Tourism sector ‘optimistic’ about Saudi tourists from Omari crossing

Stakeholders from the tourism sector sounded an optimistic tune on news people crossing into Jordan through the Omari crossing would be subject to less restrictive measures . (File Photo: Jordan News)
Stakeholders from the tourism sector sounded an optimistic tune on news people crossing into Jordan through the Omari crossing would be subject to less restrictive measures . (File Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — With restrictions at the Saudi-Jordanian border crossing reduced and COVID-19 cases dropping in both countries, Jordan is optimistically expecting an influx of Saudi tourists over the summer. اضافة اعلان

The flow of tourists could provide much-needed income for Jordan’s long-suffering tourism industry, which has been virtually nonoperational since the country closed its borders in March 2020.

In a government statement released on Saturday, Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya announced that requirements for entry into Jordan via the Omari crossing have been dropped. The decision applies to previous rules for Jordanians and others entering from Saudi Arabia, including the requirement for incoming travelers to present both a COVID-19 vaccine certificate and a negative PCR test taken within the last 72 hours. 

Incoming travelers also no longer have to register on the online platform to enter Jordan or take a PCR test upon arrival.

“This will of course facilitate the Saudis to come to Jordan,” said Abdel Razzaq Arabiyat from the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). He said that the JTB has coordinated with the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Interior to ensure that there are “no complications’’ in following COVID-19 procedures. He also explained that the restrictions on Saudis entering Jordan mostly came from the Saudi government, not Jordan.

“It’s summer time, the weather is nice, Turkey is closed, maybe their plans are canceled,” Arabiyat told Jordan News. “The only destination available during the summer time is Jordan.” He added that the JTB has staged a campaign at the Saudi border welcoming tourists into Jordan, and that Amman in particular is considered a “family destination” for Saudi visitors.

“We are expecting a lot. We can’t predict the number” of tourists arriving over the summer, he said, but it will “definitely be a big number.” “We are ready now at the border to welcome them,” he added. “The government gave instructions to facilitate without any restriction.”

Before the pandemic, according to Arabiyat, Jordan welcomed 800,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia annually, most of whom arrived during the summer. During the pandemic, this was limited to 200 visitors per day — but the limit has recently been elevated to 1,000 visitors per day. He told Jordan News that he expects the flow of tourists may reach this maximum each day, though he “can’t predict” with certainty. 

According to Mohammad Qasem, board member at the Jordan Hotel Association, the government has been “very encouraging” to the tourism sector’s requests to “ease all procedures” regulating travel. He explained that Saudi tourists often stay for significant portions of time, which leads to more spending. Additionally, he said, “We need the Jordanians who live abroad to come. It’s summer time,” and they will “spend good money in Jordan.”

Qasem pointed out that the number of COVID-19 cases in Jordan has “dropped a great amount” and that the tourism sector, including the Jordan Hotels Association, is in the process of vaccinating its workers. 

“The first destination they will think about is Jordan,” he said, explaining that Saudi tourists come to Jordan for the cooler weather in the north of Jordan, the close proximity between the two countries, and the relatively cheap prices in the country. 

According to Sharhabeel Madi, commissioner for Tourism and Economic Affairs at the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), Saudi tourists crossing over from Omari are typically interested in visiting the mountainous areas of Jordan’s northern region. Saudi tourists usually cross via the currently closed Durra border. However, the Durra border is limited to cargo and transit, not travelers, due to COVID-19 precautions.

“We are expecting also good numbers from expats abroad, especially from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf” to visit Jordan for tourism, said Emad Hijazeen, secretary general of the Ministry of Tourism. “As well as Saudi expat residents. ... Especially (because) we are speeding up the vaccination rate in Jordan, and they are coming vaccinated to Jordan.” Saudi Arabia has implemented an aggressive COVID-19 vaccination campaign: At the start of May, the country’s Health Ministry announced that they had administered more than 10 million doses and vaccinated almost 29 percent of the population.

The number of Saudis arriving through the border “depends on the other side. We should be ready,” said Hijazeen. “As a matter of fact, we expect two parts of arrival, the Jordanians who work there, in addition to Saudis. How many Saudis are coming? Nobody knows.” 

According to a 2018 report from the Jordan Strategy Forum, close to a million Jordanian expats live abroad, the majority (61.3 percent) of whom work in Saudi Arabia.

“But we hope we can welcome a good number of Saudis,” he went on. “We don’t see many options for somebody to travel”, making Jordan an especially appealing location for a summer trip.

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