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Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Jordanians pay price for tourism slump
Visitor numbers to Jordan's have slumped since the increase in Middle East tensions
Fewer tourists now spend their holidays in Jordan

"Do you know the meaning of nothing?" asks Abdullah Saqaf.

A tour guide at Karak Castle, one of Jordan's famous historical sites, he normally makes around 1,500 per month. For the last year, he says, he's earned nothing.

His two sons both have university degrees, but there are no jobs. His three daughters have left school because he can no longer pay the fees. And his three other children are too young to worry about - for the time being.


There is only one Saddam Hussein and he is in Iraq, not Jordan

Khalid Nasarat

Tourists from America and Europe have stopped coming to Jordan.

A nightly media diet of crisis, violence and misery in the Middle East has starved a normally voracious appetite for Jordan's religious and historical treasures.

Click here for a map of the region

I spent four days on the tourist trail from the capital Amman, along the King's Highway, to Petra.

The ancient city, hewn out of red rock hills, is Jordan's answer to the Parthenon or the Pyramids.

In a normal season it would attract 3,500 visitors every day. Now, it gets about 100.

Housam Ehmadan gives his first guided tour for three months
Housam Ehmedan gives his first tour for three months
Housam Ehmedan was our driver and guide.

By descent a Bedouin, he says that like most modern Jordanians he makes a living from tourism. With no lucrative oil industry to boost the economy, it is the country's biggest business.

"We are dying," he says. Before the crisis hit, he drove tourists along the King's Highway at least three times a week. Our trip was the first he had made in three months.

Wadi Musa is a hilltop village where tourists stay to visit the 'red rose city' of Petra.

Here, the financial crisis has come as a cruel blow to the entrepreneurs who took advantage of Jordan's 1994 peace accord with Israel.

Many villagers rightly predicted that visitors would flood across the border to this world famous site. So they took out bank loans to open hotels and bazaars.

Abdullah Saqaf, a tourism guide, has seen his income disappear as tourists decide not to visit Jordan
Show stopping: Tourist guide Abdullah Saqaf
In 1994 there were less than 10 hotels in Wadi Musa, now there are 69. Some small guest houses have been forced to close.

Even four and five star international chain-owned hotels have cut their rates to a third of last year's price.

Likewise, the cost of a ticket into Jordan's biggest tourist site has been cut by half in a bid to tempt domestic sightseers.

Khalid Nasarat, a guide for the last 19 years, has seen his monthly wage plummet to just 250.

He has been forced to take out a bank loan to keep his children in school. "At least the banks are getting rich", he says.

Petra's 50 official guides have agreed to work on a rota basis to share the paltry number of tourists, rather than see individuals laid off.

Housam Ehmedan says Americans and Europeans believe there is a Saddam Hussein in every Arab country.

"There is only one Saddam Hussein and he is in Iraq, not Jordan. There is no crisis here.

"If this lasts another season, we're dead".

Click here to return




Map of Jordan
See also:

12 Jul 02 | Middle East
05 Jul 02 | Middle East
05 Nov 01 | Middle East
01 Apr 98 | Middle East
16 May 02 | Country profiles
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