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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Should I Visit Jordan?

World famous Petra should be on your 'bucket list' of sites to see. (R Eime)

World traveller, Roderick Eime, test drives the current Jordanian tourist experience and tries to allay travellers' concerns.

With high profile and widely reporting troubles in neighbouring Egypt, Syria and on-and-off in Lebanon, travellers are avoiding the relatively safe Kingdom of Jordan. But are these fears warranted?

Anecdotal reports suggest that tourism numbers are down by as much as 60 per cent and the tiny kingdom (pop. 6.3 million) is suffering from this major loss in foreign earnings. Unlike other Arabian nations, Jordan does not have oil in any useful quantity and relies heavily on tourism dollars to supplement meagre exports of fruit, vegetables and minerals. [More Info at World Factbook]

Jordan is also bearing more than its fair share of refugees from the former Palestine and now Syria and relies heavily on support from the UN to perform this onerous humanitarian task. This makes Australia's complaints about a few thousand boat people decidedly churlish by comparison.

In November I travelled to Jordan for a whirlwind tour as a guest of the Jordanian government and, along with a small contingent of fellow journalists, we toured from Amman and Wadi Rum, to the Dead Sea and as far south as Aqaba.

My lasting memory of this short experience will be the staggering UNESCO -listed archaeological sites like Petra and the otherworldly Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Of course, not forgetting that a tourists' impression of any country will almost always relate directly back to its citizens and this was also one of my pleasing discoveries.

Anybody who has spent an appreciable amount of time in a Middle Eastern country living among its people will attest to this and the Jordanians are exemplary of traditional Arab hospitality and good manners. Like anywhere, visitors should acquaint themselves to local culture and customs and while Jordan is much more tolerant of Western liberalism, basic courtesies should be observed namely modest clothing in public and knowledge of gestures that do not translate favourably. Eg the common 'okay' hand signal means quite something else in Jordan!
A Bedouin tent camp in Wadi Rum delivers an authentic experience (R Eime)
Coincidence would have it that I met an longtime travel industry colleague while in Aqaba. She had spent the last few years in Jordan working on development projects and regaled me on the wonders of the country and its people. She had nothing but praise and delight and reinforced the fantastic tourism potential still to be tapped in Jordan. For example, Petra, which we know mainly from the single edifice known as The Treasury, is in fact a 264 square mile site which is only 20 per cent excavated. Most visitors spend just a few hours, while to explore this vast site in something like its entirety would take two or three days.

Amman, the capital, is served by Queen Alia International Airport (Code: AMM) and is Jordan's largest airport. Major airlines like Etihad, Royal Jordanian, Qatar Airways and Air France fly there along with a myriad smaller regional airlines. A new terminal was opened in 2013 and I found the whole arrival and departure procedure experience one of the most effortless I've encountered anywhere at a major terminal.

In short and without the benefit of a crystal ball, my advice would be if you are considering travel to Jordan, do it sooner rather than later. Right now tourist numbers are down making your travel experience more relaxed with the possibility of enjoying sites like Petra without noisy, scrambling hordes.

Things to know about visiting Jordan:
  • While it is fair to say Jordan is one of the most liberal of ME countries, acquaint yourself with local customs to avoid embarrassment.
  • I would recommend joining a tour or engaging a guide if it is your first time to Jordan.
  • Although relatively less expensive than a few years ago, Jordan is not a cheap destination. The Jordanian dinar (JOD) is roughly equivalent to a British Pound and as at time of writing was worth about AU$1.60 compared to over $2.00 in 2009.
  • All the better hotel brands are represented. We stayed at the fabulous Intercontinental hotels in Amman and Aqaba and the to-die-for Kempinski at the Dead Sea.
  • Some of our group reported issues when trying to use ATMs. Depending on your bank's policy, it might be wise to advise them of your intention to travel especially if you are not a frequent international traveller.
  • Traffic follows EU (LHD) standard which means Aussies should take extra care crossing the roads. While Amman has its share of congestion, Jordan is largely trouble free in this respect and the roads are of reasonable standard.
  • Cruisers can enjoy port calls at Aqaba with day excursions to sites like Petra. Oceania Cruises were visiting while I was in Petra and colleague Ian Mcintosh informs me he stopped there with RCCL last year. Seabourn Sojourn will visit in 2014 as part of their world tour.
You can find lots more information and even view real-time webcams at: www.VisitJordan.com
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