Confusing Jordanian Summer Festivals: What’s Happening With Tourism Lately?

Is it just me or is there a lot going on this summer? Amman Summer Festival, Amman Open Spaces Festival, the Jordan Festival, the International Fun Festival, the Franco Arab Film Festival, God-knows-what-festival. There seems to be so many of these festivals all running at the same time this year that I am really confused. The streets of Amman seem littered with posters and billboards advertising these events. You’ve all probably seen those colorful windfans that are spinning around the lamp-posts of major roads promoting the Amman Summer Festival. I wonder if they could generate enough electricity to light those lamp-posts…?

But I digress.

First, giving credit when due, I have to say that the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) has been doing a pretty decent job lately. The new posters, especially those at the airport, feature more interesting snapshots of Jordan, while the commercials running on high-profile satellite channels like CNN International and MBC2 are an improvement over past efforts. I wonder how much they cost to make and air?

Their website is more interesting as is their regularly updated Youtube channel and Twitter channel, both of which have been helpful. Heck, they even respond when you tweet them. Hopefully they’ll get on Ikbis and Watwet soon but that’s probably as good as e-government is going to get in Jordan, and compared to the past this is progress. I hope they can manage to promote those social media channels because they can be very helpful ways to communicate and promote the country to the outside world. That online interaction is important these days. You can’t just be a poster and a commercial, you’ve got to spread the word and open a channel of communication. So kudos to the JTB on their efforts to do so.

As for the Jordan Festival. Well, I’ve generally figured out what the programme is from zooming past the middle-of-the-road billboards at 60 km/h. From what I could decipher from the blurs, I’m almost positive that the Rolling Stones will be attending, but don’t quote me. I’d tell you to check their website but, well, yeah…

jordan festival 2009 h/t: Jad

Meanwhile, the Ministry Of Culture has been, well, uhem, yeah.

All that being said this only brings me to the larger point: what happens once you spend a lot of money and energy in convincing people to come here?

A cursory glance at many of our tourist sites seems to indicate that not much has improved since Petra was named a new seven world wonder exactly two years ago to this date. Sure, we made an appearance in the disastrous Hollywood summer flick, Transformers 2, but besides the fact that movie-goers are left with the impression that Petra is in a remote and hidden Egyptian desert, how prepared are these places, such as Petra, when it comes to accepting tourists and offering a competitive tourist experience?

Tourism does, on observation, seem to be down this summer. Only a few summers ago, our streets used to be noticeably filled with foreign, typically Gulf-based, license plates. No longer is that the case. Jordanian plates are all I see. Some of the local tourist operators I know say that last summer they used to send out several buses every week filled with tourists to places like Wadi Rum, Aqaba and Petra. This summer they are struggling to barely fill two buses a week, and the majority of travelers are locals (who can still barely afford it). High prices maybe one thing but these operators also blame the fear of swine flu as another factor, but I’m not sure how relevant of a factor it’s been.

There is no doubt that the war on Iraq did create a bump in tourism for Jordan, although I find myself wondering if the country failed to capitalize on the opportunities that have arisen since. Be it the world wonder competition or even the recent visit by the Pope, it seems we are a country that has received a great deal of opportunities but consistently struggles to capitalize on them and sustain their growth. What we’re left with are a series of opportunities that wash over the country like a wave, and the country is like a small boat with no control over which direction the waves take it. Without that control we can simply discard any notions of sustainable growth in this sector.

While institutions such as the Jordan Tourism Board have done a pretty decent job at marketing the country abroad, the same amount of effort doesn’t seem to have been applied here at home when it comes to ensuring a solid infrastructure for tourism. Yes, some attention is being paid to infrastructure, I admit, but in my honest opinion, I believe the service sector is an integral part of infrastructure in the tourism world. The service sector in Jordan that is designed to complement, sustain and grow tourism is at best, sub-par, and that’s where a lot of the focus needs to be. Tourism often works best when foreigners go home and tell their friends about their experiences, and the same goes for domestic tourism. As a Jordanian, I am most encouraged to travel to destinations within our borders when I’ve heard of a pleasant experience or reduced prices. In fact, I tend to consider the positive feedback before I think of the prices; otherwise it’s not even worth going. And yes, prices are quite high. For the average Jordanian, they are unbelievably high (check out hotel rates in Aqaba or the Dead Sea). Experience matter, whether it is a foreigner or a citizen (read this op-ed by Nermeen Murad).

The service sector in this country needs to realize that in order for them to survive and grow, the concentration needs to be on ensuring that experience is a positive one. Moreover, government institutions need to work a lot closer with service-providers to make sure the user-experience complements what they’re trying to promote.


  • (I guess the market for Western female sex tourism isn’t as big as some think it may be)

    When a family of six can spend five days at the Marriott in Taba for the price of one night at the Marriott Dead Sea, there is something wrong. Aqaba and the Dead Sea need moderately priced, clean hotels without all the fluff.

