Jordan Wooing Back Spooked Travelers

Jordan Wooing Back Spooked TravelersJordan Wooing Back Spooked Travelers

With its rock-hewn ancient city of Petra, lunar-like landscape of Wadi Rum and a medical tourism drive, Jordan is luring back foreign visitors scared off by regional upheaval and militant attacks.

Abundant natural wonders and ancient treasures have long attracted tourists to the kingdom, traditionally seen as a haven of peace in a war-ravaged region.

But after the Arab Spring uprisings convulsed the Middle East in 2011 and the self-styled Islamic State terror group later rampaged across neighboring Syria and Iraq, visitor numbers slumped, AFP reported.

Jordan welcomed seven million tourists in 2010, but arrivals plunged to around three million in each of the following two years, according to tourism board head Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat.

Efforts to reverse the slide suffered a major setback in 2016 with a string of attacks in the kingdom, a member of the United States-led alliance against IS.

But the spillover from the Syrian conflict has since abated and in 2017 tourist arrivals rebounded to more than four million, officials say.

"Jordan has proved to be a safe haven in a region which is witnessing turmoil," Tourism Minister Lina Mazhar Annab told AFP in an interview.

The country's goal is to bring annual tourist arrivals back up to 7 million by 2020, she said.

  Bid to Diversify

Jordan boasts 21,000 archaeological and historical sites that span millennia, according to the tourism board. They include the Roman ruins of Jerash, the Dead Sea and Wadi al-Kharrar, or Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where some biblical historians believe Jesus was baptized.

Lacking in natural resources, the country of nearly 10 million depends on tourism for around 12% of gross domestic product. In an attempt to diversify, the kingdom has sought to become a regional hub of medical tourism.

"Between 250,000 and 300,000 foreign patients are admitted in Jordan each year, bringing in up to $1.5 billion," said the president of the country's Private Hospitals Association, Fawzi al-Hammouri.

In March the government adopted a measure facilitating the entry of patients from Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia, allowing them to obtain a visa within 48 hours.

Medical tourism now directly employs 35,000 people in Jordan, according to Hammouri.

The majority of patients come from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Jordan is also a stop for Muslim pilgrims visiting holy sites in the region. And now the kingdom hopes to woo more European visitors thanks to an agreement struck in February with low-cost airline Ryanair for 14 new routes between Europe and Jordan.


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