Domestic travel surges over holiday

Five and four-star hotels in Aqaba reach 95% occupancy

Local destinations saw a steep rise in visitors over Eid Al-Fitr. Aqaba and some of the RSCN’s lodges saw over 90 percent occupancy rates during the holiday. (Photo: Pixabay)
Local destinations saw a steep rise in visitors over Eid Al-Fitr. Aqaba and some of the RSCN’s lodges saw over 90 percent occupancy rates during the holiday. (Photo: Pixabay)
AMMAN — Hotels and tourism sites reported a spike in occupancy rates during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday. Whereas Jordanians might usually visit Egypt or Cyprus during their vacation, this year they took to Aqaba, Ajloun, the Dead Sea, and other in-country areas due to the pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions.اضافة اعلان

According to Sharhabeel Madi, commissioner for Tourism and Economic Affairs at the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), the eid holiday represented a much-needed boost for the tourism sector. “This holiday we witnessed progress in domestic tourism,” he said in an interview with Jordan News. “A lot of Jordanians and expats and diplomatic staff visited Aqaba and stayed in the hotels and furnished apartments.”

“I think this holiday Aqaba received more than what we expected. All the hotels, especially the five-star and big hotels, were fully occupied,” he said. Madi added that on Saturday, all of the five-star and four-star hotels were 95 percent occupied, while three-star hotels were less than 80 percent occupied. “Within these five days, the hotels and the commercial centers in Aqaba, I think they did a great job.”

However, the commissioner also said that further measures are needed to provide much-needed recovery for the tourism sector. The eid holiday helped, he explained, but so did the decision to decrease the curfew times. 

“I think by the next two to three weeks, we will see new decisions, maybe to decrease the curfew and make the tourism sector and the commercial sector flourish more,” he said. “I think this will help them to recover part of their losses during COVID-19.”

Sahel Dudin, the CEO of Ayla Resort, a luxury resort in Aqaba, also said that the hotel had seen a rise in occupancy for three to five days during the eid holiday. “But I do not know what is the forecast afterwards,” he said in a message to Jordan News.

Likewise, Yehya Khaled, director general of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), said that their ecotourism lodges received many domestic tourists during the holiday. “It’s not easy to travel,” Khaled said in an interview with Jordan News, leading families to instead visit the RSCN’s sites in Ajloun, Wadi Mujib, the Azraq Wetland Reserve, and the Dana Biosphere Reserve. 

On Thursday, RSCN’s Ajloun Forest Reserve, which offers 23 cabins for visitors, was 95.65 percent occupied, and on Friday it reached 100 percent occupancy. Similarly, the Dana lodge, located on Jordan’s largest nature reserve, reached 100 percent occupancy on Friday. The Mujib site was 66.67 percent occupied on Friday, and the Azraq site 50 percent occupied on Friday, according to Khaled. 

The director general added that some activities, such as hiking trails, operated by the RSCN are not pre booked, making it challenging to estimate how much activity they received during the holiday. 

The pandemic and the resulting restrictions, including the recently lifted Friday lockdown, have presented challenges for the RSCN and the local communities the lodges help serve, said Khaled. “Some of our sites, they are operated by our team but there are also some operated by the local community,” he explained. 

“RSCN also has employees, service providers from the local community.” Visitors who stay at RSCN’s facilities, mostly located in remote areas where economic opportunities for residents are limited, “contribute to the local community,” he said. “We hope that this will increase the contribution to the local economy.”

Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism Emad Hijazeen described the spike in domestic tourism over the eid holiday as a “step to prepare for the reopening of tourism,” particularly as Jordan recently welcomed the first tourist flights since the start of the pandemic to Aqaba in recent weeks. 

“We hope that this can be a good start for the industry,” Hijazeen told Jordan News. “We cannot pretend that everybody in the industry and the sector will benefit, but at least” some workers will benefit from the growth of domestic tourism. 

“We hope that this will help a lot to increase the support for the survival of the tourism industry, taking into consideration that they are still since March 20 (2020) without work, without tourism.”

Hijazeen added that the ministry hopes to start welcoming more international tourists in the autumn.

He noted that Jordanians who “normally, when we have holidays prefer to go abroad”, have begun to spend their holidays in Jordan since the start of the pandemic, visiting locations like “Aqaba, the Dead Sea, or even some places in Amman or in the north as well.” 

“We hope again that things will improve and we can start having more and more tourists coming to Jordan,” he added.

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