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Budget flights to Europe will breathe new life into Jordan tourism

Irish airline Ryanair announced its expansion in the Middle East, offering flights to Jordan for the first time ever, on Sunday. (Photo Ryanair)
LONDON: Ryanair’s plan to launch new routes to Jordan is a “historic” move that could boost the kingdom’s tourism to pre-Arab Spring levels.
Industry providers welcomed Sunday’s announcement that the low-cost carrier will roll out 14 new routes to Jordan in 2018, bringing around 500,000 customers to the country a year and opening up new source markets from Europe.
“We put a lot of time and energy into bringing Ryanair to Jordan; this has been 10 years in the making,” said Mahmoud Freihat, area marketing manager at the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), which is responsible for marketing the country abroad.
“It’s a big investment from Ryanair. It shows their trust in Jordan,” he added.
By the end of 2018, Amman will be connected to 10 new cities, including Milan, Budapest, Bologna, Krakow, Bucharest, Paphos, Prague, Brussels, Vilnius, and Warsaw; with a further four flights to Aqaba from Athens, Rome, Cologne and Sofia.
British taxes priced out a Ryanair flight to the UK but the government is looking at other low-cost carriers in the region to fill the gap, Freihat said.
The routes tap into the lucrative low-cost carrier market, opening the country up to a new sector of travelers.
“Low-cost airlines in Europe have changed the way people travel; people look at where they fly and go there,” said Suleiman Farajat, deputy chief commissioner for the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority.
Commentators pointed to a huge gap in the market in Jordan, where low-cost carrier penetration is approximately 10 percent, compared to Morocco, another MENA country on the Mediterranean, where it’s around 40 percent.
In the past, easyJet operated flights between Europe and Jordan but pulled out in 2014. Back then, Farajat said, few international tourists were coming to the region, but now, “Demand is high and it’s the right time.”
Tourism in Jordan is on the mend following a significant setback in the years after the Arab Spring. Figures released by the Central Bank of Jordan showed a 12.5 percent increase in 2017 tourism receipts.
Visitors numbers dwindled between 2011 and 2015, despite Jordan remaining stable throughout the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
However, an attack by armed gunmen on a tourism site in the city of Karak in Dec. 2016 killed 10 people, including a Canadian tourist, and left dozens injured.
“Improvement in air connectivity definitely has a positive impact on destinations’ tourism industry, as it increases tourist arrivals, spending and job creation,” World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Research Director, Rochelle Turner told Arab News,
“Jordan has a wealth of amazing cultural and natural treasures for visitors to admire. The launch of new air routes to Jordan is good news for the country’s economy.”
According to the WTTC, travel and tourism’s total contribution to GDP was nearly 20 percent in 2016 and is forecast to rise to almost 23 percent by 2027.
“In the last two years tourism has really started to pick up - 2017 was a really good year,” Farajat, said, adding that the challenge now is to enhance tourism infrastructure to meet rising demand.
The new routes to Amman and Aqaba will bring a “tremendous increase” in visitors to Petra, he added, explaining that Jordan’s most famous attraction acts as a “barometer” for the sector.
About 620,000 tourists visited Petra in 2017, a 34 percent increase on the previous year. This year, Farajat hopes the numbers will climb to 800,000. “The benchmark is 2010 when we had one million,” he said.
Muna Haddad, managing director at Baraka, a sustainable tourism company in Jordan, is anticipating a “broader base” of visitors. “This is definitely going to expand the range of groups interested in visiting Jordan.
“Other low-cost carriers have been in Jordan before and closed down … having a government serious about creating a hospitable environment for them is really historic.”
Industry insiders have credited Jordan’s tourism minister Lina Mazhar Annab with breaking through the impasse to finalise the deal, with incentives for Ryanair, such as exemption from certain taxes and reduced landing fees.
In a statement announcing the launch, Annab said: “Ryanair’s decision to fly to Jordan sends a loud and clear message about the diversity and the untapped potential of Jordan’s tourism product. It also shows confidence in the tourism industry in Jordan, which has witnessed double-digit growth in the past year.”
Freihat said more routes will likely be added in the years ahead. “We really believe this puts Jordan in the middle of Europe,” he added anticipating that the new flights to Aqaba, a sleepy airport in south, will open up new options for visitors to Jordan’s major sites.
With Petra just an hour and a half away, Wadi Rum 45 minutes and the Dead Sea an hour and a half, he anticipates Europeans coming on long weekends to see the sites, bringing more business to single destinations and benefitting communities reliant on tourism across the country.
“We are now able to make the Kingdom more accessible to a broader segment of potential tourists … whose impact on the local economy will be substantial on every level of the tourism sector supply-chain,” Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board Abed Al-Razzaq Arabiyat said in a statement.

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