Jordan attracts tourists with the promise of adventure

Hikers explore the scenery in Umm Qais in northern Jordan with views of the Golan Heights and Sea of Galilee. (Baraka)
Updated 14 September 2017
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Jordan attracts tourists with the promise of adventure

AMMAN: From the guesthouse roof, the panorama takes in three countries, meandering from the ruins of ancient Gadara on a Jordanian hilltop, over the Sea of Galilee with the city of Nazareth visible in the distance, and across green fields to the Golan Heights.
It’s one of the main reasons visitors make their way up to the small village of Umm Qais in north Jordan, which is also home to one of the Decapolis cities of ancient Rome.
Yet few stay overnight and the village derives little profit from those coming to take in its extraordinary sites. Most tourists dash up on a day trip from Amman before making their way down to Petra, according to Roddy Boyle, Lodge Manager at Beit Al Baraka guesthouse.
“The destinations in the south (Petra, Aqaba, the Dead Sea) are more publicized, but Umm Qais is quite unique, there’s nothing like it in Jordan,” said Boyle, who has spent a year living among the community here and experiencing Jordanian hospitality firsthand.
Visitors planning to take in Jordan’s Roman ruins would more likely head to Jerash just outside Amman, rather than making the 90-minute drive up to Umm Qais in the north, put off perhaps by its proximity to the border with Syria.
There seemed little call for tourist accommodation in the village, but Baraka, the sustainable tourism company behind Beit Al Baraka guesthouse, is determined to push Umm Qais higher up the visitor agenda and harness the area’s tourism potential for the benefit of the local community.
“By creating a cluster of tourism experiences, we have been able to increase the length of stay of visitors in Umm Qais from an average of two hours to two days,” said Muna Haddad, Managing Director at Baraka.
“The benefit goes both ways,” she added, with travelers gaining an opportunity to interact with local Jordanians while contributing to the creation of much-needed jobs in the area.
So far, the project has impacted 38 families, who have taken up employment as guides, cooks and farmers on activities from hiking and cycling to bee-keeping and camping.
The project feeds into the 2017-2021 National Tourism Strategy, which outlines Jordan’s aims to attract more tourists to the country and increase the sector’s revenues while responding to the requirements of each governorate to drive growth at the local level.
Regional turmoil has hit Jordan’s tourism industry hard in recent years, but the industry is showing signs of recovery. Ministry of Tourism figures indicated a 10.5 percent increase in the first five months of 2017 compared to the same period last year.
With tourism revenues up 14.5 percent in the first half of 2017, buoyed by new growth markets, including North America and Europe, Jordan is positioning itself for a comeback, promoting lesser-known sights alongside the headline attractions.
In particular, the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) is developing a new adventure tourism strategy to promote the country as a destination for climbing, hiking, diving, canyoneering and other outdoor pursuits.
“We’re trying to break the stereotype that equates Jordan with Bedouin tribes, Petra and deserts,” said Hakim Ahmad Al-Tamimi, head of the Adventure Tourism Department at JTB. The focus now, he said, is on “mountains, greenery and waterfalls.”
The department is also publicizing existing action-adventure events, such as the annual Dead to Red race, a 242-kilometer relay running from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea in Aqaba, and the Full Moon Marathon in Wadi Rum, one of Jordan’s most spectacular landscapes,
A grant has also been given to the Jordan Trail Association (JTA) to market a new 400-mile hiking route that runs from the top of the country to the bottom.
“It’s a great way to experience the real Jordan,” said Bashir Daoud, General Manager at the Jordan Trail Association. The route passes through 52 local villages and organisers are working to engage communities with homestays and cooking experiences among other tourism-related enterprises.
“This is the other side of tourism that you don’t get to see. Visitors can go in and interact directly with locals, meet Bedouin people and see a different way of life,” Daoud added.
JTA is also working with The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan to pass through a greater number of national parks and “show tourists more of Jordan’s best side.”
To illustrate the scope of Jordan’s unsung attractions, JTB recently launched a series of promotional videos that take viewers on hikes through deep desert canyons, abseiling down 100-foot waterfalls, climbing to the summits of Wadi Rum peaks and winding along the forest trails of verdant Ajloun in the north.
The campaign taps into a broader global trend towards adventure tourism, with Middle East countries like Jordan poised to take advantage of people’s desire to head off the beaten track in lesser-known locations.
“The demand for experiential and meaningful travel is growing, and Jordan is at the forefront of this movement,” said Haddad.


Japan, Philippines meet to advance infrastructure plans

Updated 34 min 14 sec ago
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Japan, Philippines meet to advance infrastructure plans

  • Japanese loans so far dwarf those of China, whose pledges for projects are still largely ideas
  • Duterte has made a $180 billion infrastructure overhaul the centerpiece of his economic policy agenda, but people are looking for progress

MANILA: Philippine government ministers met with a top adviser of Japan’s prime minister on Wednesday, in a effort to move forward major infrastructure projects, just hours after a visit by the Chinese president pledging to do the same.
Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte has made a $180 billion infrastructure overhaul the centerpiece of his economic policy agenda, but already into the third year of his presidency, he is under some pressure to show signs that his ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program is making much progress.
While attention has been focused largely on fanfare of Duterte’s “pivot” to China and his frequent praise for Beijing’s economic support, agreed Japanese loans so far dwarf those of China, which has pledged billions of dollars of financing and investment for projects that are still largely ideas.
Japan will finance 156.4 billion yen ($1.39 billion) for the construction of a subway in the capital Manila, rehabilitation of one of its troubled elevated rail lines, a new Manila bypass road and a new airport on Bohol, a tourist island.
The loans are part of an 1 trillion yen aid and investment package offered in 2017 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose special adviser, Hiroto Izumi, is in Manila to discuss revamping a railroad across the capital, a flood control system, and jointly operating an industrial zone, Finance assistant secretary Antonio Lambino told Reuters.
Edmund Tayao, a Manila-based political analyst, said the strong performance of the Philippine economy meant it had outgrown its infrastructure, and there was public pressure to modernize it.
“This is a long-delayed requisite,” he said. “When we speak of trains, mass transit systems, disappointment is an understatement. It is frustrating to compare it with neighbors.”
Expectations have been high since Duterte left China two years ago with $24 billion of investment and loans pledges, and there were hopes that this week’s visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first in 13 years, would have seen firm commitments for those to advance.
However, of Tuesday’s 29 agreements, the only loan agreed was $232.5 million financing for a dam. Others counted as deals included two feasibility studies, memorandums of understanding for arrangements that already existed, or a handing over of certificates.
Michael Ricafort, an economist at RCBC bank in Manila, said that with the spotlight on foreign interest in the infrastructure program, the government was keen to show progress was being made.
“The government is now put on the spot. People are looking for the promises to be fulfilled.”