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French Version

Niche tourism

With a strategy of targeting specific tourists, Jordan is promoting its biblical and archaeological sites to expand its niche tourism market. As the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Middle East has long held a sacred place for many adherents who live in and travel to the region.

As Jordan is home to many religious sites, it is focusing on drawing tourists that seek a spiritual experience. “While our natural competitive advantages lie in utilizing the assets we have here that are unique to Jordan and cannot be duplicated such as Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea, another strength we have is the growth of niche markets,” Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Munir Nassar told OBG. “There is a very strong market for religious tourism.” Although people of many faiths have been traveling to Jordan to experience first hand the ancient and sacred sites of the kingdom, the tourism industry has recently been expanding the development of this unique sector as evidenced in the completion of Lot’s Museum last week.

Built approximately 300m from the cave where the biblical figure Lot and his family are said to have sought sanctuary during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the two-storey shell shaped museum now awaits only final approval from the ministry of tourism to open its doors to the public. The site, estimated to cost around JD1.25 million ($1.76 million) by Project Director Amjad Madanat, was originally expected to open last April but was delayed due to a shortage of funds and additional modifications including barriers intended to protect the premises from floodwater common to the area. In addition to Lot’s museum, many Christian tour groups visit the nearby site on the Jordan river where Jesus is said to have been baptized by John the Baptist, Mt. Nebo—reputed to be the burial site of Moses and which the late Pope John Paul II paid a visit to in 2000, the remains of ancient Byzantine temples in Petra, the cave of the Seven Sleepers and other sites in the town of Madaba.

Christians are not the only ones to tour Jordan’s sacred sites as an increasing number of Muslim tourists have begun to explore the kingdom’s historical treasures. These pilgrimages take sightseers to the tomb of Prophet Haroon (Aaron, brother of Moses) in Petra, the Jordan Valley, Karak, where Zaid Bin Ali Bin Al-Hussein, religious leader and great, great grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was buried, several other burial sites of martyred companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and various temples and shrines to holy men. The promotion of these sites has shown immediate dividends. In 2005 more than 75,000 tourists visited the baptism site alone—25 percent more than in 2004—generating JD350,000 ($493,990) in revenues.

This trend looks to be continuing in 2006 in spite of increased regional conflict. As other popular vacation destinations in the region cannot be visited, Jordan has experienced an influx of tourists—particularly those from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries who take their vacations during the summer months to escape the sweltering heat of their home countries. To encourage these visitors to stray from the traditional resort tourism areas of Aqaba and the Dead Sea, the ministry of tourism initiated a campaign in late July to promote archaeological and religious tourism. By offering GCC nationals free round-trip transportation from Amman to Petra and reducing the entrance fee from the standard JD20 ($28.23) to a token JD1 ($1.41), the number of visitors to Petra increased four fold during the first week of the program. Promoting niche markets such as religious tourism is a large part of Jordan’s overall tourism strategy.

Rather than competing globally in the mass market for tourism, the ministry of tourism has chosen to directly target smaller, higher margin market segments. “The reason we are focusing on goals of revenue growth rather than visitor growth is that we don’t believe Jordan is a mass-tourism destination,” Nassar told OBG. “So we are continuing to target niche markets, most of which tend to require upscale services which these people are willing to pay for.” The minister went on to explain that in addition to financial motives, Jordan was less-suited to mass tourism due to resources constraints—most notably its severely limited water supply. The strategy appears to be effective so far, with tourism revenue reaching JD1.03 billion ($1.45 billion) last year and national tourism strategy target revenues for the year 2010 have been revised upwards to a goal of JD1.3 - 1.7 billion ($1.83-2.4 billion).

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