It’s just one of several new initiatives to reinvigorate Jordan’s flagging travel industry. The kingdom’s 15 dinar ($21) departure tax will also be waived for all flights from Aqaba and Amman, on condition that visitors buy a ticket to touristic site and spend a minimum of three consecutive nights in Jordan. (Details about how this exemption works are unclear – this tax is now factored into overall airplane ticket fees). The Jordan Tourism Board expects these changes to be in place by September.
Royal Jordanian, the national airline carrier, has announced discounts for flights bought as part of a package, and hotels in Amman, Aqaba, and along the Dead Sea are offering promotional room rates to attract guests.
The decision will benefit people travelling via tour operators who spend a minimum of two consecutive nights in country. Travelers must still get an airport entry visa, but it will be free. The deal for independent travelers is not yet clear, but they must prove a longer stay in country (three consecutive nights) and show receipts for a “unified tourist site ticket”.
Jordan’s tourism industry has been pummeled by world perception of terrorism and war. Security concerns arising from conflict in neighboring Syria, Iraq, Israel and Gaza spill across the Levant, painting the entire region with the same jittery brush. The murder of the Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kassasbeh by ISIS jihadists – while not on Jordanian soil – also did little to assuage travel fears. Both the US State Department and British Foreign Office appraise Jordan as safe for tourism, advising only against travel to the Syrian border. Common sense advice like “don’t play with fire”.
Educated consumers could engage in basic due diligence and verify that Aqaba isn’t Aleppo and Gadara (modern Um Qays) isn’t Gaza. But given limited time and money for holiday-making, many are apparently opting to spend their vacation in places devoid of hyped safety threats – think Cyprus or Lanzarote – deferring visits to Jordan’s holy sites, nature reserves and eco-adventures until its neighbors settle down.
The Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities reported that the numbers of foreign overnight and same-day visitors to Jordan dropped from 8.2 million in 2010 (before the Arab Spring) to 5.3 million last year. Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Petra have halved since 2010. The impact is felt across the kingdom’s economy.
Nayef Al-Fayez, Jordan’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said that the measures aimed to “encourage travelers to add Jordan to their next itinerary” and would help to promote the country as an accessible, safe, and inviting destination.”
Will this pull more visitors into the kingdom? Those that do come are mostly motivated by the natural and cultural beauty. Many more travel here for the same reasons that keep recreational tourists away (aid agencies, NGO workers, media, diplomatic corps). There is also a rigorous influx of medical tourists, and of course refugees.
I’m starting my fifth year in Jordan. It’s beautiful. It’s safe. Come visit.
Images of Dead Sea, Jerash, Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba’s Red Sea coral from Shutterstock.