AMMAN: Pro-democracy revolts across the Arab world are taking their toll on tourism in cash-strapped Jordan, where revenues from the key source of hard currency earnings have dropped by 16 percent this year.
Tourism generated $3 billion last year, with 4.8 million tourists visiting attractions such as the Nabataean rock city of Petra, the Roman town of Jerash, the Dead Sea – lowest point on earth – and the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.
There have been some protests in Jordan, but the country has been relatively quiet compared with unrest in other parts of the Middle East, which has frightened off travellers this year.
“The Arab Spring has negatively affected the tourism industry in Jordan,” said Shaher Hamdan, head of Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents.
“Travel agents’ income has significantly dropped by around 90 percent in 2011 compared to last year,” Hamdan said, adding that 70 percent of travel tours and trips from Europe have been cancelled this year.
“We used to have joint tourism programs with Egypt and Syria, but instability in the two countries has affected us,” he added.
Tourism, which contributes 14 percent to the gross domestic product, and bank transfers from Jordanians working abroad are the top sources of hard currency earnings in the kingdom of nearly 6.5 million people.
With its economy hit by unrest, Jordan badly needs the money it earns from tourism.
“There is no doubt that the Arab Spring has had an impact on tourism in the kingdom,” tourism board chief Nayef Fayez told AFP.
“Although the situation in Jordan is stable, there is a misconception that peaceful demonstrations here are similar to what is happening in the region.”
Since January, Jordanians have been protesting to demand sweeping economic and political reform, as pro-democracy uprisings have flared with other countries in the Middle East shaking off years of tyrannical and oppressive rule.
Mahmud Baddar, general manager of Aladdin Tours, said the number of tourist groups that his company dealt with this year is down by 60 percent compared with 2010.
“The Middle East is no longer a favorite destination for foreign tourists thanks to the Arab Spring,” he said.
A recent Jordan Hotel Association study said that 7,700 room reservations in three-, four- and five-star hotels were cancelled between February and April as a result of popular uprisings in the Middle East.
“We used to receive at least two to three large tourist groups from France, Britain and Spain every month. But we have not received any groups since January,” an executive at one five-star hotel in Amman told AFP.
Hamdan did not rule out the “possibility of laying off hundreds of travel agency employees if the situation does not improve next year.”
“We have great attractions, but we are suffering now and reservations this year are less than 10 percent of what we had last year,” he said.
The ancient ruins at Petra include spectacular temples and tombs hewn from rose-colored rock and were featured in the Hollywood film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
The World Heritage Site was rediscovered by Swiss adventurer Johann Burckhardt in 1812 and was chosen in 2007 as one of the “new” seven wonders of the world.
Jordan is also home to the wind-swept peak of Mount Nebo overlooking the Dead Sea and the hills of Jerusalem, and is where biblical tradition says God showed Moses the Promised Land.
Jordanians also say their country is home to the site where Jesus Christ was baptized by his cousin John, who was later beheaded by Herod the Great, the king of biblical Judea.
The Jordanian authorities say they are doing everything they can to promote the country.
“We are trying hard to concentrate on next year to minimise the impact of Arab Spring on our tourism,” Fayez told AFP.
“We are launching promotional campaigns abroad. We need to convey the true picture that Jordan is stable, safe and secure.”