TRAVEL AGENT ATTENDED THE FIRST ANNUAL JORDAN TRAVEL MART on February 10-12, 2008, where more than 100 travel professionals and journalists from North America and Brazil met with representatives of Jordan's leading tourism companies. The event was held at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Center on the shores of the Dead Sea, where many prominent world leaders have gathered for events like the World Economic Forum and International Monetary Fund board meetings. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an outstanding destination, and the Travel Mart—with its seminars, networking events, and pre-scheduled appointments between suppliers and buyers—will no doubt become a cornerstone event to showcase the myriad tourism opportunities on offer.
Situated in the heart of the Middle East, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a safe, peaceful haven. Committed to peace and tolerance, Jordan looks to tourism as both a source of economic growth and cultural exchange. "The traffic from the Americas continues to grow, with the U.S. being the second-largest market after the Arab regional markets," said Nayef H. Al-Fayez, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). The goal of the National Tourism Strategy is to double tourism receipts by 2010 by increasing the average length of stay by three to four nights (currently the average stay is 7.4 nights for U.S. leisure trips, 8.5 nights Canadian). These targeted receipts were surpassed in 2007, exceeding $2.31 billion—excellent news for the industry, which accounts for 14.4 percent of the Kingdom's GDP. In a conversation with Travel Agent, Minister of Tourism & Antiquities H.E. Maha Khatib stressed the importance of sustainable tourism development with extensive "master planning" projects to assure the protection of Jordan's natural and historical resources, including zoning and site management for Petra. With 11 percent of the total workforce involved in tourism, the local communities—including the Bedouins of Petra—are well aware of the importance of long-term conservation. And in response to the falling water levels of the Dead Sea, a new initiative has been launched called the Red-Dead canal project.
Allison Clark of Collette Vacations told Travel Agent about her plans to sell Jordan in new itineraries. "Collette Vacations is very excited to begin offering Jordan in 2009 under its Explorations by Collette brand. The tour will include Egypt and Jordan for a 15-day experience taking in the ancient wonders of both great countries. Highlights of the package include a Nile Cruise, two nights at the Dead Sea, and a visit to Petra, now one of the New Seven Wonders of the World."
Rather than encourage high volume, the JTB is looking to promote niche markets like Eco/Adventure Travel, Volun-tourism, Historical/Cultural and Spa/Wellness. Indeed, many of the tour operators in attendance were looking to expand into the religious/faith-based market, as Jordan is where the three monotheistic religions claim their origins. Known as the birthplace of civilizations, the Kingdom is chock-full of Old and New Testament sites, including the mystical spot where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. Ken Luzieti of The Travel Society, a Virtuoso member based in Denver, is looking to develop deluxe religious tours with a community-service component.
For more information, or assistance with featuring Jordan in your itineraries, contact Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board, North America (JTBNA), based in Mclean, VA ([email protected], 1-877-SEE-JORDAN).
Journey Through the Holy Land
The post-event tour of the Kingdom showcased the country's extensive tourism riches. A year-round destination, Jordan offers a remarkable diversity of landscapes and historical sites. Your clients can float in the Dead Sea, discover the archaeological wonders of Petra and the remarkably preserved Roman city of Jerash, climb the mountain where Moses gazed out over the promised land, camp with Bedouins under the stars in the desert that Lawrence of Arabia called "vast, echoing and Godlike," and swim and snorkel in the Red Sea while getting pampered at one of Aqaba's fine five-star resorts. Above all, the genuine hospitality of Jordanians is a real enticement. Where else will your airport taxi driver make a pit stop, unsolicited, and offer bottles of water and hot tea to his passengers?
One of the top guides in the entire country, Ibrahim Abdel-Haq ([email protected]; +962 6 5521267), has charmed celebrities and business executives alike with his humor, energy and extensive knowledge of the country. As a travel consultant, he can assist with developing the ultimate personalized Jordan itinerary for your clients.
A great place to start a 10-day sojourn is the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth at 1,400 feet below sea level, where Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba enjoyed the world's largest natural spa. Across the blue expanse, the twinkling lights of Jerusalem are visible at night. Book your clients at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea (www.moevenpick-deadsea.com), which is designed as a two-story village complex built with traditional local stone to resemble the ancient walls of Jerusalem. The setting is impossibly romantic: lush gardens overlook infinity pools, which seem to extend into the Dead Sea itself. Insiders tell us that the VIP list has included numerous celebrities (like Angelina Jolie) and world leaders. Bruno Huber ([email protected]; +962 5 356 11 11) is the general and regional manager. At the private beach, your clients can coat themselves in restorative Dead Sea mud before slipping into the warm waters. The resort's 64,583.46-square-foot Zara Spa, one of the largest and most advanced in the Middle East, features one of the "world's top 28 views" (The U.K.'s Sunday Times) and a team of dedicated therapists who provide the signature salt scrubs and mud wraps. Culinary options are numerous and include The Grill, the award-winning restaurant of choice for many affluent Jordanians.
Buzz: Next door to the Mövenpick, the opulent Kempinksi Hotel Ishtar (www.kempinski-deadsea.com) is slated to open its new Anantara spa in May 2008, which will be the largest in the Middle East. Managed by the charming Duncan O'Rourke ([email protected]; +962 5 356 8888), the resort is Babylonian in style and all rooms have balconies or terraces with Dead Sea views.
The Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa (www.jordanvalleymarriottdeadsea.com), managed by Philip Papadopoulos ([email protected]; +962 5 3560400), is another fine choice. It has played host to numerous celebrities, including Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Bill Clinton and Colin Powell. Facilities include a 32,291.73-square-foot spa, three outdoor pools, tennis court, 12 food and beverage outlets, conference facilities, and a children's playground. For families traveling together, book the duplex suites, which offer a downstairs living area and two separate bedrooms upstairs. According to Michael Nazzal, the chairman of the board for the Jordan Hotel Association, new hotel openings (including a Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn) will soon add 700 more hotel rooms to the current 1,200 rooms at the Dead Sea.
