Land of Adventure

Recently, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) sponsored AdventureNEXT Near East, a conference dedicated to adventure tourism in the Middle East, with special focus on Jordan.

Industry figures from around the world gathered at the Dead Sea to discuss the growing importance of adventure tourism in the region. Minister of Tourism Lina Annab and Prime Minister Dr. Hani al Mulki were present at AdventureNEXT to show their active and vocal support for promoting the growth of this sector.

Multiple sources at the gathering stressed the importance of adventure tourism for Jordan, as it is the fastest growing form of tourism, increasingly outpacing cruises and luxury vacations worldwide.

ATTA and the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) have been working together to improve Jordan’s adventure tourism sector for more than a decade. The AdventureNEXT conference has been a highlight of this relationship as it reflects the progress ATTA and JTB have made throughout the years in improving adventure tourism in Jordan.

On average, according to ATTA, when a tourist chooses other forms of tourism, only 5 percent of what they spend is paid into the host country; the rest is paid to companies located in North America or Europe. However, adventure tourism completely alters this inequity. An average of 65.6 percent spent on an adventure tour is given to businesses and people within the host country. The reason for this is that adventure tourism heavily relies on local resources and people to provide activities, accommodation, meals, and local knowledge to enhance the experience of being somewhere exotic.

Andy Nurse, the product development manager for Experience Jordan, an adventure tourism company, said: “This is one of our favorite parts about adventure tourism. It benefits local communities in a sustainable way. More money could stay in the country if we take advantage of the opportunities to grow the industry in Jordan. For example, we would like to hire more hiking and cycling guides and, if things go well, we would like to add more managerial and office positions for Jordanians. To keep money within the country, we would also like to see a variety of accommodation services opening up around the Kingdom.”

Adventure tourism is unique in that it provides a face to those who tend to be invisible or ignored within other forms of tourism. Not only does it give value to locals working in the tourism sector, but it also allows them to remain within their villages and towns instead of being forced to look for work in cities.

The promotion of this type of tourism is increasingly important because it facilitates the creation of jobs, bolsters local products, and magnifies local entrepreneurship that encourages growth on the supply-side. In addition to this, adventure tourism necessitates clean and pristine environments. In a study produced by ATTA, natural beauty was the most important factor for those choosing to participate in adventure tourism. This encourages sustainable practices by tour operators, and engages with communities to cooperate in protecting their local environments known for attracting tourists.

According to the Minister of Tourism, Jordan continues to focus on bringing in more business from tourism through incentives such as tax exemptions for events and festivals that promote natural and cultural heritage. Even though the industry in Jordan has been struggling due to regional instability. In 2014 travel and tourism made up 23 percent of the GDP, JD810.9 million. This shows the impact tourism has on providing employment for Jordanians throughout the country.

Andrew Evans, a writer for National Geographic, made several points about the need to change the perceptions of Westerners hesitant about choosing vacations within the region. Having finished the entire Jordan Trail, his desire is for the industry to work on promoting a counter-image to what many today believe is the Middle East. He emphasizes the point that people tend to “abbreviate” Jordan when describing the country— “rocks, dirt, and camels.” In reality, this simplification is wholly inaccurate. Evans believes that there is a greater need on the part of tour operators and tourists to promote a different narrative of the country by sharing their experiences with their friends, families, and social groups back home.

The ATTA is predominately involved in rating countries’ appeal for adventure tourism. These include a wide range of factors—safety and security, health, natural resources, cultural resources, adventure activity resources, entrepreneurship, humanitarian initiatives, tourism infrastructure, brand, and a government policy that supports sustainable development. Within the region of the Middle East and North Africa, the ATTA has concluded that Jordan currently ranks second behind Israel for adventure tourism. Globally, with regards to only developing countries, Jordan ranks 14 out of 27. While, in 2010 Jordan was ranked top 10 on a list that included both developed and developing countries worldwide; however, for multiple reasons the Kingdom has yet to regain its position with the top 10 locations for adventure tourism.

When asked about the biggest challenges in convincing adventure tourists to come to Jordan, Nurse flagged up safety concerns and flight costs. Regarding flight costs, “it is critical for Jordan to become a location that budget airlines can fly in-and-out of, so travelers can easily and affordably travel between Jordan and other countries.” However, when commenting on security risks in the Kingdom, he said: “Regional conflicts have unjustly tarnished Jordan’s reputation amongst potential tourists, despite it being a relatively safe country.”

However, even with challenges moving forward, many throughout the industry are hopeful that the future of adventure tourism in Jordan will flourish with people from all ages, backgrounds, and interests coming to enjoy what the Kingdom has to offer.