During the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, eTurboNews met with Mr. Nayef Al Fayez, director general of the Jordan Tourism Board and had this exclusive interview.
eTN: Next month, in December, Jordan will celebrate Adha Eid, Christmas, and the New Year. How is Jordan preparing to welcome tourists for these celebrations?
Nayef Al Fayez: Visiting Jordan is very enticing and enriching during holidays and festivals, as it has a very special flavor. Islamic Adha Feast is occurring towards the end of November, where visitors can experience how Muslims celebrate the feast and share their joy. Christmas celebrations are also of a particular interest to visitors especially in Amman, Madaba, and Fuheis, where Christmas bazaars are taking place, competitions for the longest trees, and celebrations are all night long for locals and visitors alike. Other special programs and events are being prepared by DMC for the New Year’s celebrations as well. Jordan is the home of Petra, many visitors come to Jordan to see Petra, but once they are here, they are surprised to see that Jordan has much more to offer to its visitors other than Petra. We consider Petra is the gateway to discover the many treasures we have in our country from the history and culture, to eco and nature, to leisure and wellness, adventure, meeting incentive conferences, to the religious tourism – all these experiences are offered within a very small geographic area, which make it very easy to travel from one place to another.
eTN: You mentioned a very interesting issue about Jordan being an incentive market. I would assume Jordan is a geographic region that is easily reachable from both Europe and all regions in the Middle East. Are you hosting events and international conferences where buyers and sellers from these markets may meet in Amman and, if so, what facilities do you have for these events?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan is emerging quickly as a tourism power in the Middle East. It is the host of world-class facilities and some of the most amazing tourism attractions, including one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – the ancient Nabatean Kingdom of Petra. As a result of its tourism boost, the country is picking up more DMCs and qualified DMC programs to promote the spectacular natural beauty and culture Jordan portrays. Jordan began focusing on the meetings business a few years ago and has become one of the most important riches within the tourism portfolio. The kingdom has entered this market with the building of the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre in the Dead Sea, which hosted the World Economic Forum, a world-class meeting with international implications and very high standards of requirements. The World Economic Forum first came to Jordan and has been repeatedly held at the venue, which is an indication of the confidence in the venue and destination. All of Jordan’s top hotels have fully-equipped conference and banqueting rooms with dedicated staff. Future growth for the conferences and convention sector include plans to develop a new convention centre in Amman, while many of the mixed-use developments currently taking shape in Aqaba will also offer conference facilities.
eTN: Do you have many events that involve bridging Israel and the Arab world, since you opened to both regions?
Nayef Al Fayez: Tourism is about bridging cultures and bringing people from different countries together. Jordan has always been an oasis of peace and has invited everyone to meet on its land. Their majesties are internationally respected and connected. They are extremely admired regionally and internationally for their efforts in bringing peace to the Middle East
eTN: For the most part, our readers are travel industry professionals, and they try to find the best programs for a region and for a country. What is the incentive for the travel trade to book Jordan and how should they book Jordan – as a final destination or should they book Jordan as a joint destination with others?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan is promoted and sold as both [a] combined trip with other neighboring countries and as a stand-alone destination . The Jordan Tourism Board promotes Jordan as a stand-alone destination, because we believe that Jordan has the product to be a stand -alone destination. The diversity of Jordan’s experiences let it be history, religious, leisure, adventure, or nature, make it an ideal destination that satisfies every visitor. Jordan is considered a small destination offering a lot to visitors seeking enchanting and unique experiences.
eTN: What are Jordan’s niche products? You have MICE and culture, but what other specific niche products would people want to know about?
Nayef Al Fayez: Our national tourism strategy has identified the following niche products:
History & Culture
Jordan is a land rich in history. Since the dawn of civilization, Jordan has played an important role in trade between the east and west because of its geographic location at the crossroads of Asia, Africa, and Europe. It has been home to some of mankind’s earliest settlements and till today holds relics of the some of the world’s greatest civilizations.
Religion & Faith
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan echoes with stories recorded in the Holy Bible of Abraham, Moses, Paul, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and many other leading Biblical figures whose teachings and deeds have ultimately affected and influenced the lives of millions of people around the world.
Eco & Nature
Jordan is a country of outstanding bio-diversity. It is a land that encompasses all. From pine-clad mountains, lush green valleys, wetlands, and oasis to breathtaking desert landscapes and kaleidoscopic underwater worlds.
Leisure & Wellness
Jordan has embarked on various projects that feature a combination of both leisure and wellness, so as to ensure that visitors enjoy a unique, in-depth, relaxing experience. This combined with natural wellness wonders that Jordan has been blessed with makes for the ideal leisure and wellness destination.
Fun & Adventure
Fun and Adventure Tourism is expanding at a fast rate in Jordan, and promises to remain one of the most dynamic and innovative travel industry sectors for many years to come. Several Jordanian companies now specialize in eco and adventure tourism, providing the visitor with a combination of safety, adventure, and comfort while they embark on their exciting adventures.
Conferences & Events
Jordan’s MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions & events) industry has come of age. It understands the particular demands of the meetings and incentives market and strives to continuously exceed expectations. Jordan has harnessed the necessary ingredients needed to provide groups with successful and unique events.
eTN: I heard a lot about the Dead Sea with its healing powers and achievements when it comes to the medical field. Do you promote it as a medical tourism destination, and what will the Dead Sea do for a traveler; why should someone go to the Dead Sea besides the scenery that I have seen myself?