  • “Coming soon Ramada Hotels to a city near you, hotel room prices everyone can afford”

    And that was my shameless plug for the day.

    Well, I think June and July are slow season for Tourism in Jordan because most Tourism market in the past has been directed towards Europeans. This summer JTB is trying to attract GCC tourists, thus the MBC new commercial.

    When our top management from Kuwait visited Jordan for the first time last couple of weeks, they were in for a surprise. They usually go to Lebanon or Syria and always had this impression that Jordan got nothing for them. But they found out there are real nice areas and the weather is fabulous.

    Jordan has great tourism potential, Religious, Adventures, Medical, and Leisure. 5 Star hotels has been dominating high room prices for so long, but with the financial crisis hitting the international markets, Budget hotels (RAMADA) has been spreading all over the region like fungus.

    Jordan is in need for 3 and 4 star hotels that are new and clean and can cater to the local and foreign tourists.

    If anyone is interested in branding their hotel, contact me @… <– OK I’m slipping again 🙂

    I really appreciate the facilities that JTB , JIB and MOTA are providing for investors in the hospitality sector.

    Jordan is working on developing the Tourism sector and I think it is going in the right direction.

    God Bless,


  • Tourism does, on observation, seem to be down this summer. … Some of the local tourist operators I know say that last summer they used to send out several buses every week filled with tourists to places like Wadi Rum, Aqaba and Petra. This summer they are struggling to barely fill two buses a week, and the majority of travelers are locals (who can still barely afford it).

    Actually one comment I received was that local tourism is even down this summer because the period between the end of the Tawjeehi exams season and Ramadan has shrunk to just over a month. I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Families that have kids in Tawjeehi usually don’t do anything, especially during the exams season. I’m not sure if this year the exams were spread over a greater period of time which would have worsened the effect.

  • Nice read, i do agree with you. As for the ad, it cost them a lot, two weeks of shooting, part of the big crew was from Egypt as well. It was about filming an ad and a documentary at the same time. I should say it’s the remake of a previous ad, nothing new.

  • lol yeah i thought I have a lower IQ then the norm coz all the activities felt overwhelming o I couldn’t decide which is which bas 3adi i’m normal tli3it 🙂

    Ya3ni Jordan is usually boring but when there’s an event there’s also 4 more in the same day:)

  • I’m tired of Jordan being promoted as a family destination. Surely we can be a bit more creative with our campaigns, and think outside the patriarchal structure we’ve carved for ourselves. Not to mention that I think it’s a bit hypocritical (I hardly hear of people engaging in familial functions beyond big lunches and trips to a private farm).

    I feel that such campaigns are simply cutting out everything interesting that is taking place in town (music, culture, arts, nightlife, etc.). Jordan Festival is promoting Jordanian dinosaurs who are still stuck in the 90s. Promote our upcoming local music talents. Promote our small film festivals. Promote botique hotels for young travelers who find lofty 5 star hotels boring, lacking in meaningful interaction and expensive.

    It is just a painful reminder that Amman is probably too quiet, too safe and too uninspiring a place to be in. I have yet to have a friend agree to visit Amman; my pleas are usually met with “I might as well go to Beirut, Dubai, Egypt or Aya Napa.”

    Egypt has authenticity and flavor. Tunisia has beach and sun. Lebanon has nightlife and diversity. Syria has tradition and gastronomy. We, on the other hand, sadly have an identity crisis, and well, Petra.

  • “When a family of six can spend five days at the Marriott in Taba for the price of one night at the Marriott Dead Sea, there is something wrong. Aqaba and the Dead Sea need moderately priced, clean hotels without all the fluff.”

    Couldn’t agree more.
    Package tours to Aqaba and Jordan in general are very expensive when compared to Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey – just to mention a few of Europeans’ most popular holiday destinations.

  • I, too, am waiting w/ baited breath for the likes of Ramada and others to come and provide:

    1. real hotel service, not lip service
    2. clean, modern rooms
    3. affordability

    I am visiting here in the US where one can get a great hotel room in many major cities for half the price as places like the Intercontinental (overpriced, snobby staff, old rooms) or Le Royal, where my friend spent nearly 700 JD for two rooms with cruddy decor, cigarette burns, and broken bathtubs. It is TRULY INSANE what these hotels get away with charging.

  • I disagree with UmmFarouq; I have yet to see a hotel in Jordan (my frame of reference is mostly hotels in Aqaba, Dead Sea and Petra; not in Amman) that does not provide top-notch cleanliness standards. I have not heard complaints in this avenue either. In fact, the standards for hygiene and neatness in our hotels surpass that of other hotels in the region (I’ve been to some really dingy hotels in Lebanon and Egypt. Not a pleasant sight!).

  • P,
    I had a great hotel in Petra. I’m talking about Amman hotels–what they can get away with charging and what they provide are not in sync. The problem is, people keep paying insane prices, because they can. And so it goes.

Your Two Piasters: