Jordan tries to lure Russian tourists

Friday 11/12/2015
The Russians are coming. Camels used for transporting visitors wait for tourists at the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

Amman - With rising regional tensions crippling its travel industry, Jordan hopes that Russians who have recently cancelled travel plans to Turkey, Egypt and other regional re­sorts will consider visiting the Mid­dle East kingdom.
Tour operators said they have confirmation that 80,000 Rus­sian tourists originally booked for Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el- Sheikh would instead fly to its Jor­danian peer, Aqaba.
Russians are staying away from Sharm el-Sheikh after the October 31st bombing of a passenger plane flying to Russia from the resort. Russian tour operators cancelled trips to Turkey after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber on the border with Syria on November 24th.
Moscow evacuated its tourists from Egypt, banned charter flights to Turkey and advised against travel to Turkey. Russian travellers were left looking for alternatives for the cold winter months and Jordan is an appropriate spot, Russian tour lead­er Svetlana Bourenskaya said.
“In Russia, the Turkish holiday ban has been sold as an issue of na­tional security. People are ready to support our government. I think we can find alternative destinations un­til the situations are resolved,” not­ed Bourenskaya, who visited Jordan to map out plans for the arrival of Russian tourists.
Turkey has been the top choice by far for Russian travellers — attract­ing 3.2 million tourists in 2014. An­other 2.6 million travelled to Egypt.
Jordan attracted 5.3 million tour­ists in 2014, with Russians account­ing for about 41,000 visitors, ac­cording to data from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) expects the figure to grow in 2015 but tourism industry insiders say only a small number of the poten­tial Russian tourists will turn up in Jordan.
“We have nothing to offer them compared to what they are used to receiving in Egyptian and Turkish resorts and luxury hotels,” one in­sider said, referring to nightlife and other tourist attractions.
Jordan is a relatively modern and stable country surrounded by politi­cally volatile areas, such as Iraq and Syria. It has been a favourite desti­nation for Gulf Arabs, who enjoy its conservative Muslim values for fam­ily vacations.
Alcohol is served in Jordan and there are nightclubs but no casinos.
Throwing cold water on Jorda­nian government eagerness to cash in on Russian tourism, the industry insider said: “Aqaba, our biggest at­traction, only had 500 hotel rooms in 2000.
It now has some 5,000 rooms and the number is expected to only reach 8,000 by the end of 2016.
“How can we accommodate mil­lions of tourists over a year? The Russians who went to Turkey av­eraged more than 7,000 per day in 2014. We can’t handle that number. Not even close.”
“Yes, we need to attract tourists to Jordan but we should be aware of our limitations, before we go and kill the industry with lacklustre of­ferings,” he said. “We shouldn’t overspread ourselves and do a lousy job but do our best with what we can reasonably handle really well.”
The collapse of the Russian cur­rency in the last year has signifi­cantly hindered Russians’ ability to travel abroad, with foreign tourism down 33.8% in the first half of the year.
“The rouble tumbled against the dollar and euro, raising the cost of foreign travel and cutting Russians’ real wages by nearly 10% compared to 2014. Outgoing tourists have fallen between 50-70% this year,” the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR) said via email.
An unofficial ban on security and law enforcement officers travel­ling abroad was largely responsible for bankrupting nearly 30 Russian tour operators in 2014, according to ATOR.
“Despite Russia’s spluttering economy and the slipping rou­ble, there are some tour operators and wholesalers ready to organise groups to Jordan,” ATOR said.
The Red Sea resort of Aqaba is expected to witness an upswing in tourism, with more than 100 Rus­sian charter flights scheduled to land in the city by March 2016.
“An increased number of con­tacts with Russian tour operators are being made to promote tour and packages to Aqaba, and we are now already seeing some positive response,” JTB Managing Director Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat said.
Arabiyat said six flights a week carrying Russian tourists to Jordan are expected.
“These flights have already con­firmed their arrivals and departures, so the total number of incoming vis­itors is expected to reach more than 20,000 by April 2016,” said Munir Asad, general manager of Aqaba Air­ports Company and director of King Hussein International Airport.
The airport received 96,000 pas­sengers in the first ten months of 2015, 154,000 in 2014 and 160,000 in 2013.