulf. “Before there wasn’t much interest, but medical tourism is increasing again and families are coming here for vacation,” says Sawalha.  

Saudi Arabia remains a large market as well, with over one million visitors a year. 

With more hotels opening, including the 20-storey, five-star Ritz-Carlton in the capital last June, the hospitality sector is clearly expecting better things to come. 

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