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Jordan’s Travel Mart strikes new development path to tourism

Jordan TravelMartJordan is putting a high premium on its travel and tourism industry as a high-rise and spin-off player for the rest of its economy. Today, both the Jordanian monarch King Abdallah and his government are working hard to making the nation’s tourism sector as a much of a hospitable industry as possible to receive tourists from all over the world, from the east from such countries as India and China to states from the Americas.

Jordan’s tourism sector is a $2.3 billion industry and makes around 14.5 percent of the country’s GDP, but is set to increase higher as more plush hotels and better infrastructure is put in place. This is at least the vision as outlined by the country’s five-year National Tourism Strategy which is set to end in 2010.

It is with this in mind the Jordan Travel Mart (JTM) was held at the Dead Sea’s high-tech King Hussein Ben Talal Convention Center, 10-12 February, that has proved a unique venue of bringing Jordanian tourism professionals and travel operators from the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina for the event.

According to organizers, the Jordan Tourism Board, North America, the three-day venue is an important event to bolster the Kingdom’s tourism industry by getting travel practitioners from both sides of the Atlantic to meet at the Dead Sea, to discuss and exchange point of views about the best ways of bringing tourists from the Americas to enjoy the Kingdom’s top tourism potentials that include historical, cultural, spiritual, adventure and eco-tourism as well as MICE [Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events] and desert delights and of sleeping in tents.

It was somewhat of an innovation for the local tourist industry as around 250 delegates—owners, managers, sales representatives, event producers, hoteliers, transport companies, travel associations—from both Jordan and the Americas met in separate 25-minute pre-scheduled appointments with colleagues which for they most part they never met in their lives and hammered out travel and tourism packages which American, Brazilian, Canadian and Mexican tourism specialists promised to take home and sell to their clients, and which they were sure would increase the travel traffic flow between Jordan and across the Atlantic.

The JTM is the brainchild of the Jordan Tourism Board in Amman, Jordan Tourism Board, North America and executed by the William H. Coleman, a Florida-based management consultancy, displaying a new force of cooperation through private-public sector management aimed at global growth and may even be termed as just one of the new theories of economic development along the community development and “green tourism” Jordan is also stressing.

These concepts came up in the Dead Sea travel mart that had a necessarily strict formal style, and conducted in a business-to-business format which everyone in the booth-designed floor hailed as very productive and animated between American “buyers” and Jordanian “sellers” were avid information was exchanged from both sides.

Tourism sellers like Petra Tours as well as others interesting in boosting inbound tourism to the Kingdom interacted with diligence and excitement with many of the American buyers, saying this is were business is being made and deals struck.

“This is the kind of meets that we require in Jordan to cement our businesses and build up traffic from the Americas to Jordan, says Awni Kawar, General Manager of Petra Tours and Chairman of the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association.

However, the approach may have been a little different, as one seller said the buyers wanted details like costs of packages, whereas we wanted to talk about our products, but arrangements of follow-up have been made and as expected in such travel marts, and were different cultures would inevitably get in the way, complaints were sited.

One buyer from Canada, said while he had enjoyed the sightseeing tremendously, as he was taken on a pre-JTM tour of Jordan’s south, he said, it was “somewhat hectic” and a “more leisurely pace was required”. The same goes he said for the pre-scheduled appointments which he said made you feel like as tripping from one booth to another and needing to gulp your breath!

However, one of the organizers said the point about the strict business schedule was to allow buyers to see as much of the suppliers as possible to generate the required tourism business between Jordan and the countries across the Atlantic which is why everybody is here for. From an onlooker point of view, it gave a sobering scene to the floor, with a ticking clock scenario.

Overall and judging from the level of interaction the organizers were very pleased and said both “sellers” and “buyers” were actually getting in tune with the long-list of business appointments they had in front of them. Also, organizers hoped this first travel mart in Jordan would become a yearly event that would allow American buyers to explore the Jordanian market fully, which a number of whom hadn’t realized of its huge potential.

Words like “incredible”, and “warm” were frequently heard by attendees like Mexican Gray Line General Director Jorge Mejia while people like Kenneth Luzietti of The Travel Society in Denver said he came here amongst other things to explore the Religious/Faith based market which there is a growing demand for in the United States and which this country has.

Kevin Wright, a religious travel expert came especially from the United States for the JTM to highlight the importance of religious travel in the world as an $18 billion global industry with $10 billion of that in America alone, and that Jordanian operators must recognize this fact understanding that many religious sites, including the Baptism Site, are in the Kingdom.

The point was further stressed as well religious tourists were not only coming to faith-based sites but wanted and interested in adventure, historical, ecotourism and other sightseeing holidays which Jordan in abundance.

While some complaints were made about what was called as service issues and emphasized there should be more training of the local staff, who needed to be in ship-shaped condition to meet international tourists, especially those from the American markets, many of the incoming agents said Jordan is a great marketable product.

However, some doubted whether Jordan could be sold as a “stand alone” destination and that it would be better to offer it to their clients as part of a regional package with Egypt and Israel. They said since tourists were coming all the way from across the Atlantic, they felt sure they would like regional packages and greater variety.

Malia Asfour, director of the Tourism Board North America, felt sure the doubters will change their minds simply because of the diverse value of the tourism product in Jordan and she hoped will change their mind as they realize Jordan offers great wonders and experience whether in terms of genuine hospitality, exploring ancient cities and castle ruins, going on incredible eco-adventure activities, and soaking in mineral hot springs.

In between the B2B meetings and not to disturb the sellers and buyers business schedule, a full course of lectures, seminars, speeches, presentations and panel discussions were given by industry experts on the importance of tourism as a business and development agent. These included a presentation by a Jordanian tour guide about his impressions of the touristic value of the country, on adventure and eco-tourism, as well as a talk on the investments developments in Aqaba, on Royal Jordanian and cruise liner destinations as important holiday packages as given by Terry Dale, chief executive officer of Cruise Lines International Association.

Jordanians wanted to make sure that their hosts received the message that Jordan was open for global tourism. To make sure time is not spared some of these talks were given at breakfast and luncheons and sometimes evening dinners and not forgetting the mingling during after-dinner parties.

The first Jordan Travel Mart will certainly be remembered for its introduction to Jordan as a vibrant destination, many of whom already know about but many others will continue to remember long after they’ve gone home, to the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

Thus the JTM could be seen as an effective marketing exercise in which businessmen from across the international travel and tourism industry mingled with one another to set new growth rates for development and cooperation, and raise the standards of the industry.

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Marwan Asmar is a media consultant/writer in Petra Tours. Be sure to visit his website at PetraTours.com.

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