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From Aqaba to Sharm
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 07 - 2006

The Egyptian tourist road show to Jordan brought up obstacles facing tourism between the two countries. Rehab Saad reports from Amman
Although Amman is just a one-hour flight from Cairo, and there is a maritime line connecting Nuweiba and Taba with Aqaba, the number of Egyptian travellers visiting Jordan as well as the number of Jordanian travellers visiting Egypt is comparatively small.
Only 160,000 Jordanians visited Egypt in 2005. Although this figure put Jordan in fourth place among Arab countries exporting tourism to Egypt, it is modest when compared to the geographical proximity of the two countries. Also, according to Haider Ziadat, president of the Jordan Society of Tourist and Travel Agents, Egyptian travellers are rare in Jordan. "They only come for conferences and exhibitions," Ziadat said. According to the Statistics of the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, only 27,571 Egyptians visited Jordan in 2005 compared to 30,452 in 2004, a decrease of 9.5 per cent.
In an attempt to revive tourism, to present Egyptian tourist achievements in the past year and to get acquainted with problems that might hinder touristic movement between the two countries, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism recently organised a road show to Amman in Jordan from 23 to 26 June. It comprised governmental tourist officials from the Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA), Tourist Development Authority (TDA), the Egyptian Immigration and Passport Department, the Egyptian Tourism Federation and the Egyptian Hotels Association as well as representatives of the private sector and media. An Egyptian night was held at the Sheraton Amman Hotel where top Jordanian tourist officials were invited along with Jordanian travel agents and businessmen. It was an opportunity for both sides to meet and talk about possible tourist cooperation. Guests that night enjoyed Egyptian food and the performance of Egyptian singer Mohamed Tharwat.
Over the last two months, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism has organised road shows to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan. According to Sayed Mehrez, deputy head of the ETA, Egyptian tourist road shows are directed to the countries where Egypt does not have a tourist office. This applies to Arab countries as well as Latin America.
The Arab region is one of the important markets to Egypt, the second market after Europe. In 2005, Egypt received two million Arab travellers, about 20 per cent of the total percentage of tourists.
"The idea of the road shows is not new but was adopted in 1994 with the endorsement of the first plan for tourism promotion," Mehrez said. "This marketing tool helps us to have direct contact with tourism decision-makers, to listen to their viewpoints, monitor any problems that might face tourism between the two countries, report them to the concerned bodies and try to resolve them."
Encouraging intra-Arab regional tourism has become essential to the economies of the Arab region. Officials dream of the day when Arab travellers can visit more than one country in a single trip with the same air ticket for a reasonable price, breaking down all visa barriers and restrictions facing the tourist movement.
All elements for tourist cooperation between Egypt and Jordan are available. No visa is required for Egyptian travellers to enter Jordan and no visa is required for Jordanians entering Egypt. Both countries can be accessed by air (EgyptAir and Royal Jordanian), by road and sea from Nuweiba or Taba in South Sinai or Aqaba in Jordan.
Such cooperation, according to Egyptian and Jordanian travel agents, encourages citizens to travel to each other's country, and also encourages joint marketing efforts in attracting tourists from long-haul destinations to visit the tourist attractions of the two countries. Since 1986, Egypt and Jordan have signed several tourist agreements to encourage the exchange of tourists, among them the MEMTTA (Middle East Mediterranean Travel and Tourist Association) which was the outcome of the Amman MENA (Middle East North Africa) Economic Summit in 1995. This association was the product of a multi-lateral effort involving Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Israel as core parties, as well as other countries in the Middle East and North Africa to facilitate tourism and promote the region as a unique and attractive tourist destination. The accord was suspended following the collapse of the peace process in the region.
However, there are still prospects for the two countries to go ahead with joint promotion and marketing for the region. "I believe that the tourist product in the two countries is complementing each other and not being competitive. There are things that exist in Egypt which are not found in Jordan and there are things that we have here that are not found in Egypt. Each has its own attraction and flavour," said Mazen Al-Hamoud, head of the Jordan Tourism Board.
Al-Hamoud said his country was now targeting the promising markets of China and Latin America. "If we can encourage these markets to visit more than one country in the region, this will be very useful for both of us."
Travel agents of both sides believe that tourists who visit Sharm El-Sheikh could extend their visit to Jordan and from Jordan they can go to Syria and Lebanon. On the other hand, tourists who come to visit Amman or Aqaba can continue to South Sinai and Cairo. "This would necessitate joint official meetings and private sector support," Al-Hamoud said.
This joint marketing cooperation between the two countries should not only be limited to foreign travellers visiting the region but, according to Egyptian and Jordanian travel agents, should also be applicable for citizens of both countries. "We need to market Jordan in Egypt. Egyptians who visit Sharm El-Sheikh or Taba could easily come to us by boat, visit our ancient sites like Petra, Jerash, Karak, Nebo, and Madaba, or visit the Dead Sea which is considered a first class natural health spa," Ziadat, of the Jordan Society of Tourist and Travel Agents, said.
