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Thu 13 Dec 2007 10:36 AM

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21st century Jordan

While Petra remains central to Jordan's cultural attractions, the country's leisure industry is now advancing in other areas, such as sports and health and fitness.

The recent naming of Petra as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World is improving international perceptions of Jordan. It has given the country a new focus, detracting from setbacks to tourism and the inextricably linked leisure industry caused by a series of Al Qaeda linked suicide bomb attacks on three hotels in Amman in November 2005 and the conflict in neighbouring Lebanon last year.

Otto Steenback, property manager at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Amman - one of the three hotels bombed in 2005 - estimates that the extra exposure of Petra will lead to a 100% increase in tourism numbers over the next five years.

Jordan Hotel Association president Michel Nazzel agrees, adding that being on the list is a major attraction for Petra and Jordan, with the associated publicity being worth millions of dollars.

"This should make the task of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) easier for many years to come," Nazzel adds.

Tohama Nabulsi, communications manager for JTB, says: "In light of Petra's well deserved success by being crowned as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, the Jordan Tourism Board plans to incorporate a new focus in its marketing plans for next year.

"As new ideas are being explored, innovative marketing methods being studied and tested, and unified campaigns being designed, Petra remains constant in all discussions as one of the main focuses for next year. The main trend we are utilising is promotion of Petra through online activities," she adds.

The predicted influx of tourists to the country means that leisure operators may well need to raise their game. Indeed, the JTB acknowledges several challenges facing the growth of leisure.

Nabulsi says one of the key issues is a lack of trained human resources.
"We try to overcome this by getting staff from outside Jordan and we already have the University of Hospitality from which we can recruit well-trained, experienced graduates," she says.

Other challenges are the very high competition across the region and the geopolitical situation, which Nabulsi says impacts Jordan despite it being a very safe country.

To help overcome these challenges, the government and JTB need to capitalise on the momentum raised by Petra's accolade and use it to focus on the wider leisure industry. So, aside from the cultural and historic attractions that Jordan is famous for and the lure of the Dead Sea (see page 44), what else does the leisure industry in Jordan have to offer?

Cultural core

More than 200 archaeological sites have been discovered in Jordan, and there are believed to be many more. However, even before the Swiss-based New Open World Corporation named Petra as one of the New Seven Wonders list, it was Jordan's most valuable treasure and JTB's greatest tourist attraction. To preserve the UNESCO World Heritage site, Petra Archaeological Museum and Petra Nabataean Museum are located in the town of Wadi Musa, next to the site.

There are many other museums in Jordan and not all of them are linked to the historic sites in Petra, Amman, Wadi Rum and Umm Qays. For example, there is the Alpha Marine Science Station and the Aqaba Birds Observatory in Aqaba and the new National Children's Museum of Jordan in Amman.

The museum aims to create interactive learning experiences for children and families. It comprises a 4400m² interactive garden and a 2600m² internal exhibit area, with the interiors and exhibits created by UK-based Haley Sharpe Design and Beck Interiors.

The attraction features 150 interactive displays based on the themes of Humankind, Technology and the Natural World. Additional facilities include a children's library and IT centre, auditorium, planetarium, activities centre and an outdoor theatre.

The educational resource, which supports the national curriculum for schools, aims to encourage children to explore the arts, sciences, technology and industry in an interactive learning environment.
Fit for action

Jordan is not just a haven for fans of culture. The natural habitat affords a range of opportunities for the adventure lover too.

There are opportunities for horse riding, 4x4 safaris, rock climbing, canoeing and hiking. For example, treks through the Wadi Mujib gorge from the highlands above Mujib to the Dead Sea are organised by The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Its most extensive trek, known as the Lost Trail to the Dead Sea, is a full day expedition that the JTB describes as "not for the faint hearted".

In Aqaba, hotels and beachfront operators specialise in scuba diving, water sports, snorkelling, fishing and sailing. Other sports such as horse riding, cycling, golf, basketball, football and running are available at various sports clubs in Amman, which also offers the Waves Waterpark and The Park. This overlooks the city and features an auditorium hosting regular events and festivals, a large sports training facility and a children's playground.

The health and fitness industry, meanwhile, is still developing in terms of size, structure and professionalism. Most gyms and health clubs are privately-owned standalone facilities in Amman.

One of the newest and most impressive of these is Vy, which was launched in January by owner Gravity Athletic Investment Company and fitness manager Chris Farley, who moved to Jordan specifically to manage the club following seven years working in the UK fitness industry.

Vy is a 8000m² wellness centre, which features a wealth of facilities in the Vy Gym including: an indoor 25-metre pool and an aqua fitness pool; 200-metre suspended running track; two squash courts; four fitness studios; a group cycling studio; a Technogym and Nautilus equipped gym; a Kinesis personal training studio; Vy Juice and separate male and female relaxation zones with steam, sauna and spa pool.

Additionally, the club offers a spa called Vy Chi; a gelato ice-cream store called Vy Ice; and the Vy Café restaurant, all of which are open to non-members.

Of other standalone clubs in the country Farley says: "Most have adequate facilities but lack the direction and drive to make an impact on the entire fitness industry here."
Hotel gyms, he continues, are well established within the fitness industry in Jordan, providing members with a more rounded approach to exercise, health and fitness.

Farley adds: "The leading health and fitness operators in the world are just breaking through into Jordan and the rest of the Middle East and I predict that in the next three to six years you will see these major businesses dominating the market throughout the region and taking over from many of the locally-owned clubs."

Challenges with growing the industry, however, stem from two main issues.

"Awareness of health and fitness is throughout Jordan is low, with people still believing that looking good is a priority over feeling good. The process of awareness needs to start from a young age, as educating our current members is a challenge. It's proving successful though, with members finding new targets being achieved through realistic goal setting and education," says Farley.

Even with an increase in awareness, Farley says that only a very small percentage of Jordan's six million population will be able to afford a health club membership.

"Prices of memberships to gyms and health clubs are so high that it will be many years before the majority of the population will allow themselves to have such a luxury of expenditure," he asserts.

Despite this, Farley is positive about the future of the Jordanian fitness and wellness industry, with the owners of Vy potentially looking for a second site.

"The industry needs time to develop; time to set higher standards which will be met by industry professionals who are qualified and ready to take on the huge responsibility of educating customers.

"Many opportunities will arise because of the speed at which the industry is growing," continues Farley. "Positions will appear and salaries will rise; and this will open the door to new club operators who can hopefully see the potential of this market and take it upon themselves to lead the way for the fitness industry in Jordan."

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