Nayef Al Fayez, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities: Interview
What are the key priorities in your administration’s near-term and long-term strategies?
NAYEF AL FAYEZ: The biggest challenge we face in the short term is the misperception among some foreigners that Jordan is unsafe. This is something we are actively working to correct. It is also important to maintain a balanced approach that seeks to attract travellers from a wide range of countries. Visitors from the Gulf tend to come during the summer for extended holidays and spend heavily on shopping, food and entertainment in Amman, but we must remember that tourism can also boost growth among low-income communities. We therefore employ a segmented approach to attract travellers from countries who are more likely to visit various cultural sites covering different parts of the country such as Jerash and Petra.
In the long run, we are concentrating on syncing our tourism strategy with Jordan’s Vision 2025, the long-term development plan released in the summer of 2015. Within this framework, tourism plays a key role, as it is crucial to the economy that we attract more investment and visitors over the next decade. Every three years, we will evaluate our progress and make adjustments where needed. Tourism in Jordan contributes about 13% of GDP, a figure we are eager to raise. The tourism and hospitality industries are also increasingly looking for Jordanians to fill positions, a relatively new trend. More hotels are opening, tour operators demand local knowledge and the number of handicraft businesses is rising. All of this will create more opportunities for young Jordanians.
How are you working to manage the perception that Jordan is unsafe and to promote the kingdom as an attractive destination?
AL FAYEZ: Regional conflicts have caused a decrease in visits from many countries, particularly traditional source markets like Europe and the US. As part of our wider efforts to counter this trend, we recently received members of the press from 26 countries who came to visit the kingdom’s many attractions. After the tour they met with Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who spoke on Jordan’s hospitality. Together, we are working to alter perceptions of Jordan and emphasise that business is operating as usual in the kingdom. Travellers from many countries continue to visit, just not in the volumes we wish to see.
Considering the many types of tourism on offer, Jordan deserves to be treated as a standalone destination. Many travellers used to view Jordan as a country to tack onto the end of a Middle Eastern trip. Jordan has enough attractions, however, to merit a visit in its own right: for a cultural experience there is Petra, Umm Qais and Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; for adventure we have Wadi Rum and water sports in Aqaba; and for leisure there is the Dead Sea and Main Hot Springs.
We are also seeking to augment tourism through fiscal incentives designed to extend the average visitor’s length of stay, such as waiving tourist visas and/or departure taxes for stays of a certain number of nights and for tours booked through a Jordanian operator. In 2015 we will introduce a unified ticket that allows visitors to enter various popular sites.
What sets Jordan apart as a leading destination for medical tourism?
AL FAYEZ: Medical tourism is one of Jordan’s comparative advantages, as we do not import expertise but rather employ local professionals. Extensive medical infrastructure, and numerous family-oriented destinations for leisure, make Jordan a leading choice for medical tourism. We are currently working with the Ministry of Health, medical associations and private stakeholders in order to increase the number of medical tourists. The industry is also examining ways to boost the capacity of hospitals and medical facilities, as we believe that the sector will continue to grow.