What have been the recent main achievements for JTB?
From the first day I was appointed Managing Director at the Jordan Tourism Board, I questioned why Jordan does not have the numbers we know it deserves based on what we have to offer. If we compare Jordan to other countries, we have many unique selling points. These USPs include the baptism site of Jesus Christ, the Dead Sea—the largest natural spa in the world and lowest point in earth—Petra, Wadi Rum, and 21,000 other archaeological sites. I conducted a small-scale marketing research study to analyze the behavior of tourists and theorized that the catalyst for tourism is air connectivity. My main priority became bringing in low-cost carriers (LCCs). In 2018, over 500 million passengers used LCCs to travel and a vast majority of Europeans use LCCs. Those carriers did not operate in Jordan. In my meetings with easyJet and Ryanair, they revealed that one of the key obstacles they faced operating in the Kingdom was the departure tax imposed at our airports. We have excellent exposure and have invested a great deal in marketing in the past 15 years and positioned Jordan on many must see and must visit lists. However, at the end of the day, when European tourists see air tickets to Jordan cost EUR800, they will not come. The solution was to convince the Jordanian Ministry of Finance to waive the tax. A simple cost-benefit analysis for a financial model that waives this tax would result in the loss of JOD300,000 (USD423,435) in departure tax income per year compensated by a gain of JOD20 million (USD289 million) in sales tax, income tax, and entrance fees. After I submitted the research, the government waived the tax for LCCs. Then, I requested funding from the government to attract Russian charters. We now have nine flights per week from Russia. Then, I started negotiations with Ryanair and easyJet, and we signed 16 destinations with them, split between Amman and Aqaba. At the same time, we implemented a perception management strategy in the past two years to convince tourists that Jordan is safe. This strategy depends heavily on user-generated content, wherein we invited hundreds of social media influencers from all over the world.
What are the next steps to link the growth in tourism with economic opportunities?
We have succeeded in our role to create demand, and now we are addressing the lack of certain services that are needed to support tourism, such as transportation. We need more investment in tourism transportation as well as more hotels in Petra and Wadi Rum. We need more nightlife attractions, water parks, and special attractions such as Disneyland. The atmosphere and environment are ripe for investment in Jordan's tourism sector.
From where are you seeing investment interest in Jordanian tourism?
There is interest from both private and public sectors. The private sector feels it needs to expand more and has started some initiatives, though the one thing I dream of is a big exhibition center in Jordan. With air connectivity, an attractive climate, and professional tourism operators, we have the right environment to attract large exhibitions in Jordan.