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.


Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019
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Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”