Tourism finally looking up after year and a half of restrictions

5 Dead sea
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
AMMAN — The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted Jordan’s economy, with many tour guides dealing with financial crises due to the lack of international tourists. However, with the easing of restrictions, tourism is increasing, and so is revenue.  اضافة اعلان

“Tourism constitutes 13 percent of the national product, and thus constitutes one of the most important tributaries to the economy,” said Hamza Hlalat, tour guide and president of the Jordan Tourist Guides Association (JTGA) in Petra, in an interview with Jordan News. 

“Our dependence on tourism groups coming from outside the Kingdom is great; hence, the impact of the pandemic was significant, as the closure and bans led to the disruption of tourist groups,” he added. 

Hlalat mentioned that an improvement in the upcoming days is expected, considering some European countries will operate low-cost flights to Jordan.

According to the Jordan News Agency, Petra, Jordan’s tourism revenue spiked by 14.3 percent in the first eight months of 2021, compared to last year. Total tourism revenue in those eight months topped $958.8 million. 

Beyond tourism revenue, Hlalat shared that the Ministry of Tourism has aided local travel agencies, tour guides, and bus companies through their program “Urdunna Jannah.” 

“The government allocated JD3 million to support tour guides through a bank loan program, guaranteed by the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB).

Urdunna Jannah’ allows each guide to get a loan of up to JD5000 with a low payback percentage. Money is dispersed over a 10-month period in even batches with a grace period for payback,” he said. 

Since this amount was not enough for all tour guides, the JTGA had to set eligibility criteria, where retired tour guides receiving support from social security and those employed by companies were excluded from the program, according to Hlalat. 

Even with this support, Hlalat shared that many of his colleagues have already left the industry in hopes of finding new means of income, “this will lead to the loss of many experiences and guides who speak rare languages in Jordan,” he said. 

However, according to data released Wednesday by the Central Bank of Jordan, revenue growth was mainly driven by a 10.3 percent increase in the number of tourists, which reached 1.16 million tourists in the first eight months of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Meaning over 100,000 extra tourists visited Jordan this year compared to the previous year.

“The program helped local businesses and tourism sector workers during the COVID-19 crisis, including 13 transport companies, 105 travel agencies, and 560 tour guides, according to the Ministry of Tourism,” said Alaa Al-Hindi, director of digital marketing communication of the Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan News. 

When asked about the government’s support, Hindi mentioned that two programs, Mosanid 1 and Mosanid 2, were subsidized by social security, supplying financial support to members in the tourism sector registered with social security. 

Given the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, after the first quarter of 2020, Jordan received zero international tourism. Up until the end of the year. 
Jordan had only begun receiving foreign tourists in the first quarter of 2021, consisting of primarily Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, according to Hindi. 

“Foreign tourists buy from the country’s products, investing in mosaics, Arabic sculptures, handicrafts, souvenirs, bringing in the hard currency into Jordan, on the contrary, locals do not invest in such products as often,” Samer Twal, president of the Tourism Development Association, tour guide, and an investor in the tourism sector, said in an interview with Jordan News. 

“Only recently have we noticed an increase in foreign tourists, with a high majority from Nigeria,” he added. 

In August, and for a fifth consecutive month, tourist numbers continued their upward trend, providing revenue from tourism that reached $310 million, up from $21 million for the same month last year. 

Figures also indicated that tourist numbers in August stood at 384,000, 45.7 percent of whom were non-resident Jordanians, while 41.3 percent were Arab nationals.

“There are some sectors in the Jordanian supply chain that are not impacted by locals. Tour guides, transportation, and handicraft shops, for instance, are only impacted by international tourists,” he said. 

The only parts of local tourism that benefited were the Dead Sea and Aqaba, which led to the launch of “Urdunna Jannah,” a local domestic tourism program that is subsidized by the government, which brings down the cost of tourism for locals, offering free transportation to tourist sites such as Petra, Ajloun, Jerash, Salt, Aqaba, and the Dead Sea.

Hindi shared that about 40–50 percent of the cost is subsidized by the government, bringing the price to JD25–30 per person. 

Approximately 49,000 local tourists used the program’s services, about 17,000 participants traveled onboard domestic flights, and more than 24,000 took the free buses provided by the scheme.

The benefit of the program can also be seen in the increase in travel expenditure by Jordanians. In August, it topped JD80.5 million, up from $5.5 million for the same month last year.

“The recovery process includes the government’s three-year plan, which includes bringing low-cost carriers to Jordan, such as Ryanair, Wizz Air, Egypt Air, and boosting tourism through these airlines,” said Hindi. 

“In the current circumstances, the numbers of entry are better compared to previous years, but we are fortunate that tourist groups began to return gradually,” he added.

Overall travel expenditure during the first eight months of 2021 rose by a whopping 73.6 percent from the same period last year to $365.5 million, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

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