Jordan poised to bounce back from effects of Gaza war on economy, official says

Visitors declined by 10 per cent in the first quarter this year, according to government data

People sit by the water at dusk in the southern Jordanian city of Aqaba. Getty
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An official at the centre of Jordan’s drive to grow its economy has acknowledged the effects of the Gaza war on the kingdom’s tourism sector but has said he expects a quick recovery once the hostilities end.

The war in Gaza saw many flight routes to the kingdom cut, with visitor numbers declining by 10 per cent to 1.3 million in the first quarter of this year, according to data published by the government.

“As soon as the Israeli aggression stops, as soon as matters return to a sort of normal, there will be a recovery, stronger and faster than before,” Nayef Al Fayez, head of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, told The National this week.

Since Covid-19 subsided in the last two years, Jordan has revived a drive to bring in visitors and foreign investment, particularly to Aqaba on the Red Sea.

Travel agents say this year's decline in visitors has been more acute in western tourists after Ryanair and other low-cost airlines stopped most of their flights from Europe to Amman this year. There is no official breakdown by nationality of visitors.

The cancellations were due to plane shortages and higher flight costs with routes having to avoid Israeli air space. The Jordanian government had also declined to raise a $40 per passenger subsidy it was giving airlines as an incentive to fly to the kingdom.

Tourism plays a significant role in Jordan's economy. Many visit to take part in popular activities such as diving in the Dead Sea, visiting Petra and Greco-Roman ruins, or spending time at the Umayyad castles to see some of the unique art of Islam.

In other sectors, the head of an Aqaba port company said this week that general cargo throughput had fallen 10 per cent since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October.

Mr Al Fayez, a former tourism minister, dismissed the possibility of the war having a lasting effect on Jordan's economy.

He said the kingdom was forging ahead with modernisation plans, such as a strategy to grow the economy on its 27km Red Sea coast, which was unveiled on Wednesday.

He said Jordan could deal with regional competition as Saudi Arabia develops its Neom mega project, 200km south of Aqaba, and Egypt expands its own Red Sea plans.

These projects, “are welcome”, partly because members of Jordan's “skilled and young” workforce have a competitive advantage if the demand develops for regional jobs.

“By being strong [economically], we can stand by our people in Gaza,” Mr Al Fayez said.

Pointing out that Jordan had recovered numerous times from regional shocks, he said Aqaba would be restored “on the investment map”, and tourists would return.

Updated: May 30, 2024, 12:51 PM