In June, the Jordanian desert valley of Wadi Rum joined the UNESCO World Heritage List, with a decision which has been much predicted since the end of 2010. According to Green Prophet’s Tafline Laylin, writing in September 2010, UNESCO certification would “ease the task to sustainably manage both the cultural and natural beauty that makes this site such a strong candidate for the United Nations’ esteemed recognition”.
With the certification finally announced in summer 2011, Jordanian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Haifa Abu Ghazaleh told The Jordan Times newspaper that “This win is considered as a recognition for Jordan and its heritage, and will have a great impact on the country’s tourism sector”.
Wadi Rum is Jordan’s fourth UNESCO World Heritage listed site, along with the spectacular pink stone city of Petra, built by the Nabateans; the Byzantine site of Um Rasas, and the Umayyad-era desert palace at Quseir Amra. Abu Ghazaleh also told The Jordan Times that Jordan would be campaigning for the Dead Sea to be named as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Ibrahim Osta, head of the USAID-funded tourism development project Sihaya, added that ““This ranking will further raise the profile of Wadi Rum globally which will attract higher value visitors and improve the livelihoods of local residents”.
But some concerns have been raised over the possible impacts of the UNESCO certification on Wadi Rum’s natural beauty, local Bedouin communities, wildlife, which includes the rare Arabian Oryx, and archaeological remains which date back to prehistoric times.
In a guest post on the website of Matthew Teller, a British journalist who specialises in the tourism of Jordan and the wider Middle East, author Tony Howard of Nomads Travel noted that Wadi Rum’s World Heritage status was well-deserved and “a long time coming”.
But, continued Howard, many in Jordan are concerned that the potential rise in tourist figures that the certification might bring about could overwhelm the existing facilities. Indeed, commented Howard and many of those who joined the discussion on Teller’s website, local Bedouin villages have already mushroomed, with tourist camps also springing up around the valley, some of them not run by local Bedouin at all.
Numbers of well-informed local guides were said already to be insufficient to meet demand, and existing tourism facilities in the valley were said to have been poorly designed and not in keeping with the way in which local Bedouin who worked with tourists had previously operated. Other commentators familiar with Wadi Rum also noted that even at current tourism levels, environmental impacts such as litter were not being kept under control.
“Let us hope that those who undertake this task will work fully with the local people to understand their needs – and the needs of all types of tourists”, Howard concluded.