By Staff writer
Jordan tourism has found itself in the middle of conflict for many years, with the war in Iraq and the recent war in Lebanon both affecting it in many ways.However, the country remains one of the most stable in the region, and as such its tourism industry, continues to enjoy fairly balanced growth
Jordan’s host of natural and historical attractions makes it a perfect leisure and MICE destination, while its central Levant location has proved a valuable asset in accommodating those working on the reconstruction of Iraq, and now Lebanon.
“Jordan has a large religious history, with many of the historical sites very well preserved until today, such as Madaba and the Baptism Site.Tourists seem to be more and more interested in coming to see such sites,” says Lubna Ali, marketing communications manager, Grand Hyatt Amman.
“[We have seen] an increase in health tourism; more interest is seen in the Dead Sea and its products, and an increase is also seen in nature tourism; the government is putting great efforts in improving nature sites, such as camping and forest areas.”
Tourism arrivals to Jordan were on the increase in early 2005, but the bombing of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Amman in November did have a detrimental effect on inbound travel. After the Amman bombings in November 2005, hotel occupancy and RevPAR (revenue per available room) plummeted, with RevPAR dropping below US $40, according to the HotelBenchmark Survey by Deloitte.However, six months on, the market has bounced back, and Amman’s RevPAR for May sat at a healthy $73.
Aqaba takes off
Jordan’s tourism industry has historically been centred on development in the capital, Amman, and on the Dead Sea coast and Petra. However, while these areas do continue to see some new development, a new tourism centre is springing up in Aqaba — Jordan’s only sea coast — and hotel operators are clambering to get flags flying on properties there.
Perhaps the largest development is Saraya Aqaba — a project comprising of approximately 630,000m² of master planned development combining shopping, dining, entertainment, freehold accommodation and cultural activities within the context of an authentically styled ancient city.The total project cost is estimated at over $800 million. Built around a man-made lagoon, and adding approximately 1.5km of beachfront to the Gulf of Aqaba, Saraya Araba will open in 2009.
“Saraya’s projects cater to the needs of local and international markets, ensuring maximum benefit and profitability to stakeholders and local communities alike,” says Ali Kolaghassi, vice chairman and CEO of Saraya Holdings.
“Saraya reaches to ‘virgin’, yet to be developed markets in the Middle East and North Africa to create travel destinations under the concept of a ‘city within a city’. Saraya’s projects contain hotels, residential units, souqs, a wharf promenade, convention centres, retail, theatres, entertainment facilities, beach club and sports amenities.”
Saraya Aqaba will feature six five-star hotels, three of which are to be operated by Jumeirah, which will also operate the water park in this new large-scale project. Starwood Hotels and Resorts will operate two hotels in the project.
Italy’s Domina Hotel Group is also preparing to make its Jordan debut, following the signing of its fifth property in the Middle East and North Africa area, the Domina Inn Aqaba, earlier this year.
“With Domina Inn Aqaba’s opening, planned for the end of 2007,we are offering a new destination to our incoming leisure market, as well as to the business one,” says Jean Patrick Thiry, managing director of Domina Hotel Group.“We are proud to continue investing in the Middle East and North Africa.This hotel adds to the four already existing [in Egypt] and to Domina Prestige Emilio Cruise present in Egypt and Tunisia. At the same time [Domina is] anticipating the upcoming acquisition of other properties in the area.” The new Aqaba hotel will have a total of 175 rooms, including 24 suites.
The hotel will offer leisure facilities, such as a swimming pool, sauna, steam bath, massage, gym and access to a diving centre, as well as one main restaurant, two bars, roof cafeteria and a night club. A 150m² congress hall and five business offices will cater to the business and MICE markets.
Also in Aqaba, the Radisson SAS Tala Bay Resort will form part of another real estate community on the Red Sea.The Tala Bay development features several hotels, residential complexes, a marina and leisure activities, and an aqua park on a two-kilometre beach strip on the banks of the Red Sea.The Radisson hotel is scheduled for completion in mid June next year and will include 323 rooms, a rooftop bar and two restaurants.
“We’re focusing on increasing our penetration on the Red Sea as part of our strategy to develop more resort properties in the Middle East,” says Jean- Marc Busato, vice president Middle East, Rezidor SAS Hospitality.“This is also a further commitment to assist the development of Jordan’s tourism industry,” he added.
Meanwhile, German chain Kempinski has signed a third management agreement in Jordan.The European hotel chain is to operate the Kempinski Hotel Aqaba, scheduled to open in 2008.
Located on the shores of the Red Sea, the resort will complement the group’s other Jordan properties: Kempinski Hotel Amman, which opened in early 2005, and the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea, which opened in May.
“Aqaba fits perfectly in our strategy to create a Kempinski circuit in Jordan with properties in key locations catering to both business and leisure visitors,” says Ulrich Eckhardt, senior vice president,Middle East & Africa, Kempinski.
The Kempinski Hotel Aqaba will offer 216 rooms and suites, all with sea views, which is possible due to its curved structure.“The hotel will offer the complete range of facilities for a holidaymaker. At the same time, the business and banquet facilities will be ideal for small and medium size meetings and events,” says Eckhardt.
While the leisure market will be the predominant target market of the Aqaba hotel, meetings and incentives will also be a staple revenue earner, according to Eckhardt.
“The hotel will be ideally positioned to cater to the local, regional and international leisure markets, as well as regional MICE. Locally,we are planning to do a great deal of cross promotion with the other two Kempinski hotels in Jordan, while regionally and internationally Kempinski’s growing sales and marketing network will be key,”he said.
