What’s Happening In Aqaba

For the past two days I’ve been in Aqaba on a business trip, rediscovering our beautiful southern city, so apologies for the lack of posting. I haven’t been to Aqaba for nearly three years so it was kind of exciting to see how far it had come in such a short time. Imad Fakhouri, chairman of the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC) – the implementing arm of the ASEZA – was kind enough to give by editor and I a tour of the major developments as I will be writing a cover story this month for Jordan Business. I haven’t figured out just how to write it yet but I thought this post would be a rare and perhaps nice preview ahead of the story, while including some personal notes I wouldn’t be able to write in the mainstream.

aqaba flag

The first thing that strikes you about Aqaba in late July is that it is pretty hot and pretty empty. There is a feeling that tourism is a bit down during a time when the weather is nearly unbearable. The second thing that strikes you are the construction cranes scattered all across the town. Incomplete buildings litter the prime real estate of the city as if it were Dubai. Mega-projects like Saraya and Ayla, that consist of a cluster of five star hotels, villas, marinas and various facilities, dominate a gigantic portion of the undeveloped beachfront.

imad fakhouri adc

It’s really interesting to see a city like this beginning to take shape, but like our host suggested, what’s happening in Aqaba requires a lot of patience from people. I would say the majority of the projects ADC is doing in Aqaba are based on building infrastructure. The idea is to build everything ahead of the demand instead of being caught off guard and then having to build in order to meet demand. This includes everything from transport roads to the airport to the ports to warehouses to the industrial zones and all that good stuff.

And in that field, they’ve made significant moves. The airport expansion will be incredible. And it’s not just about planes bringing in people, but about building an airport that can act as a hub for logistics and transport in the region. It also includes a growing group of pilot colleges, some of which are truly “centers of excellence”. Marwan Attallah’s school has over a dozen planes and he’s invested millions in making it a top-notch school, which it really is. They’ve got everything in there. The planes are so modern that training pilots are given their flight paths on little flash drives they stick right into the cockpit, and the learning facilities are state-of-the-art.


On a visit to the ports I got to understand the port deal in more detail, away from the media-frenzy that framed it as some plot to sell off national assets. The upgrades they’ve made to the port are pretty interesting and the new port will be pretty significant and able to handle what’s to come in the next couple of decades. Not to mention getting it out of the way from viable tourism land. The supply chain seems to be working more efficiently now, a contrast to the 2003 surge that left the port in a huge mess. Things are becoming more computerized.

aqaba port

aqaba port

aqaba port

The once-empty industrial zone seems to be flourishing with even one investor manufacturing laser technologies, while Dunums upon dunums of warehouses are built to be leased out for storage. Roads dedicated for trucks have been built, with massive back roads stretching between the mountains of Aqaba. Meanwhile, universities and private schools are breaking ground.

aqaba warehouse

aqaba warehouse

Anyways, there’s a lot more to this and hopefully you’ll all read the actual article to find out what’s what. But doing what I do, I have to say that I’m quite pleased to see that there is such a heavy focus on building the right infrastructure and the right environment that will lure investors, shippers, and tourists in the right way. The city planning is just as, if not more ambitious than what’s happening in Amman. Not only have they mapped this out, but they are really moving forward in implementing these ambitions and it should be an exciting next couple of years. I think a lot of people forget that Aqaba isn’t another Eillat or Sharm or Taba; it is not only being set up to lure tourists but to become a major economic center for the country, which is the reason most Jordanians are migrating (followed by Amman). Job creation is at an all time high, and it will continue to grow. The population of the city has nearly doubled in the past ten years, which is a significant indicator.

aqaba marina

On a personal note, I was annoyed by the pricey hotels. They should be much cheaper this time of year, especially with more locals going to Sharm El-Sheik as an alternative. This is to say nothing of the underdeveloped retail sector, specifically effective malls that could actually lure tourists. These things will eventually emerge under projects like Saraya, but the meanwhile is what concerns me as what’s being offered now is very poor.

On a second personal note, Imad Fakhouri is a really passionate guy when it comes to Aqaba. His Harvard dissertation was about developing the city economically and he’s dedicated almost a decade, on-the-ground, in the field of Aqaba. The city’s in pretty good hands I think.

aqaba hotel intercon

Lastly, on my way home, we were informed at the airport that the Royal Jordanian plane had a flat tire and it would take about 3 hours to replace. People of course complained but they eventually succumbed and many chose to leave and have dinner in the souk to kill the time. Those that stayed and waited in the airport were then told it would only be one and a half hours as they were sending another plane from Amman. This was around the time we were debating whether to just take a bus home. So we waited for an hour and then they announce that instead of taking off at 8 as promised, it would be at least until 12:30am. An overall 6 hour delay, at least. Most of the passengers converged on our announcer who said the wheel was on its way down to Aqaba by bus, giving everyone the option of either waiting or leaving. Most argued that they should be put up for the night at a hotel, others were missing their connecting flights. I missed the Dark Knight premiere (damn you RJ!). Anyways we ended up finding our own wheels and heading home. We got to Amman at 11:30 pm. I don’t know if the plane ever did take off, but even if they did fix it, I wouldn’t trust its safety!

royal jordanian aqaba


  • When I visited Aqaba, I was amazed how it realy changed alot lately, the roads are much better and very well organized than what we have in amman, palm trees are pl;anted in a very beautiful way and the city is very organized. But still you cant see that prosperity on the faces of the people in Aqaba, it seems the locals are still not benefiting from this boom in the city. I wish the ASEZA can realy find jobs and improve the income of the locals in the south, if we want to be very close to what is in Sharm and Taba then we need to start with improving the lives of the people. As for the city it still lacks good dining and shopping malls and decent hotel rates for jordanians. Its actyaly cheaper for me to fly to sharm than to spend 2 nights in Aqaba or the Deadsea!

  • I would suggest if you can compare your positive observation with the statistics in the “Aqaba Millennium Development Goals Report” published by UNDP Jordan. At the end of the day, the main purpose for any economic activity is human development. It will be interested to see what happened with poverty, health, environment and so on.
    By the way, are there any cranes building cinemas, public libraries and theaters in Aqaba?

  • to the writer –
    I would really like to discuss some issues that can be raised on this site. These issues can, if addressed properly can and will make some industries aware of consumer rights and maybe they can fix up a bit…it is time for media to have a influential word with regards to what consumers and general public will and wont accept.

    please if you can provide me an email address i can contact you on.


  • Are you telling us that your flight had to be delayed six hours without any compensation for the passengers from the Airline’s part?!!!

    I had a similar incident once when I flew form Jordan to London on board British Airways, and our plane had to stop in Beirut for technical reason (a bird had flown into one of the engines!) and we were delayed in Beirut airport for four hours- not a great experience; but we were booked into the most luxurious Rotana Hotel for the night all inclusive; and a BA team were working on 24/7 shift, to ensure that all passengers were satisfied. In spite of this some people took it further to claim some compensation for how the delay might have affected their business and schedule; and I would imagine that they had had their compensation in full; thanks to an airline that cares for the reputation of its name and service.

    Are you listening Royal Jordanian?!!

  • Just out of curiosity, was it ADC that gave you the tour of the Aqaba Industrial Park??? The last I knew, the park was not under ADC’s jurisdiction, and there wasn’t much in the Park to speak of except for an Iraqi shoe factory, a Capital Bank branch, and some old solar panels.

    Rather, Aqaba’s development seems to be mostly in tourism and real estate. Since a great deal of the labor is going to foreigners like Egyptians and Asians, and most of the buyers are Gulf residents buying for an investment, I don’t really see how Jordan benefits from all of this. It makes Aqaba look nice, but is looking nice that important?

    I see more benefit in the work ADC has done with the port. Logistics seems to be an area in which Aqaba could do quite well.

    If you have time in that article, it would also be VERY interesting to know how ADC’s joint ventures work with the infrastructure PPPs and real estate projects like Saraya. How many shares does ADC own, how much of the profits does ADC get to keep, and what percentage of ADC’s revenues does ADC get to keep (as opposed to being repatriated to ASEZA or to the central government, as ADC is a parastatal organization)?

  • yazan: the contact info is below the logo

    Batir: yes there is a huge human factor that is being considered. but what’s happening today isn’t going to bear fruit tomorrow morning. It will take several years. more is being spent on infrastructure than other things, and to build that takes time in my opinion.

    Ali: I agree with what you’re saying, but like i mentioned to batir, it will take a bit more time. visiting some of the malls i noticed how empty they are, only one mall that targeted local residents was seeing any activity. if they built something high class right now it wouldn’t get any customers. in fact, they should avoid that generally.

    SN: it was funny because one passenger suggested they should at least put them in the intercon and the man in charge sort of scoffed and said sarcastically: “why the intercon!?” and the man replied “because that’s where i was staying!”

