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Tourism stakeholders see ‘ray of hope’ as planes head to Aqaba

A view of waiting planes at King Hussein International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Photo: Jordan News)
A view of waiting planes at King Hussein International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Twelve more tourist planes are scheduled to arrive at King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba on May 6, it was announced on Sunday, representing the reopening of Jordan’s faltering tourism sector.اضافة اعلان

The announcement comes after the first commercial tourist flight since pandemic closures arrived to Aqaba on Saturday, bringing with it 180 tourists from Bulgaria to visit tourist attractions such as Wadi Rum and Petra. 

The twelve planes each have a capacity of around 250 passengers, according to sources who spoke to Al Ghad daily, who added that the tourists aboard are expected to stay anywhere from six to twelve days, during which they will visit several regions in the Kingdom, including the “Golden Triangle” of Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba. 

Abdulhakeem Al-Hindi, President of the Jordan Hotel Association and Vice President of the Tourism Promotion Authority, is currently in charge of ensuring that all tourism and hotel workers are vaccinated, to ensure a safe reopening to tourists, he told Jordan News.

According to Hindi, the tourism sector employs approximately 55,000 people, and vaccinations began a week ago with the aim of covering all staff in the sector by June 28, 2021. 

“Hotels are tourists’ second home, so it is crucial that we ensure that this second home is safe,” he told Jordan News. “Each hotel will be receiving a certificate which states that it is safe and all of its staff members are vaccinated.”

Aqaba has also begun to integrate vaccines into its permit systems, with the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) announcing on Monday that all permits for movement past the curfew will be nullified as of May 16, while new permits will be issued to those who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

Hindi noted that it would take “at least four to five years” to recover the hotels’ losses during the pandemic, and that receiving visitors at this time is “a ray of hope,” indicating that Jordan is on the right track in terms of measures and procedures for recovery. 

Sharing Hindi’s optimism is Sahl Dudin, Managing Director of Ayla Oasis Development, who also expressed his support for the new developments. 

“Aqaba relies more on foreign tourism than local tourism, which is why receiving these planes at this time is a good gesture to all the hotels in Aqaba,” he said in an interview with Jordan News. “We hope that this small move will lead to a larger one, such as receiving charter flights or low-cost airlines, which have helped carry hundreds of thousands of visitors to Aqaba.”

Dudin also pointed out that local tourists account for only “20 to 30 percent” of the tourism market in Aqaba, while foreign tourists account for “70 to 80 percent,” which is why he suggested that reviving tourism in Aqaba is a “welcomed decision” from all hotels.

Despite the fact that the tourism sector in Aqaba has been very supportive of the decision, according to Jordan Experts Company Director General Saleh Hlalat, the process will not be quick and the billion-dollar losses will necessitate “very cautious and strategic planning.”

“We are currently in talks with European companies to cancel PCR tests — which are very costly — for vaccinated visitors. However, for the time being, we must take all the precautionary measures necessary,” Hlalat said.

“We will be able to see a significant difference by the end of the year 2023 if we keep moving forward with the same steady pace we are currently on.”

He also added that even though the number of people arriving in Aqaba will be larger than in the last months, all sectors are “well-prepared and ready” to deal with all scenarios.

Aqaba is currently working to make the city safe not only for visitors, but also for its residents. The ASEZA, said in a media statement, “We want to transform Aqaba into a green safe zone, which is why the health sector is monitoring vaccination visits to all facilities. We’re also working on new permits that call for a certificate stating that the permit holder has been vaccinated. This will have an effect on the region’s economic situation and assist us in achieving our COVID-free zone target.” 

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