Jordan is on track for a tourism boom despite the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to its tourism and antiquities minister.
The kingdom has had its best year for tourism in the past three years, Nayef Hamidi Al Fayez told The National.
Though the outlook is bleak for some countries as the war’s economic effects pummel the favoured destinations of Russian and Ukrainian tourists, Jordan's tourism is picking up after two years of lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Al Fayez said, during a visit to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
“For us in Jordan, we are lucky in terms of the size of the Russian and Ukrainian market, but still, there’s an impact. We were fortunate that the impact was less harmful than in other countries,” the minister said.
Mr Al Fayez said Jordan had mainly not catered to holidaymakers from the two countries. He said he is not expecting much business to the kingdom's hospitality industry from Europe in general.
“From what I recall from the good years before the pandemic, there were around 50,000 visitors from the Russian market every year,” he said. “Ukraine was much less than that. That's similar to many other European markets for us. So our distribution of the market is equal to many other European markets. And some of the European markets are actually larger than that.”
Russia’s tourism industry is facing the double whammy of the pandemic and the economic and financial consequences of its invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Russian economy has been battered by western sanctions, with the rouble nosediving amid growing instability following the war on Ukraine.
The sharp change in the dollar and the euro exchange rates against the rouble have left many tourists, who favour getaway beach resorts in the Arab world, unable to afford air tickets and hotel bills. The war has driven up oil prices and made travel more expensive for holidaymakers around the world.
Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline, suspended nearly all its international flights in early March.
The tourism industry is one of Jordan’s most important economic sectors, accounting for 13 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2019, when it welcomed an annual average of more than five million tourists — including Jordanians living abroad. Revenue reached $5.7 billion in 2019 before dropping to $1.4 billion in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The Jordanian minister talked to The National as he represented his country at the Arabian Travel Market, the leading event for the travel industry in the Middle East.
Tourism professionals from around the world gathered the Dubai World Trade Centre for the four-day event, which concludes on May 12, to market their countries’ ancient treasures and sun-drenched cities and beaches as the industry attempts to get back on its feet.
Short flights a plus for Jordan
Mr Al Fayez said returning demand is largely concentrated in the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa.
He noted Jordan’s diverse tourist attractions, from ancient cities such as Jerash and Petra — one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — to the splendour of the Dead Sea, nature reserves and hot springs.
But the weather is one of Jordan's most significant assets, with summer temperatures usually around 33°C.
“Well, to start with, we would like to look at our neighbours and our friends, especially in the GCC market. And at the same time, the expats who are living within these countries,” said Mr Al Fayez.
“But still, we saw also an interest in Jordan during winter because our winter season is also pleasant.”
As oil prices have been on the rise, topping $110 a barrel, the travel industry is among many sectors bearing the burden of higher prices due to the war in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, travel by plane can be an advantage for Jordan.
“The diverse product that we offer in Jordan, within a short flight, is a plus for us,” he said.
Mr Al Fayez said politics should not influence tourism, which is a key source of hard currency and income to many countries.
“We would always like to separate politics from tourism. Tourism brings people together", he said.