There are already joint investment projects between both countries. According to Egyptian Ambassador to Jordan Ahmed Rizq who addressed guests during the Egyptian Night, there are some Jordanian tourist projects in Egypt under way, the latest of which is the $75 billion project executed by Shaheen Group in Sahl Hasheesh, south Hurghada on the Red Sea. "Besides the gigantic $120 million tourist project by the Egyptian Orascom Company in Aqaba, there are many Egyptian projects in natural gas and electricity in Jordan," Rizq said.
Despite mutual enthusiasm, there are obstacles that threaten the existence of sound tourist cooperation, the worst of which are the difficulties Jordanian travel agents face at Nuweiba and Taba ports. "Security officials in Nuweiba port usually keep tourists for about two hours before they can board, for no clear reason," said Yasser Abdu of the Jordan Society of Tourist and Travel Agents. "It is always overcrowded and the hangers where we have to wait in are not prepared for tourists at all. Our demand is to have a special place for travellers, away from labourers and pilgrims where luggage can't be mixed up. Also, we need a permit that allows tourist buses to stop at the boat instead of dropping tourists two kilometres away from the platform and forcing them to walk for a long distance."
Abdu added that the newly opened port of Taba is small and lacks security facilities. Authorities at the port also impose a very high tax on travellers -- $15 for those who want to cross to the other side. Only those who stay in Taba are exempted.
"A major problem also faces us at Taba: when our tourists come through Taba port or airport and have the Taba stamp in their passport, they are not allowed to enter Syria. Syrian officials say it is an Israeli spot that is rented by the Egyptians," Abdu said. "Consequently, travellers are not allowed to enter Syrian territories and the travel agency that brings them is blacklisted. To solve this problem we ask our travellers to change their passports after the Taba stamp to be able to enter Syria, exactly as we do with the Israeli stamps," Abdu explained. He stressed that these problems are limited to Taba and Nuweiba, and that at other ports or airports such as Marsa Alam, Luxor, Aswan, Sharm El-Sheikh and Cairo, there were no such problems.
In both countries, the tourist industry is of great importance to the national economy. In Egypt it is the first hard currency earner preceding petroleum, the Suez Canal and the remittances of Egyptians working abroad. In 2005, Egypt received 8.6 million tourists and earned $6.5 billion as revenue. It also provides many job opportunities as every one million tourists provide 200,000 job opportunities. Egypt has a variety of tourist attractions, monuments, vast stretches of beaches on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, rich marine life, picturesque deserts, breathtaking golf courses and Nile cruises.
Jordan received close to three and a quarter million tourists in 2005 who spent 1,021.6 Jordanian dinars. Tourism in Jordan provided 29,384 job opportunities in 2005. Cultural tourism comes first in Jordan followed by curative tourism in the Dead Sea area.
In the last few years, much attention has been paid to conference tourism, safari trips, natural protectorates and religious tourism as the country is rich in biblical and Islamic sites.
The major attraction in Jordan is perennially UNESCO's world heritage site of Petra, or the rose-red city, as it is called, due to the colour of its relics. Petra is about a three-hour drive from Amman. It is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled in south Jordan more than 2,000 years ago. They dominated the trade routes of ancient Arabia, levying tolls and sheltering caravans laden with Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides. The Nabataean Kingdom endured for centuries, and Petra became widely admired for its refined culture, massive architecture and ingenious complex of dams and water channels. By the 16th century, however, Petra was completely disfigured.
In 1812, Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt persuaded his guide to take him to the site of the rumoured lost city. There he was sure that the ruins at Wadi Moussa were those of the ancient city Petra. He was right.
Much of Petra's appeal comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. From the main entrance, you walk into the chasm or siq, that ripped through the rock in a prehistoric quake. Threading your way between the cliff walls as they soar to 80 metres, you will see inscriptions written in several languages as well as rock-cut chambers carved into the whorls of sandstone.
Petra's climax is the treasury that appears dramatically at the end of the siq. Other attractions are the 3,000 seat theatre from the first century AD and a palace tomb built in the Roman style.
The Jordanian government selected Petra to be included among the new wonders of the world, among which seven will be voted for on the web site www.new7wonders.com. People around the world are invited to vote for their favourite wonder including the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, the Kremlin and the Red Square in Russia, Hagia Sophia in Turkey, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Acropolis in Athens, the Coliseum in Rome and many others. Results of the vote will be announced on 7 July 2007.
Egyptian officials assured their Jordanian counterparts that they will vote for Petra. Officials of both sides believe that the existence of two wonders in the area (the Pyramids in Egypt and Petra in Jordan) will definitely increase the chances of attracting more combined tours.
The road shows are not the only marketing tool Egypt is using for the Arab market. "A few years ago we had the advertisement campaign Al-Beit Beitak (Feel at Home) designed specially for the Arab market. Now we have another campaign, Nawart Masr (You Light up Egypt). We also organise familiarisation trips for Arab journalists, tour leaders and travel agencies to come to Egypt and see for themselves. We also print brochures in Arabic which are distributed among Egyptian embassies abroad for those who want information on Egypt," Mehrez said.


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