Dead sea growth
The new Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea opened in May of this year on the shores of the sea.Designed in affectionate tribute to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea is constructed with local stone, tiles and mosaic, and is set amidst gardens of olive trees and palms, dotted with lagoons, waterfalls and private pools.
The hotel’s first phase, the 117-room Ishtar Villas, is now operational. For the private-jet set, the 20,000-square foot Ishtar Royal Villa includes three bedrooms, a private infinity pool, a private butler and its own series of gardens and private beach.The hotel also offers a variety of restaurants and bars, a special children’s programme and lounge and a boutique Anantara Spa. An additional 201 sea-facing rooms and suites will open in late-2007, as well as an entertainment centre including a bowling alley, cinema/auditorium and meeting and sports facilities including further pools.
“At the moment, the local Jordanian is our primary market and this will develop to also encompass regional markets such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, as well as Europeans from Germany, Britain and Switzerland, and some Americans, as the property penetrates those markets and becomes more ripe in terms of PR,marketing and sales,” says Marissa Garcia Olm, director of sales & marketing, Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea.
“Through our network of public relations agencies and sales offices, which cover USA, Germany, Italy, UK, Spain, Switzerland, Benelux and GCC we have started an aggressive media and marketing campaign in co-operation with our sister properties in the Middle East region, as well as working in close partnership with the Jordan Tourism Board,” she adds.
While Olm is confident that the hotel will continue to flourish, she does admit that there have been some cancellations as a knock on effect of the Lebanon conflict.
“Definitely,we have already seen some cancellations from the MICE segment; however, those leaving Lebanon came to Jordan as they felt this is a safe destination, especially travellers from the Gulf,” she says.
Meanwhile, InterContinental Hotels Group is also expanding its portfolio in Jordan. The hotel company is in the process of adding two new properties to its portfolio, the 420-room Crowne Plaza and 202-room Holiday Inn, which are now being constructed at the shores of the Dead Sea, according to Gunter Grigoleit, director of operations, InterContinental Hotels Group Jordan/Palestine.This will increase the company’s properties in the Kingdom to seven properties.
However, that is not all for IHG.A new agreement has been signed between Jordan Dubai Capital (JD Capital) and Ishraq Gulf Real Estate Holding to develop three Express by Holiday Inn hotels in Jordan.The hotels will be constructed in Jordan’s major cities at a cost of JD 30 million (US $42 million) and will form part of an aggressive five year plan to develop over 36 Express by Holiday Inn hotels in the Middle East.
“This contract symbolises the next strategic step in taking Jordan’s prosperous tourism sector forward by filling a gap in the market for affordable, quality accommodation,” says Grigoleit.
“Hospitality Management Services,who are the master franchise developer and operator of Express by Holiday Inn in the Gulf States,will operate the Express by Holiday Inn hotels in Jordan.The three hotels will contain up to 500 rooms in total to satisfy demand for affordable quality lodgings in Jordan.“
IHG is also stepping up is destination marketing efforts for Jordan, and introduced a new promotion designed to attract expatriates in May. Called ‘Discover Jordan, the Kingdom of Treasures’, the promotion is specifically designed to promote both destination awareness and attract tourism during the summer period from GCC – primarily expatriate and GCC residents. IHG is running the promotion until the end Ramadan in association with Royal Jordanian.
However, much like Kempinski’s Olm, Grigoleit also thinks that the Lebanon situation will have an impact on tourism to Jordan, albeit in the short-term only. “The conflict in Lebanon has led to mixed results for Jordan’s tourism industry, with hotels reporting brisk business but some tour groups cancelling their trips fearing increasing instability in the region.Whilst there have been some cancellations initially as a result of the conflict, Jordan is not expected to be affected relatively in the medium to long term,” he predicts.
Jordan’s capital, Amman continues to be the focus of MICE and business travellers visiting the country, and hotels there are working hard to upgrade facilities to better accommodate the increasing demands of this market.
The Crowne Plaza Amman has recently introduced high speed internet access in all guest rooms and WiFi access in all public areas, including meeting rooms and the lobby.
The Amman Marriott has added a new meeting room, Al Majlis, and is currently renovating its entrance areas.The US group is also about to begin work on adding more rooms to its Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa.
“The Jordan Valley is becoming an alternative location for meetings and conferences,” says Lama Nimr,director of marketing communications,Marriott Hotels – Jordan.
Meanwhile, regional chain Rotana is now constructing its first Jordan property.The Amman Rotana will open in 2008.
Backing up this growth is national flag carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines.The airline has been invited to join the oneworld alliance and is now embarking on an ambitious plan to upgrade some of its major systems, such as departure control system, frequent flyer programme, internet booking engine, electronic ticketing, and the newest onboard entertainment technology, according to Hussein Dabbas, vice president, marketing, sales and services at Royal Jordanian Airlines.
“Royal Jordanian has embarked to implement a new strategy which mainly focuses on our region in general, and on the Levant region in particular, therefore we revised our schedules, route network, and upgraded our fleet with some of the newest and best aircraft available such as our new Airbus A321s and A320s, in addition to the E195 Embraer regional jets,” he explains.
“As we are going ahead with our new strategy and upgrades, it is also noticeable that Jordan as a country is also witnessing a boom in local and foreign investments.
Also, Jordan is considered as a gateway for Iraq, and we are now operating 26 weekly flights covering four major destinations in Iraq: Baghdad, Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, which led to an increase in our traffic volumes this year compared to last year supported by a positive shift in passenger trends.”
With the Aqaba developments now well underway, business resuming in Amman, and tourists still enthralled by the attractions of the Dead Sea and Petra, Jordan’s tourism industry looks set for further growth.For all the latest travel news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.