Jordan tries to lure Russian tourists
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.