Urdunna Jannah still going strong, director says, countering critics

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AMMAN — Urdunna Jannah, established to stimulate domestic tourism, has recently been the focus of criticism on social media, with detractors saying that the program promotes selected tourist areas, and that it has proved to be ineffective in achieving its stated goal. اضافة اعلان

Some also claim that there is less interest in the program, and that it fails to include all tourist areas and governorates, and to be innovative by coming up with new packages and different tourist areas, especially in the north and the south, which, they say, is the reason citizens are bored and there is low turnout.

Mohammad Khalil, 30, complained about the tourism office that charged him a price that was many times more expensive than the program’s set price of JD10 per day.

Khalil admits that “it was my fault for not checking the company’s credibility or the cost, knowing that what distinguishes this program is its symbolic price”.

Having learnt from his experience, he urged those wishing to partake in the program to book through authorized entities, and not fall in the trap of some tourist companies.

Amer Al-Ajarmeh, 27, told Jordan News that “the program gave the opportunity to many citizens to visit governorates and tourist destinations that they were not able to visit before, and for this I am grateful to those in charge of this program”.

He had, however, “some comments” about the program.

“I hope the organizers pay more attention to certain factors, especially since the program has contributed to reviving the tourism sector.”

“Some tourist areas lack hygiene standards, and the services provided were not always excellent. I realize that this is due to overcrowding, but this may weaken future participation in the program,” he pointed out.

Urdunna Jannah’s program director, Yazan Al-Khadir, denied the accusations, saying that sites to visit are selected based on certain criteria and that participation, contrary to critics’ estimation, is actually increasing.

“The number of participants in Urdunna Jannah program has exceeded 130,000 since the beginning of this year,” he said, adding that this government project, led by the Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with the Tourism Promotion Authority, represents a realistic model of real partnership between the public and private sectors.”

According to Khadir, “the program emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help preserve the sustainability of the tourism sector and Jordanians’ jobs”.

“The program began 10 years ago; it was launched under the name Al-Urdun Ahla,” he said, adding that it underwent some changes and became what is now Urdunna Jannah.

Further defending the raison d’être of the program, Khadir stressed that “90 percent of the workers in the tourism sector are Jordanians. They are highly skilled and losing them would be irreparable. This program played an important role in preserving their jobs”.

Khadir, who is also assistant director at the Jordan Tourism Board, said that “the number of participants in the program was modest at the beginning; however, the demand for it is increasing significantly day after day. On some days, the number of participants reaches tens of thousands”.

As for coming up with more innovative plans to make the program more appealing, Khadir said that “the program is being developed according to the current changes and conditions”.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program focused on presenting specific festivals and events, but now we are focusing on promoting tourist areas that were significantly hurt by the pandemic, including Petra, Wadi Rum, and Jerash,” he said.

According to him, “Wadi Rum and Ajloun are the most attractive areas for tourists, and new destinations have been added to the program, including Umm Al-Jimal”, which was visited by “thousands, after being added to the program, compared to almost zero visitors last year”.

“In addition, we have added the shrines of the Prophet Mohammad’s companions in Karak, as well as Shobak and Tafileh governorates,” he said.

“Urdunna Jannah is not only a tourism promoting program, but also a development program that aims to bring about real social development and economic empowerment for local communities,” Khadir said, adding that “there is strong coordination between the Ministry of Tourism and its affiliate entities, and various tourist associations in order to diversify tourist destinations, add new destinations every time and develop the program in a way that satisfies visitors.”

“We do not give preference to governorates or destinations, as some claim. There is thorough inspection of the governorates and regions by the directors of tourism in these governorates and those concerned with the tourism sector. After assessment, recommendations are made,” he said.

Regarding the program prices, he said that there are two types, “one costs JD10 and it includes a one-day visit to the destination, transportation, food, and a tourist guide. The other includes accommodation in a hotel, and the price could be JD35 for a five-star hotel. The visitors have the option to choose cheaper hotels, too”.

Khadir stressed that it is important to integrate tourist guides in the program, “especially because they have suffered greatly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the absence of foreign tourists, so the program was their only outlet for making money”.

What sets the program apart is the fact that “the starting point is not centered on a specific governorate, it can be from any governorate of the Kingdom. In one of the visits, tourists went on a trip from Aqaba to Irbid, stayed in one of Irbid’s hotels, and then returned to Aqaba”.

“The program organizers take visitors’ feedback into consideration. We pay close attention to the comments received from them and follow up on them. The work of one of the operators was suspended after receiving some comments about their performance,” he stressed.

“This is a subsidized program; therefore, it is dedicated solely to Jordanian visitors, so that they have the opportunity to visit multiple destinations in Jordan,” he said, urging citizens “to check out the program through its website, jannah.jo, and register through it to avoid falling victim to some tourism agencies that sometimes manipulate the program’s prices, which will remain unchanged.

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