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.


Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

Updated 15 June 2019
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Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

  • Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz have alarmed Japan, China and South Korea
  • Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran when the attack happened

SEOUL: The blasts detonated far from the bustling megacities of Asia, but the attack this week on two tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz hits at the heart of the region’s oil import-dependent economies.

While the violence only directly jolted two countries in the region — one of the targeted ships was operated by a Tokyo-based company, a nearby South Korean-operated vessel helped rescue sailors — it will unnerve major economies throughout Asia.

Officials, analysts and media commentators on Friday hammered home the importance of the Strait of Hormuz for Asia, calling it a crucial lifeline, and there was deep interest in more details about the still-sketchy attack and what the US and Iran would do in the aftermath.

In the end, whether Asia shrugs it off, as some analysts predict, or its economies shudder as a result, the attack highlights the widespread worries over an extreme reliance on a single strip of water for the oil that fuels much of the region’s shared progress.

Here is a look at how Asia is handling rising tensions in a faraway but economically crucial area, compiled by AP reporters from around the world:

WHY ASIA WORRIES

The oil, of course.

Japan, South Korea and China don’t have enough of it; the Middle East does, and much of it flows through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is the passage between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

This could make Asia vulnerable to supply disruptions from US-Iran tensions or violence in the strait.

The attack comes months after Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to retaliate against US economic sanctions, which tightened in April when  the Trump administration decided to end sanctions exemptions for the five biggest importers of Iranian oil, which included China and US allies South Korea and Japan.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of oil — after the US, China and India — and relies on the Middle East for 80 per cent of its crude oil supply. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a dramatic reduction in Japanese nuclear power generation and increased imports of natural gas, crude oil, fuel oil and coal.

In an effort to comply with Washington, Japan says it no longer imports oil from Iran. Officials also say Japanese oil companies are abiding by the embargo because they don’t want to be sanctioned. But Japan still gets oil from other Middle East nations using the Strait of Hormuz for transport.

South Korea, the world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil, also depends on the Middle East for the vast majority of its supplies.

Last month, South Korea halted its Iranian oil imports as its waivers from US sanctions on Teheran expired, and it has reportedly tried to increase oil imports from other countries.

China, the world’s largest importer of Iranian oil, “understands its growth model is vulnerable to a lack of energy sovereignty,” according to market analyst Kyle Rodda of IG, an online trading provider, and has been working over the last several years to diversify its suppliers. That includes looking to Southeast Asia and, increasingly, some oil-producing nations in Africa.

THE GEOGRAPHY AND THE POLITICS

Asia and the Middle East are linked by a flow of oil, much of it coming by sea and dependent on the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran threatened to close the strait in April. It also appears poised to break a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that US President Donald Trump withdrew from last year. Under the deal saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

For both Japan and South Korea, there is extreme political unease to go along with the economic worries stirred by the violence in the strait.

Both nations want to nurture their relationship with Washington, a major trading partner and military protector. But they also need to keep their economies humming, which requires an easing of tension between Washington and Tehran.

Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran, looking to do just that when the attack happened.

His limitations in settling the simmering animosity, however, were highlighted by both the timing of the attack and a comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Abe that he had nothing to say to Trump.

In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, the tanker attack was front-page news.

The Nikkei newspaper, Japan’s major business daily, said that if mines are planted in the Strait of Hormuz, “oil trade will be paralyzed.” The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper called the Strait of Hormuz Japan’s “lifeline.”

Although the Japanese economy and industry minister has said there will be no immediate effect on stable energy supplies, the Tokyo Shimbun noted “a possibility that Japanese people’s lives will be affected.”

South Korea, worried about Middle East instability, has worked to diversify its crude sources since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s.

THE FUTURE

Analysts said it’s highly unlikely that Iran would follow through on its threat to close the strait. That’s because a closure could also disrupt Iran’s exports to China, which has been working with Russia to build pipelines and other infrastructure that would transport oil and gas into China.

For Japan, the attack in the Strait of Hormuz does not represent an imminent threat to Tokyo’s oil supply, said Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

“Our sense is that it’s not a crisis yet,” he said of the tensions.

Seoul, meanwhile, will likely be able to withstand a modest jump in oil prices unless there’s a full-blown military confrontation, Seo Sang-young, an analyst from Seoul-based Kiwoom Securities, said.

“The rise in crude prices could hurt areas like the airlines, chemicals and shipping, but it could also actually benefit some businesses, such as energy companies (including refineries) that produce and export fuel products like gasoline,” said Seo, pointing to the diversity of South Korea’s industrial lineup. South Korea’s shipbuilding industry could also benefit as the rise in oil prices could further boost the growing demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which means more orders for giant tankers that transport such gas.