Next stop: Petra, via the King's Highway, the 5,000-year-old trade route once traveled by Moses and the Israelites. Along the way, your clients will see the incredible sixth-century Byzantine mosaics at Madaba and the ruins of Kerak, the crusader fortress where Richard the Lionheart once battled Saladin. The rose-red city of Petra, carved from sandstone canyons hidden deep within the mountains, was lost to the western world for centuries. Mystery still shrouds the origins of this ancient city, but archaeologists see the clear architectural influences of Assyria, Egypt, Greece and Rome. In the fourth-century B.C., the Nabateans controlled the caravan routes, and their city flourished. Don't miss Petra by Night, when the Treasury is lit by hundreds of flickering candles. Your clients are served hot tea under the stars while listening to the haunting music of the Bedouins. Tours run three times a week. Access
Mövenpick offers two stellar properties at Petra: Mövenpick Resort Petra (www.moevenpick-petra.com) and Mövenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel (www.moevenpick-petra-nabatean.com). Both are managed by Abedrabo Twaissi ([email protected]; +962 3 21 57 11 1). The former has an unbelievable location directly at the gates of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, while the latter is perched on a mountaintop with stupendous views over the Great Rift Valley. Note that there are no direct views of Petra's mountains, as the Mövenpick Resort Petra is situated at a lower altitude, and the Mövenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel is 10 minutes outside of town. Designed by the award-winning architect Rasem Badran to resemble a Jordanian marketplace, the 90-room Nabatean Castle Hotel offers the only heated indoor pool in Petra. For your VIPs, book one of the two Royal Suites at the Mövenpick Resort Petra, which feature a seating area, dining room, bedroom with king bed, kitchenette, bathrooms with deluxe Dead Sea amenities and a balcony with the best view in the house. The front office manager, Othman Salameen ([email protected]), can handle all manner of client requests. Another option for lodging outside Petra is Taybet Zaman (www.taybetzaman.com; [email protected]), housed in a restored rural village of cobbled alleys and stone archways high in the hills.
Keep in mind that high season for both the Dead Sea and Petra runs from mid-March through the end of May, and September through November. It's best to book at least two months in advance, as the hotels are often fully booked during these times. For less busy seasons, you can book at your leisure.
South of Petra and the timeless desert moonscapes of Wadi Rum, Aqaba lures visitors to its sandy beaches and pristine coral reefs. Even if it's snowing in Amman, your clients can snorkel the Red Sea waters. Note: Jordan's 85,301.84 feet of Red Sea coast are part of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZA), a strategic location where the borders of four nations converge. Jordan's "open skies policy" and tax incentives have catapulted this port into a business and leisure destination, and projects like the Tala Bay development (with four luxury hotels and the country's first 18-hole golf course) are evidence of the hotel-building boom. Charter the Aladdin sailboat for a sunset cruise with views of the mountainous coasts of Israel and Egypt. Book the 296-room Mövenpick Resort and Residence Aqaba (www.moevenpick-aqaba.com), situated in the very heart of Aqaba overlooking the Red Sea from its own private beach. Insiders tell us that this Mövenpick has served as the discreet venue for important meetings between political leaders that are kept out of the news. Note: The DANA Club for children offers a range of fun activities, including origami flower making, shell painting, movies and cartoons, ball games and face painting.
End your client's itinerary in Amman, an exciting cultural capital that showcases a breathtaking contrast of old and new. Sprawling over sun-splashed hills, white houses and mosques stand next to ancient Roman ruins and Islamic palaces. A must for a first-time visitor to Jordan is a stroll through the streets of Amman, as recommended by the Minister of Tourism & Antiquities H.E. Maha Khatib. The government is investing in infrastructure development to assure Amman's status as a destination city, not just a transit hub. Projects include pedestrian streets, street painting to highlight the character of old houses, and a series of events and festivals. Excellent hotels in the Kingdom's capital abound: We say reserve rooms at the Grand Hyatt Amman (www.amman.grand.hyatt.com) because of its impressive facilities and impeccable service. The seasonal summer terrace brings a new concept to town, with couches and chill-out music creating a hip ambience. Just as cosmopolitan, The Lounge boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, designer furniture and spectacular fireplaces. Business facilities are extensive and include conference and exhibition space, business center and luxury residential apartments for long-staying guests. There are 311 guest rooms, including 16 suites and Hyatt's Grand Club accommodation. For a heady luxury experience for your VIPs, request the Presidential Suite, which insiders tell us has the most coveted terrace view in town. Lounge furniture is arranged around a fountain overlooking the beautiful blue mosque. With a dining room, living room, bathroom with Jacuzzi and separate shower, and private office with wood paneling, this suite is a favorite of the region's royal families. Contact the director of sales, Tina Mahat ([email protected]; +962 6 465 1234), with any VIP requests. The Club Olympus has a state-of-the-art gym, indoor pool with star-studded ceiling, treatment rooms and changing rooms with Jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas.
Note: The Grand Hyatt was one of three hotels bombed in November 2005, but security measures are in place and there are no current threat advisories. All hotels in Jordan require baggage screening and passing through metal detectors.
For a fantastic meal in Amman, suggest lunch or dinner at Fakhr El-Din Restaurant (www.fakhreldin.com), housed in an authentic, renovated Jordanian home, where your clients will enjoy a feast of mezze—a large assortment of appetizers like hummus, baba ghanoush and kibbeh (deep-friend fritters filled with minced meat and onions)—and main courses like kebabs and herb-seasoned lamb.