Jordan forecasts flat growth in tourist arrivals this year as Israel-Gaza war rages on

Kingdom launches promotional campaigns to attract visitors from Africa, Asia and Latin America

The Petra archeological site is a landmark of Jordan tourism sector, which is targeting new source markets in Latin America and Africa. EPA
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Jordan expects to record flat growth in tourist arrivals this year as the Israel-Gaza war rages on, chasing away holidaymakers and depriving the country of a major source of employment and hard currency.

The country hosted just over five million visitors in 2023 and aims to maintain similar numbers this year by diversifying its source markets with promotional campaigns in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Abdelrazzak Arabiyat, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, told The National.

Last year, we had 5.4 million visitors and we need to at least maintain this number this year, and we hope it will not decrease,” Mr Arabiyat said.

“I'm always optimistic. At the end of the day, people have a short memory and I think that the second half of the year will witness an increase in numbers, especially that low-cost carriers will come back in the winter season and charter flights will resume again to Jordan.”

Tourism in Jordan – in pictures

The Israel-Gaza war is heightening tensions in the Middle East, weighing on Jordan's tourism sector and curbing trade, S&P Global Ratings said in a March report.

Tourism is the country's main export and a key source of private sector employment, contributing about 15 per cent to the gross domestic product in 2023, according to the report.

Jordan's economic growth will ease to 2.1 per cent this year, from 2.6 per cent in 2023, as tourism arrivals will probably be lower than last year's record-breaking levels, according to S&P Global Ratings.

American and European tourist arrivals, which together make up 17 per cent of Jordan's tourism receipts, are expected to decline the most, the rating agency said.

Arab tourist arrivals, including Jordanians living abroad, should “continue to prove resilient” to regional tensions, it said.

“What happened in the region affected tourism, especially [as] tourism is fragile and sensitive towards what’s going on and people will definitely change their plans, postpone or cancel their trips or change to another destination,” Mr Arabiyat said.

“People don’t know that Jordan is the calm house between the noisy neighbours. As usual, Jordan is an oasis of peace and always resilient and we have a high-security environment.”

This aims “to convey the message that everything is OK in Jordan, we don’t have any common borders with Gaza and what’s happening there, and that we’re still receiving tourists from different countries in the world”, Mr Arabiyat said.

In the first quarter of 2024, Jordan had forecast a 50 per cent drop in international tourists due to the war but recorded a better-than expected performance with a smaller decrease of six per cent, he said.

A 26 per cent increase in visitors from the GCC and Arab countries helped to compensate for the 40 per cent decline in other markets such as US and Europe, he said.

People don’t know that Jordan is the calm house between the noisy neighbours
Abdelrazzak Arabiyat, managing director, Jordan Tourism Board

Jordan is seeking to change misperceptions about safety and security through “user-generated” marketing content by travel influencers and testimonials from international tourists.

New source markets

Jordan is now wooing tourists from Latin America and African countries including Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Africa.

Also on its radar are Asian countries including China, Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The campaigns are highlighting medical tourism and visits to Jordan's historical Christian sites and churches.

The Jordan Tourism Board is in talks with foreign airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways to support its plans as the country does not have direct flights to many of these markets, he said.

It is also co-operating with national carrier Royal Jordanian to bring more tourists to the country through joint marketing activities.

In the second quarter of 2024, the drop in tourist arrivals, particularly from the US and Europe, is expected to continue, Mr Arabiyat said.

However, efforts are under way to attract more visitors from Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with a line-up of entertainment events and activities during the summer holidays, he said.

“Hopefully the second half of the year will be better,” he said, as more tourists from Europe go on holiday to warmer countries during their winter season.

The tourism board has signed deals with charter companies for flights from Eastern Europe to Jordan in the second half of this year.

Mr Arabiyat said he is also hoping for an increase in budget airline traffic – mainly driven by Ryanair and Wizz Air – and their return to full capacity to Jordan in the winter season after some carriers reduced or suspended operations.

Wizz Air and Ryanair did not respond to The National's request for comment on their plans.

In terms of attracting foreign direct investment into Jordan's tourism sector, feasibility studies are under way for building hotels and exhibition centres, Mr Arabiyat said.

Jordan's Aqaba Special Economic Zone has a “lot of opportunities” for tourism investments in its port, airport, cruise terminal and logistics city.

With the June opening of the exhibition centre in Aqaba, the country hopes to attract lucrative corporate travel and business events that bring in high-spending company executives, Mr Arabiyat added.

Updated: June 03, 2024, 5:49 AM