With the support of the Jordanian government, three hotels and a convention centre have joined forces to raise the profile of the lowest point on earth as a meetings and incentives hotspot.
Although the Dead Sea itself may be falling roughly one metre each year, three Jordanian based hotels and a convention centre are working extremely hard to raise the area's international profile as a destination for meetings and conferences.
The ‘Destination Dead Sea' campaign includes the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre, Jordan Valley Marriott Resort and Spa, Kempinksi Hotel Ishtar, Movenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea and support from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan government.
Last month the campaign invited
Hotelier Middle East
to its monthly meeting to see the progress already made, and hear about its plans for the future.
In the beginning
According to a joke by Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Upper House of Parliament senator and Tourism and Heritage Committee chairman Akel Biltaji, the reason for the three hotels joining forces was because of his own interests.
"It was a selfish thing on my part, because I liked them all equally," he joked.
The real reason is simpler: the hotels combined efforts working on a convention for Farouk Systems in 2006, and found that working together benefited them a lot more than working in competition.
"They found themselves working together as one group," Biltaji explained.
"There was no apprehension. Each one was proud of his own brand, but there was no competition. They don't need to compete, [and] that's not normal.
"We just happen to be in a unique location. We have three different hotel products that complement each other, and we also have the largest convention centre [in Jordan]."
King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre general manager Naif Zureikat said the Destination Dead Sea campaign was a natural progression.
"Because of the potential of all three hotels, we decided to have a destination campaign involving the congress centre and the international hotels," he said.
"We are joining efforts in terms of marketing, using the three hotels' international networks, as well as our [convention centre] contacts. We go into exhibitions as one destination: the Dead Sea."
As Biltaji explained, although the hotels and convention centre relied on increased meeting industry business for future success, they also had a lot to offer to the industry in return.
"For MICE tourism, Jordan is relaxing, it is secure, it's away from the hustle and bustle, it has nice climatic conditions and spas, and there is also the spirituality," he said, referring to the Dead Sea's proximity to locations such as Mount Nebo and Jesus' baptism site.
"It's an oxymoron to say ‘dead sea', because it gave birth to civilisation."
Mövenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea general manager Bruno Huber said the campaign made sense from a business perspective.
"This could not be achieved by one alone, we would never have the budget," he said.
"So we needed to have the three hotels together, and we needed to be non-competitive, and then as a joint effort we can unlock funds in ministries and tourism groups."
How it works
Kempinski Hotel Ishtar general manager Duncan O'Rourke said even though the three properties were hospitality industry leaders, they catered towards different segments that could be addressed with individual marketing for each hotel.
"In general terms, the Mövenpick is offering a standardised five-star hotel service where you can have a great time and feel you are getting your money's worth," he said.
"The Marriott is a reliable hotel with the familiar feeling that you can easily get accustomed to, and expect the same level as in any other Marriott in the world.
"At Kempinski we are a collection of individuals that look forward not only to meeting our guests' needs but also to exceeding their expectations."
He said that Kempinski's head office was supportive of the collective effort.
"We have [had] their full support right from the beginning," O'Rourke added.
"Our head office was pleased and keen to know about our hotel alliance with our neighbours and support this, as we are selling the locations and destination."
Jordan Valley Marriott Resort and Spa general manager Phillip Papadopoulos said the co-operation between the facilities was working well, with guests staying for several nights often trying food outlets and spa facilities at all three hotels.
"I had a guest staying with me who wanted to use an Asian spa, so I drove her in a club car over to the Kempinski," he said.
"And on the way she was asking me why I work for Marriott but I was taking her to a Kempinski hotel. But I just said I was helping her with what she wanted, and I knew if someone staying with Duncan [O'Rourke] had a similar request, that he would do the same for me."
Biltaji said the kingdom's government was also supporting the initiative by improving water utility infrastructure, security, traffic management and landscaping.
"The military has left this place, and hospitality has successfully replaced it," he said.
Papadopoulos said the impact of the hospitality industry was being felt not only by the hotels, but also by the local community.
"The impact of one person staying in the hotel is spread [throughout the community]," he said.
"There is money spent on souvenirs, and tours, so it is not just one hotel making money."
One of the campaign's most important milestones to date has been the production of its joint brochure
Conventions: Only in Jordan
. Using the slogan ‘below sea level, above expectations', the brochure outlines attractions for the region, and critical meetings specifications for the convention centre and the hotels.
At the meeting last month, Biltaji announced that the brochure had received high-level government support, and would be distributed at Jordan's embassies internationally to capitalise on the region's growing profile.
"The trend of reservations and enquiries is rising," Zureikat said.
"There is so much for 2008 already. Things are starting to stabilise, and things are really starting to pick up."
The group pointed to the emergence of Queen Alia International Airport as a regional tourism hub, and the addition of national carrier Royal Jordanian to the oneworld alliance, as key factors in the development of the country's hospitality industry.
Huber said the area had a lot of potential for tourism if it was able to achieve long term stability.
"If this happens, can you imagine the tourism potential of the triangle between Damascus, Jerusalem and Petra?," he said.
"It has some of the biggest monuments to the beginning of mankind in the Western and the Arabic worlds. At the moment it is sort of closed to the rest of the world, and the media has played it up as being very dangerous, but the number of people who will flow in here [once it is opened up] is mind-boggling.
"I think that every ten-year-old kid in the world has heard of a place, which is below sea level, where you can float like nowhere else.
"If this place is correctly marketed, you don't have to do a lot more because most of it is already done for you. The potential is mind-boggling," he continued.
"What I have at the moment is people worrying about two more hotels [under development nearby] and wondering if this will be a problem, but it is not. I am waiting for the 40 others.
"There is demand [from tourists] - any time there is a little window of opportunity people come here."
O'Rourke agreed that the area's future was looking up.
"The future for the Dead Sea area looks very much alive, with all the new development happening in the area to gratify the number of leisure and incentive groups, which is increasing rapidly," he said.
"We are positive that the Dead Sea will slowly but surely become the favourite choice, once it gets more exposure."