Jordan, a haven for Christians and Muslims in the turbulent Middle East, has started competing with Egypt, Turkey and Israel to make its Red Sea resorts as popular as possible.
For many, it has been a losing battle.
Tourism to Jordan’s Dead Sea has fallen by 27 percent in the last four years, according to the Foreign Ministry, as the sandy barrier between Israel and Jordan becomes more acidic as glaciers melt and the sea level rises.
Jordan launched a campaign this summer to draw more tourists to its resorts, which include spots including Petra and Aqaba, an area known for its pristine beaches and gentle waves. But it has had to compete with the region’s other prime tourist destinations.
Israel has been expanding along its Mediterranean coast, spending around $6 billion on development over the past decade. Tourism is now one of its top sources of revenue, accounting for 5 percent of the economy and 20 percent of jobs, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Recently, Israel’s Cruise Line Authority embarked on a marketing campaign that focused on the seamounts off the Mediterranean coast. Unlike Jordan, where tourism from Europe is often undertaken by Turkish and Russian nationals, Israel’s Mediterranean coast has many German and Italian visitors. It’s important that the region’s Middle Eastern tourists also flock to Israel, said Tzvika Segal, the director of the cruise line’s marketing.
“Tourism in the Mediterranean will be growing for years to come,” he said. “We want to offer something that will interest the European market, where tourism from the Middle East is negligible.”
Experts say that combining upmarket and local tourism in a way that helps attract the younger generation can help popularize the region’s regionally untouched beaches and protected springs. This year, Jordan began allowing colleges and universities to rent expensive condominiums or apartments at the Dead Sea, and this fall, 10,000 visitors aged 18-30 are expected to join the free trip.
Meanwhile, leaders of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, have been trying to foster tourism for years. Last year, Germany surpassed France as Egypt’s biggest tourist market, and Turkey is the largest regional destination for Saudis.
Egypt and Jordan have not been immune to the global economic woes, and last month, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, the guest of honor at Washington’s Saudi Arabian Embassy celebration of the country’s 80th anniversary, sent his condolences after militant attacks in Jordan that claimed the lives of 10 people. Still, the two countries remain staunch allies, with Jordan hosting the U.S. embassy and the airport that Prince William used to leave for the Air Force Academy graduation.
“Things are going to get better,” said Abdullah al-Masri, a member of the Economic Corporation of Jordan and editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Jordan Times. “Jordan is still a very good destination, as long as you visit on your own and don’t have to exchange your money or dollars.”
Jordan says it is adjusting its regulations to make its sea resorts more environmentally friendly and to accommodate tourists. During the start of the Mediterranean cruise season in July, Jordan made it easier for passengers to swap their shore tickets for a visit to the Dead Sea, allowing them to stay longer, according to the tourist authority. Jordan also enhanced the number of permitted sea trips to more than 30 a day for relatives of U.S. citizens. In the past, only 15 permits had been issued for reunions.
Over the years, Jordan has expanded other ways to lure tourists, including attracting more expatriates to the area. The Jordanian Institute of Economy and Tourism operates a number of business and shopping centers in the region, including a retail complex in the ancient city of Petra.
But some visitors remain wary of Jordan’s unstable politics and the militants who target tourists.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an excuse for tourists to come over here,” said Rudi Lautner, a German tour guide who has visited Jordan twice since 1997.
“I saw the warnings about the Palestinians, the things going on in the villages, the violence,” he said. “It’s better to go somewhere you know you’re safe.”