Damaging the tourism sector

Tourists ride a horse-drawn cart in petra
(Photo: Jordan News)
I would have packed up and left the day after I arrived last month if I had not already known Jordan well. There seems to be a new cynical tourist trap that will kill the whole business if it is not stopped now.اضافة اعلان

Despite 25 years of experience in this lovely country, we were taken for a ride; and we were not even passengers in the taxi that cheated us. So I guess it could happen to anyone. 

You will get a sense of what this is all about if I explain that in an increasingly anguished voice I kept repeating: “But there was no accident, there was no damage; ma fi accident, ma fi damage!” 

No one listened.  Everyone was understanding and supportive, but no one listened; not the desk officer at the police station, not his boss and not the specialist traffic police officer who finally turned up much later in the day.

Imagine if indeed we had been a couple of ordinary tourists (as we seemed to be) on a one-week break to Jordan and we had spent much of the first three days being harassed and effectively threatened by an embedded aspect of Jordanian society from which there was no escape.  

We would not come back, right? And beyond that, we would tell all our friends and relations and may well write about the whole experience on Trip Adviser or Google or our own travel blog. Not clever; certainly not for a country that desperately needs the income from the kind of visitors who find Jordan an intriguing holiday destination.

I have chosen to write about it all here because this is the kind of self-inflicted injury that Jordan should avoid and which is easy to stop. I understand that life is seriously tough for many people and that non-Jordanian tourists seem an easy and risk-free target, but such simple calculations only make sense to those disconnected from social media.  

It is not the incident itself that is important, it is the institutionalised attitudes around it that gave me no space to escape, leaving me feeling cheated, uncomfortable and indeed angry. We were driving in a small hire car near the Fourth Circle. I had done this dozens of times before, though not for 18 months or so.

I know and enjoy Jordanian driving, and have for many years. The taxi in front of us moved forward to get to the roundabout and stopped. No problem. Then he did it again, this time much more brutally. I stopped, too. The driver got out, accusing us of hitting him.  We had not.  

As I said, there was no accident and no damage, to either car. The police officer on traffic duty nearby was not interested and waved us away. The driver photographed the back of our car, which was odd, as he was trying to argue that the front of our car had hit his. We photographed his in retaliation.  

That was that, until an hour later our car-hire company phoned to say we had to report now to the police station. Not so easy as my wife was in the middle of a dental consultation. Not much sympathy, but we were allowed eventually to set our own timetable.

Remember, we know Jordan, we like Jordan, but what would this have been like for a couple on their first visit who were having a short holiday and for whom time was their most precious resource?  It was frustrating enough for us, having just arrived back with so many people to see and things to sort out. 

Imagine such events being reported in the travel press, alongside warnings not to go to Jordan. Eventually, after three hours at the police station waiting for the taxi-driver to turn up, we all agreed this had gone on long enough. We were allowed to go to our apartment, but only when we mentioned that our lawyer friend came from the same area as the head of the police station. Yes, they would sort it out between them the next day.

It was not that simple, of course. We had to come back, for more waiting. The previous day the police had not taken the chance to examine our car and see that there was indeed “no damage”. This time was the same.

It seemed that facts were not all that relevant; they were locked into the required procedures with no scope for individual initiative, not even in the case of foreign visitors who do not understand the concept of wasta and just want fairness and justice.

We hung around for another hour or more, until the driver who had accused us ambled into the station. Our lawyer friend sent a colleague; discussions took place and we were informed that if we gave the driver the JD50 he wanted, it was a lot cheaper than court fees.

No accident, no damage, remember. This was demanding money with menaces, the threat being that the driver would “steal”more of our holiday-time if we did not pay up. 

So, be warned. If this trick catches on, then it will destroy Jordan’s tourism business and damage social relationships.

Since then, I have shared the story and heard many similar versions from Jordanian friends. It seems to be a well-worked trick, referring matters to the police for no reason or at least with no case to answer.

In the UK, behavior like this is called “wasting police time” and it carries a sentence of up to six months in prison. But that requires the police to have the confidence, courage and the competence to identify such behaviour, rather than just accept local “stories” uncritically.  

A disinterested rule of law works much better for everyone.  

The writer is a long-time resident of Jordan.

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