At the second annual Jordan Travel Mart, North and South American travel buyers, journalists and suppliers from around the world gathered to discuss the future of tourism for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and uncover new tourism possibilities for the country.
Jordan boasts a number of famous sites, including
the lost city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. // © Jordan Tourism Board
This year’s event, held at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center at the Dead Sea from Feb. 22-24, welcomed some 100 buyers and 92 travel suppliers, and saw an increase in participants from last year’s inaugural session, according to Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America.
Jordan’s reputation as a viable travel destination in the Middle East, as well as its tourism future in the face of the current global economy, was a key point of discussion for attendees throughout the conference.
Maha Katib, Jordanian minister of tourism and antiquities, opened the conference by detailing the country’s accomplishments in the tourism sector: Jordan has already surpassed its 2004 national tourism strategy goal of doubling tourism numbers by 2010 and 14 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from tourism alone. Last year, Jordan saw one of its best years to date in terms of tourism numbers, especially with increases in the number of travelers arriving from the U.S., Canada and Brazil. Katib cited a recent United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) survey that showed Jordan, Egypt and South America as travel destinations that will be least affected by the current global economic crisis.
She also took time to address concerns regarding the “fear factor and misperceptions” that many tourists often have about traveling to the Middle East.
“This region is not a region without history and politics,” Katib said. “We’ve been able to overcome some of the fear factor and misperceptions … but we need to build bridges between people to remove psychological barriers to bring people together.”
When it came to discussions of the current economic situation, speakers and suppliers alike stressed the importance of the agent distribution channel and expressed optimism for the future, despite less than favorable tourism numbers in recent months worldwide.
During his keynote address, Robert Whitley, USTOA president reiterated, “Agent distribution still provides the most effective way to book travel.” Whitley also told attendees that the future of travel depends not on “sightseeing” but on “site-doing,” meaning that travel experiences need to incorporate more than ever before to offer travelers unique and authentic experiences.
Looking ahead to Jordan’s future tourism strategy, Katib said the country would focus on promoting sustainable tourism, working together with local Jordanian communities to build up the country’s already well-functioning tourism infrastructure. Katib also announced that the ministry of tourism and antiquities is currently developing 12 new, non-traditional themed train rides that will operate throughout Jordan and offer visitors local, one-of-a-kind experiences.
Other key areas for Jordan’s tourism development included: the growth of adventure tourism in Jordan, as spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature; tourism development in Aqaba, a resort area located in southern Jordan near the Red Sea; and improved airport facilities and services.
Overall, Asfour said that attendees and exhibitors found the conference to be extremely helpful in directing future tourism business in Jordan.
“We are still receiving survey forms and doing personal follow-up telephone calls, but the response has been very favorable,” she said. “Almost all the buyers and suppliers are reporting that the event was ‘productive’ for them.”
In the U.S., Asfour also added that the Jordan Tourism Board is committed to working with travel agents and will continue to promote and market the region and its numerous niche markets — from health and wellness and religion to adventure and medical tourism.
“We will continue marketing and presenting Jordan in the niche markets that we have been focused on. We will work on inviting more journalists to cover the destination and help position Jordan for 2010 as a prime, must-experience destination,” said Asfour.
Asfour added, “Travel agents should consider the Jordan Tourism Board as a resource for all kinds of Jordan information. We can send them, or their clients, material on Jordan, assist them with building itineraries, make recommendations and provide counsel on trips to Jordan. Travel agents can also become a Jordan Expert by taking our Experts’ course, and can download our films or add links to their Web sites or even send them to their clients.”
The third Jordan Travel Mart is scheduled for February 2010.