Category: News @ Petra.

To Petra and beyond

His Excellency Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez, Minister of Tourism & Antiquities for Jordan, tells Louise Oakley why he is confident in the tremendous growth potential for Jordan’s tourism industry

The year 2012 will be a “milestone” year for Jordan’s tourism industry, according to His Excellency Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez, the country’s new Minister of Tourism & Antiquities.

Speaking to Hotelier Middle East at the World Travel Market in London, Al Fayez revealed that the Kingdom will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of the Lost City of Petra in 2012 — and that the Ministry plans to capitalise on this in a big way.

An UNESCO World Heritage site, Petra is already Jordan’s greatest tourist attraction. Being named one of the controversial New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 helped boost its international reputation, and now, says Al-Fayez, interest needs to be reignited and transferred across the entire country.

“We got the attention of people on Jordan as a destination [in 2007] but they think of Jordan as Petra,” he says. “We are reinforcing the issue of Petra on people with the 200th anniversary, and we’re using it as a gateway to the treasures of Jordan.”

Even when it comes to Petra, Al-Fayez says people don’t realise how much there is to see and do; the famous pictures of the 1km-long gorge, the Siq, and the Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) are just the first elements of a Petra experience which can take four-five days to discover.

“You go through the Siq and you see this big Indiana Jones-style Treasury but Petra is beyond that. Petra is a whole city.

“Jordan is beyond Petra, is beyond the Dead Sea, it’s a different experience rich in history and culture,” says Al-Fayez, who refers to the country as an open-air museum.

The Dead Sea too suffers from misconceptions, he continues, and the Ministry is focused on developing the area as a destination.

It reinforced efforts to promote the Dead Sea with its nomination as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and although it didn’t make the final seven announced last November, the campaign has still helped raise its profile.

“When someone comes out of surgery, they are given extra oxygen to make them stronger and help them recover; at the Dead Sea you get this naturally and no one understands this until it is explained to them,” says Al-Fayez. “It has the highest oxygen levels that exist anywhere because it’s the lowest point on earth.

“It has benefits of luxury spa and cosmetic elements that are good for your skin, for your soul and for your health and also for treatment, so the focus is on that. We recently launched our masterplan for the development of the Dead Sea. It involves more hotels, more facilities, more entertainment, more restaurants — all these supporting elements. The Dead Sea is becoming a tourist attraction and it’s becoming a destination,” he asserts.

Still, Al-Fayez is keen to emphasise that Jordan has a lot more to offer beyond Petra and the Dead Sea. The country has always been known as a tourism destination, but has faced challenges because of the slow development of tourism infrastructure, which only really began around eight years ago, he says.

“There is the same issue with Aqaba [as with the Dead Sea],” said Al-Fayez, “in terms of where it is today and where it should be or where it’s going.

“Aqaba is another area where we’re seeing a lot of infrastructure and facilities. We have multi-billion dollar infrastructure being put in place in Aqaba,” says Al-Fayez, referring to the US $1.5 billion Star-Trek-themed Red Sea Astrarium Resort being developed by Rubicon Group Holding. Construction on the resort is expected to begin in March, with the opening scheduled for 2014.

Ultimately, the aim is make sure international travellers are as familiar with places such as Aqaba and the capital, Amman, as they are Petra and increasingly, the Dead Sea. Fortunately, despite the Arab Spring, Al-Fayez believes there is confidence in Jordan as a calm and safe destination but that more education is needed as to what Jordan offers —as well as history and culture, there is “religion and faith, fun and adventure, eco and nature, and MICE and conferences”.

“I think Jordan remains to be the oasis of peace and stability throughout — what we tried to do is differentiate to make sure that when people look at Jordan they look at Jordan alone. You cannot take a region and say the Middle East – the Middle East is 22 countries.

“I think Jordan has tremendous potential, we got very positive feedback throughout 2011, despite the Arab spring,” says Al-Fayez.

Future potential

Minister of Tourism HE Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez.

Most recently, the Ministry has increased its focus on promoting the country as a family destination and is targeting new markets including expatriates living in the Middle East and travellers out of Asia.

“We are very much targeting now the expats in the GCC,” says Al-Fayez. They want to escape to an experience and Jordan provides them with that, and they have the time because they can come over at the weekend for short stays; with a good connectivity between Jordan and the rest of the region it is doable.

“And now we are also entering into Asia, Asia is important for us; our office was established in India 2009 and India is picking up and doing really well. But also we’re looking at south east Asia and Japan and Korea. There is a big potential for Jordan. We want to diversify our source market. There are seasons for different markets and we want Jordan to be a year-round destination,” says Al-Fayez.

All this combines to meet three key targets: an increase in visitor numbers, an increase in length of stay and an increase in travel and tourism GDP.

Currently, average length of stay stands at 4.8 days, with a goal of reaching six to seven days. The challenge is encouraging the visitors who simply come for a one-day trip to Petra to stay for longer.

“We had a problem with that by the way,” admits Al-Fayez. “A lot of people used to come to Jordan for one day and leave, now they are understanding that Jordan is much more than a one-day visit. The average length of stay is 4.8 but we have people who come and stay in Jordan up to 10-12 days.”

The GDP target is also ambitious, but Al-Fayez is confident the potential is there.

“Today we’re talking about 13 or 14% of our GDP coming from tourism. In the coming years, we are hoping to reach around 18% of our GDP,” he asserts. “We are not a mass tourism destination but we have not reached our potential yet.

“Tourism in Jordan has tremendous potential. We’re moving towards increasing and we’ve done really well in the last seven-to-eight years and our numbers show that, but still we have a lot of potential in the coming years,” he concludes.

Jordan tourism strategy 2011-2015 key targets
• Creation of 25,000 tourism jobs
• Increase female participation in the workforce by 15%
• Enhance the hospitality skills of 40,000 existing employees
• Increase air capacity into Jordan by 20%
• The completion of 20 infrastructure projects
• Ensure all hotels and up to 80% of restaurants are approved and grouped under a new national classification scheme

Upcoming hotel projects
• The Red Sea Astrarium, a US $1.5 billion Star Trek-themed resort in Aqaba backed by King Abdullah of Jordan, who was once an extra in an epidose of the television show Star Trek: Voyager.
• Dead Sea hotels, the five-star beachfront Sharm Hotel and three-star Winter Valley Hotel are sure to open in 2012.
• Cave Hotel in Wadi Rum, an 80,000ft² hotel cut out of rock in Wadi Rum, designed by Oppenheim Architecture + Design and expected to be built in 2014.
• Two new museums, including one at Lot’s Cave and the new National Museum in Amman, a $25 million project that has taken three decades of planning and years of work.

Jordan in numbers
• 8.2mn 2010 visitor numbers
• 9.4mn 2012 visitor target
• 2.4bn Value of Jordan tourism industry 2010
• 4.2bn Targeted value of Jordan tourism industry by 2015

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Category: News @ Petra