Nayef Al Fayez: We promote the Dead Sea as both [a] medical destination and a leisure destination. What makes the Dead Sea so unique is that the sun sets on the side. [The] Dead Sea is renowned as the largest natural spa on earth. It’s known for the medical properties of its waters and mud and the curative powers of its salty water. The high concentration level of oxygen in the Dead Sea area makes it an ideal cure for patients with asthma or chest problem[s]. Dead Sea products are known worldwide and are used for beauty and cosmetics. Close to the Dead Sea is Main Hot Springs, which is known for its thermal powers. King Herod and Queen Kilopetra discovered the secrets of the Dead Sea and the Main Hot Springs centuries ago.
eTN: If a traveler wants to come completely for the purpose of treatment, like retired people who have lot of time, how much time do you think it takes someone to have treatments?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan has a large number of Germans who come to Jordan for the purpose of leisure, while others [come] for treatment, which can last between 4 to 6 weeks. Some insurance companies in Germany and Austria send their clients [to] Jordan for treatment at the Dead Sea, as they found it more reasonably priced and more effective than chemical treatments that might have some side effects.
eTN: Are there any special arrangements for long stays, and what value for the money do visitors receive?
Nayef Al Fayez: Value for money is what all visitors are looking for when planning their trips, and Jordan has a lot to offer in terms of special prices and packages.
eTN: What about foreign investments in Jordan, in particular in hotels and resorts? Do you believe there is still a good opportunity for investors, and is investing open to all nationalities?
Nayef Al Fayez: We are noticing that there is a particular interest in [the] development of hotels in Aqaba and [the] Dead Sea and some projects in Amman and Petra. For more information about investment opportunities and regulations, please visit the Jordan Investment Board www.Jordaninvestment.com .
eTN: Are most visitors from regional tourism destinations or European?
Nayef Al Fayez: Our main market is the regional market, where we have guests from the GCC countries coming to Jordan for the summer; its mainly family tourism. Other markets are the European (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and others) and North American markets.
eTN: Our readers from North America are very sensitive to safety issues; it’s always a hot item when traveling.
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan is a safe and secured destination and enjoys very good relationships on the regional and international fronts alike. We don’t even mention the element of safety when it comes to Jordan. We always get comments from visitors saying that “Jordan is actually safer than home.”
eTN: When you have a foreign tourist, a non-Arabic speaking tourist, coming to Jordan, would they have to be concerned about traveling on their own, such as when renting cars or what we call fly-drive, or would you recommend that they go with groups?
Nayef Al Fayez: Well-connected roads with clear English touristic signage [are] available in Jordan. Jordanians are very friendly, hospitable, and take pride in showing their country around. Tour operators can also offer organized trips to all sites in Jordan.
eTN: Part of the fun of visiting a foreign country is to bring something back, buy a souvenir, or buy something that will make you remember something about your trip. What are the best items someone should think about bringing home from Jordan?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan is well known for its mosaics. Madaba is the home of the oldest mosaic map of the Holy Land, and within Madaba itself, there are some shops that teach people how to make mosaics, and they make a perfect gift. What is so special about such gifts is the involvement the local community [has] in such projects. Other options include the sand bottles, rugs, Ostrich eggs, silverware, and many others.
eTN: The global tourism industry is facing a world-wide financial crises and swine flu diseases. How does this affect your destination and your vision of the tourism industry in general?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan has always followed a moderate and cautious financial policy, which put[s] it in a good position to deal with the economic crisis. With regards [to] tourist arrivals, while we have seen a drop from some of our traditional sources of visitors in Europe, overall we have seen an increase in the number of tourist arrivals in 2009.
eTN: Another issue that has been very hard in the WTM is the UK departure tax for international flights that affect any destination receiving UK tourists. I understand that UNWTO and New Zealand have made a very strong statement to the UK government. What is the position in Jordan, as you mentioned that UK tourists are number one in European visitors to Jordan?
Nayef Al Fayez: Tourism has a major impact on the economy and employment globally. Any taxes enforced during such will have a major effect on outbound travel . We believe that should be studied carefully. Still, we respect the fact that each country has the right to do whatever it sees necessary.
eTN: A great history for your country is Royal Jordanian, but not everyone is familiar with this, especially in North America. Can you tell us more about Royal Jordanian?
Nayef Al Fayez: Royal Jordanian has an excellent[history, which] has been growing tremendously fast. It’s now considered the best Levant connection within the region. It’s also part of the One World Alliance, which includes American Airlines and many others.
eTN: I know that the Jordanian Travel Mart (JTM) was being held at the Dead Sea in Jordan for North and South America. How is this working, and do you feel that the event increases arrivals from the Americas market?
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordan Travel Mart proved to be a major success, and our local partners are very happy with the results for the previous years. We are noticing an increase in [the] number of participants every year, and we are looking forward for more tour operators and travel professionals to participate and start selling Jordan as a destination from Canada, North America, Mexico, and South America. Jordan Travel Mart was successful for both buyers and suppliers; [we] are very happy with the results. JTM will take place at the Dead Sea at the King Hussein Convention Center, where buyers can stay in the luxurious hotels and spas at the Dead Sea and enjoy business and leisure in the largest spa on Earth, which is nominated to be one of the seven natural seven wonders in the world.
eTN: What about food in Jordan? Few countries around the world consider food as an attraction, but people and travelers consider food as a main issue when choosing their destination.
Nayef Al Fayez: Jordanian cuisine is very unique and is part of the Arabic Culinary Heritage. Food is of particular interest and importance to all travelers to Jordan. Jordan is also known for the hospitality of its people, who would offer guests of Jordan, coffee and food full heartedly.