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Jordan Tourism

Meet Jordan’s Aqaba

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Hazel Heyer  Jan 11, 2008

(eTN) - Jordan is continuing to cultivate its new tourism oasis Aqaba to full bloom. It has indeed become, in recent years, a buzzword for business meetings in the Hashemite kingdom. The Gulf can cater to hundreds of delegates expecting high standards in hotels and services, as well as, adequate conference facilities.

Jordan’s tourism calendar is visibly dynamic with ASEZA or the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority’s statused as an autonomous financial and administrative institution responsible for the management, regulation and development of Aqaba.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Jordan has prompted talks of joint ventures and created a promising investment climate. All developments show Jordan becoming the destination of choice at the same time, a country that avails itself suitable investment environment for foreign companies because of ASEZA. Tourism has reached 12 percent of GDP, at one time, before the Middle East peace standoff slowed down tourist traffic.

ASEZA’s geographical location and accessibility and its huge convention center make the burgeoning destination a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, events) location. Visas are granted complimentary upon entry from the Queen Alia International Airport or any border, as long as visitors mention “Aqaba.” Entry cards are stamped within two days of entry from the Aqaba borders otherwise, they pay visa fees.

With the goal to create high-quality world-class tourism experiences with innovative products serving target niche markets, a national tourism strategy had to be in place first in Jordan some three years back. It is meant to increase receipts to JD 1.3 billion, create around 51000 jobs and earn JD 455 million in annual taxes by 2010. The tourism strategy consisted of strengthening international marketing efforts to enhance the country’s image in current markets such as the EU and open new markets to increase arrivals of high-yield tourists. It hopes to bump up market competitiveness and visitor yield by creating innovative and diverse products, at the same time increase the quality of tourism education and training to ensure highly professional human resources and quality services. Eventually, it will have enhanced the institutional capacity of public sector organizations that support tourism development and provide sound, legal and regulatory systems for operators and investors, according to former Minister Dr. Alia Bouran, who served until November 2007.

In late 2004, the strategy partners raised the budget of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) and began implementing its open-skies policy. Jordan’s profile has improved following the establishment of the tourist board, without whom the country relied on its national carrier for overseas promotion. The JTB established a National Tourism Strategy implementation unit to steer the action plan and developed the structure for private sector development in public tourism assets. Finally, the country that has lived in economic moderation reported moderate returns no more.

Tourism is a major growth industry in Jordan, with new hotels being built or expanded. Feras Ajlouni, Senior Tourism Product Developer for ASEZA, announced that the area is booming with lots of new hotels, mainly five-star hotels such as the Kempinski, the Holiday Inn and the Radisson, some commercial districts and residential areas such as Tala Bay. Currently, there are 2000 rooms in Aqaba. “By next year, we shall have 3500 and by 2012, some 7000 rooms total,” said Ajlouni, who added that security is guaranteed to all tourists despite a bombing incident that occurred mid-2005 in Aqaba, fortunately killing no one.

Ajlouni detailed the US, UK, German, French, Italian and the Polish as main markets with daily charter flights from Europe carrying this big flow of traffic. “Aqaba is a city on the Red Sea with a local population as an added attraction. There is a community with a distinct tradition and heritage going back to hundreds of years (of the caravan serai, crusades and the Nabateans) which the guests like,” said Ajlouni.

ASEZA’s former Chief Commissioner Nader Dahabi, now the country's prime minister and minister of defense, grew Aqaba tourism on the 1.5 million dinars (JD 1500 equivalent to $1) spent on marketing Aqaba as Jordan’s southern gateway and as holiday base on the Red Sea. Part-funded by the EU, the money was budgeted for the development of an Aqaba tourism website and associated e-marketing, high-profile advertising and PR campaign in Jordan, production of a range of branded tourist literature, and overseas promotion including a campaign aimed at UK divers. Dahabi is the former chief of flag carrier Royal Jordanian Airlines before joining ASEZA.

The Red Sea embarked on a widespread campaign to promote the tourism product with Jordan as destination for foreign direct investments in tourist infrastructure and super-structure. In Aqaba, over a $1 billion was earmarked for projects such as the Lagoon, the Tala Bay, the Kempinski Hotel, the Social Security Fund Building and the 400-room Inter-Continental Hotel. Other private investors are involved with domestic investment portfolios. The Red Sea-Mediterranean’s Golden Triangle consisting of Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum developed, with the addition of the Dead Sea, the world’s largest natural spa, opening a huge number of rooms and conference facilities for hosting the Davos’ World Economic Forum 2004 - which now convenes annually on the Dead Sea. The Golden Triangle of Wadi Rum-Petra-Aqaba offers diving, golfing, warm water tourism activities, and open-skies incentive programs. The new gateway, the Aqaba zone, is well supported by King Abdullah's numerous mega projects spanning his kingdom.

Serving the infant destination is the King Hussein International Airport (formerly the Aqaba International Airport), which has a runway that can receive Boeing-747s and the defunct Concorde), an open-skies policy, the Port of Aqaba for cruise ships, the borders shared with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and numerous other facilities provided by the ASEZA and the Government of Jordan. “It is the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea which is the hub of a regional community of four countries sharing the sunny, sandy beaches of the world’s most pristine waters which boast the most beautiful corals in the northernmost, warmest basin on earth. The partnership makes the city of Petra equally as important as the Egyptian pyramids while it impresses tourists with the carvings on the rose-colored rocks, the site where Laurence of Arabia helped defeat the Ottomans,” said today's Chairman of the Tourism Committee, Senator Akil Biltaji, former Chief Commissioner for ASEZA, former Minister of Tourism and Antiquities for Jordan, and the appointed advisor for Tourism and Foreign Investments in the Upper Court of His Majesty King Abdullah II.

(US$1=1500 Jordanian dinars)

Meet Jordan’s Aqaba
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