    AMP: the industrial park is not (i believe) under ADC’s jurisdiction, but rather ASEZA. There does seem to be more movement there now than when you last visited (and please don’t tell me it was last month) 😀

    yes, the labor is going to the foreigners. that’s pretty natural and expected. however, keep in mind that what they’ll end up building will be serviced and run by Jordanians. when it comes to investments we have to distinguish between the intended project (which is typically of Gulf-origin) or the end-product. the first phase of tala bay was bought up almost completely by jordanians.

    the questions you asked are ones we got to ask as well and hopefully i’ll be able to fit them in after i finish 20 hours of transcription! 😀

  • Nas, I look forward to the formal article. However, to beat a sadly very dead horse (wait maybe a stillborn horse), I ponder when will Jordan GET the fact that building buildings and roads and infrastructure is not building Jordan… One of these days, Jordan needs to take a really long, hard look in the mirror. Because the biggest drawback for companies, tourists, etc. is the people. They have been and are being left behind while money is being poured into buildings not people… My BIL and SIL who are from here (which tells you their service expectations are not terribly high) complained bitterly about how much they paid to stay in a fancy Western hotel in Aqaba and receive poor service. I can honestly say that in the poorest service markets in the US, service is better than 99% of Jordan establishments. Jordan needs to really invest in its people. And, I don’t mean governmental handouts or public training. I mean, give companies tax incentives for providing training for their folks. In a culture where paying an employee’s salary is seen as an investment (how pitiful is that?!), we need a push to bring up the level of professionalism of EMPLOYERS to improve the people. Where is our focus on those who live here rather than those who invest here?

    Okay, stepping down off my soap box. Still, waiting to see the article…

  • mommabean: i agree but i would argue the investment needs to be in both people and infrastructure hand-in-hand. that being said, when you only have a handful of five-star hotels there isn’t a great deal of pressure to keep service up (although they do train them fairly well). once you start getting a dozen hotels opening up in the next 5 years you’re going to see competition for every tourist increase, thus employees trained better and service maintained to a higher-level of standard. it’s a free market and that’s how it’ll eventually correct itself (inshallah) in the end.

  • Excellent post Nas! nawwart il 3agabeh! if only i had known you were going to be in aqaba i’d have shown you around some “unpublicized” areas
    kheirha bgheirha!

  • I’ve always liked the idea of a developed Aqaba. Many years ago I upped and spent a few months there trying to find something to embed myself with work-wise. Back then it was impossible – there was nothing for me. Heck Ali Jabri (RIP) and I even failed trying to save the Hafayir back then – an area that is a challenge today as they regret uprooting those palms I understand and are having a hard time managing something useful on that strip.

    Anyway….there is another very important thing happening in Aqaba which kicks off next month. The Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts (www.rsica.com) – these guys are offering a masters program for filmmakers. School starts this September in a temp building. A very important and huge feat really! The people working this project are serious, hard working and the vision/masterplan for the permanent school premises includes amazing facilities. Having a film school, cinemas, studios, excellent faculty and wonderful talented students around will no doubt contribute to Aqaba’s development as well and most importantly to lifestyle. Nas, you ought to chat with the RSICA folks, I think you will appreciate what you’ll hear!

  • Marwan – No, it is the flag of the Great Arab Revolt that was carried when fighting the Turks. The colours of the Jordanian flag (and most arab countries) is derived from this flag. Hope this helps!

  • Last time I visited Aqaba it was dirty, noisy full of construction and dust. the people were unfriendly and the hotels expensive. The food was revolting and an odd smell hung over the market. Even the diving was su-standard with no attention to safety while the sea floor was littered with rubbish. i don’t understand why anyone would go there when Sharm is just a short hop from Amman. It is far more pleasant, the people are lovely and you don’t get the Jordanian kashra everywhere you go. I sincerely hope whoever is in charge sees sense and converts the whole thing into a port, as I believe that would make best use of the limited sea front. All this talk of luring tourists is folly, especially when Eilat and Sharm provide so much more for so much less.

  • It grieves me to see Aquaba so built over, so that it looks – will end up looking – like any ‘international development’, when it had such a timeless quality, the quintessential Arab oasis in the desert. I never went there – I only saw it from across the water in Eilat in the mid 1960s (I was working there in a hotel, after digging at Masada before going to university back in Bristol). It looked so inviting, utterly simple and beautiful under the sun or the moon – sadly sfreinds who succumed to its lure were shot at when they tried to row over! Such is life, and still it goes on.
    At university I quickly met Ali Jabri (RIP indeed) and we became very close friends – best friends…. Our mutual love of the desert was one thing which drew us together and helped us survive the divided loyalties of the 67 war. I’m glad Ali is spared the utter devastation of his beloved Aquaba at least.

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