NATURAL GROWTH

Jordan 2019 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

Jordan boasts numerous ecosystems, and conserving this biodiversity is key to developing jobs in the tourism sector.

Yehya Khaled
BIOGRAPHY
The Director General of RSCN, Yehya Khaled has been with the organization for over 20 years and has played a significant role in developing the small NGO into a fully institutionalized and internationally renowned organization. He has a master’s degree in transformation management from Buckingham University in the UK and a BSc in applied biology from the Jordan University for Science and Technology. He was previously RSCN’s Director of Conservation.

With two new desert nature reserves awaiting approval from the government, what is RSCN's vision for creating a curated portfolio of protected areas and enhancing Jordan's ecotourism offering?

RSCN is a non-government, non-profit organization. We were established in 1966 and have a unique mandate from the government to establish and manage protected areas or nature reserves on its behalf, which is unique to find an NGO that manages government land. The main mission of RSCN is to establish a national network of protected areas representing different ecosystems and habitats. There is a national plan, and at the end of the whole plan, we want all ecosystems and habitats in Jordan to be represented in protected areas. Thus far, we are four protected areas away from finishing the whole network. We just established two new protected areas, Burqu and Dahek, which will complement our established areas in Shaumari, Azraq, Yarmouk, Ajloun, Dibeen, Mujib, Dana, Fifa, Qatar, and Wadi Rum. Through our approach, we not only conserve protected areas but also create economic opportunities for local communities in and around the protected areas, developing a strong ecotourism program in protected areas. Our protected areas include ecotourism facilities, which received 180,000 visitors in 2018 and include different types of lodging facilities. Via our ecotourism programs within all the protected areas, we strive to achieve three objectives. One is to create economic opportunities for the local community who live around the protected areas. We currently have high unemployment in Jordan, even in Amman and Zarqa, which are main cities and receive more investment. We invested in protected areas, tourism, and handicrafts because we want to create job opportunities for local women and men. Secondly, as the government does not pay for protected areas management, we finance our conservation activities through the income we generate from ecotourism. The third objective is contributing to the national income and changing attitudes to become more positive toward protected areas. We created a brand name called Why Jordan for the products and ecotourism that we developed. One of our most recent tourism developments is our partnership with the UAE to establish the first falcon training reserve and sustainable hunting program. The Burqu Reserve will be the first sustainable falconry program whereby we release some bird species for falconers to practice and train their falcons.

Can you tell us about RSCN's role in bringing together various stakeholders in this field?

Our strength is to manage sites, though at the same time, we do not want to take on the role of tour operators. Rather, we always work with them to prepare promotion and marketing materials so that they can promote their programs to visit our sites both locally and internationally. There is an annual event called Adventure Next in Aqaba, and we work with tourism associations both nationally or globally to promote and market our sites so that they will be on the plan and map for visitors when they come to Jordan. By doing so, we are diversifying the tourism product and bringing more economic income to the country.

What message would you like to convey about RSCN, and what are your upcoming developments for the year ahead?

We strive to promote sustainable tourism within the country. Unfortunately, there are some initiatives that are not environmentally or socially sustainable, and we are worried Jordan is expanding in some segments without taking the right measures. Our focus is on expanding our work according to sustainable development programs. We ensure there is a proper environmental protection or biodiversity conservation when developing our tourism product.