PETRA: Tending to his camels in Petra, Jordan’s spectacular archeological marvel hidden deep in a desert canyon, Hussein Bdoul is all smiles: The tourists are back.
After years in which the COVID-19 pandemic turned the storied “Rose City” into a ghost town, the father of seven is back at work, offering visitors rides on his decorated animals.
“Tourism has returned and the numbers are even greater,” said Bdoul, 35, wearing Bedouin garb with a red keffiyeh scarf over his long black hair, reflecting on a resurgence last year.
“At the time of the coronavirus disease pandemic, we did not see anyone in Petra,” said Bdoul — a disaster for the town where, he said, “90 percent of people work in tourism.”
Jordan tourism authorities confirm that Petra is back in business and drew 900,000 visitors last year, close to the record of 1 million set in 2019.
Jordan as a whole received 4.6 million visitors in 2022 — almost four times the level from 2020 — earning the country $5.3 billion.
Top draw Petra, famous for its stunning temples hewn out of the rose-pink cliff faces, is a United Nations World Heritage site and was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a 2007 online poll.
It was built in 312 BC as the capital of the ancient Arab kingdom of the Nabataeans, which fell to the Romans in 106 BC.
The ancient city remained unknown in the West until a Swiss traveler visited it in 1812.
Around 1,700 people make a living from Petra as tour guides, trinket sellers or by taking visitors through the site on donkeys, horses, camels or electric buggies.
Suleiman Farajat, head of the Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority, said the post-pandemic tourism comeback had exceeded all expectations.
The recovery was helped by official promotional campaigns in new overseas markets, low-cost airline flights and new hotel rooms, said Farajat.
Petra now has 4,000 rooms, and permits have been granted for three new five-star hotels, so capacity will soon almost double from 2019, he said.