“TOURISM, THE TOP PRIORITY” – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NAYEF AL FAYEZ, JORDAN’S MINISTER OF TOURISM AND ANTIQUITIES
Promoting the authenticity of the destination, a multicultural society and a variety of cultural experiences is the task of Nayef Al Fayez, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities for the Kingdom of Jordan. Without forgetting to foster investments and providing the best conditions for world travellers.
Jordan has recently launched a new campaign promoting the destination as the Kingdom of Time. How important is tourism for the country?
The government has defined tourism as the top priority in our executive programme of development for 2021-2023. Due to the pandemic, we saw a big drop in our tourism receipts and tourist arrivals. In 2020, revenues dropped by 76%, from JOD4.1 billion [US$5.78 billion] in 2019 down to JOD1 bn [US$1.4 bn] in 2020. Just imagine the devastation for our country, with almost 13% of our GDP depending on tourism! This crisis has an impact on the whole economy and on the life of many people. And not only the ones depending directly on tourism. We had to support the tourism industry to help our people survive the hard times they were going through.
How was tourism recovery last year?
We understand recovery will not happen at once. Our strategy takes into account that it will come in stages. We are aiming to be back to our 2019 results by 2024. We did set a forecast for 2021 and went almost 21% over our target for last year. Thus in 2021, our tourism revenues almost doubled compared to 2020, as they grew from JOD1 billion to 1.9 billion.
What are your expectations for 2022?
I will start with the investments. I would like to emphasise that investments never stopped in 2020 and 2021 although we were facing difficult times. This is because the Ministry continued to give out licenses to tourism businesses to work. And these efforts will go on. We project JOD2.9 billion in revenues for 2022, and believe that this might even be exceeded. But this not only depends on Jordan, but also on the global recovery, which we have to take it in account in our calculation.
What are your priorities in the promotion of Jordan as a travel destination now?
In 2020 and 2021, the main focus was to save our main attractions, in order to save tourism and to save the people who depend 100% on tourism. Beautiful places such as Petra were at a critical point. We then put all our efforts into making sure those main attractions could survive and be ready to welcome tourists again. As we are now welcoming back tourists to Jordan, our attention has shifted to rural areas – smaller local communities and new destinations – to spread the benefits.
What are the hygiene and health protocols for travellers?
We have sensible and practical solutions in place for our visitors. As of March 1, Jordan visitors would no longer be required to take a PCR test before entering the country or take another PCR test upon arrival at airports and other entry points. Visitors will still have to sign a pledge to get tested if they feel coronavirus symptoms and agree to self-isolate if they contract COVID-19. The protocol that we are implementing is part of our best health practices to provide safety to visitors. A very important detail which we are all proud of, is that in the last two years, Jordan’s health system didn’t collapse under the stress and strain of the pandemic. This is a big asset for all.
As-Salt was named UNESCO world heritage in 2021 but is little known to international travellers. What are your plans to raise awareness of this ancient city among the travel community?
The message behind As-Salt being a UNESCO World Heritage Site is first of all of the coexistence and normal life between the different communities living there – such as Muslims and Christians. It is more than tolerance as it shows a fully integrated normal life among the various local communities. It is an important message for humanity, especially as it comes from the Middle-East. Tourist programmes are currently being elaborated to show not only the beauty of As-Salt’s architecture and culture but its daily life, and establish As-Salt as a “must-see” for anyone visiting Jordan.