AMMAN, July 11 (Reuters) – Hoping to gain customers, Ahmad Nassar dustes and polishes trinkets and souvenirs from his tourist shop in Madaba, an ancient city in central Jordan known for its early Christian mosaics.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster for the Jordanian tourism industry and for its economy as a whole, which suffered its worst contraction in decades last year.
“I felt hopeless, there was no income, no work, there was no support for traders,” Nassar said.
Now foreign tourists are starting to come back and the situation looks more optimistic, he said.
Last week, the European Union included Jordan among a dozen new epidemiologically safe countries on July 1, and government efforts to revive the tourism sector appear to be paying off.
Authorities this month announced special measures for Jordan’s “golden triangle”, which includes famous sites such as the ancient city of Petra, Wadi Rum and the Crusader castles, closing the area to all except fully immunized people.
In early July, the government also lifted most lockdowns after a sharp drop in infections, reopening gyms, swimming pools and nightclubs in hotel facilities.
“At the height of the crisis, hotel occupancy rates did not exceed 2% or 3%,” Abdul Hakeem al-Hindi, director of the Jordan Hotels Association, told Reuters.
Today, occupancy rates in some of the main tourist centers in Jordan have fallen to 40-50% in the Dead Sea and the port city of Aqaba on the Red Sea and around 30% in Amman, the latter being driven by returning tourists from the Gulf, latest hotel industry figures show.
The government is also taking further steps to reduce the number of foreign tourists to the record 3 million visitors Jordan received in 2019, many of whom arrived on low-cost European carriers run by Ryanair that resumed flights on last month.
This includes subsidizing charter flights with around $ 60 for each passenger if they stay in Jordan for a week, said Abdelrazzak Arabiyat, director of the Jordan Tourism Board.
He expected the Russian market to experience the fastest growth in the coming months.
But Hindi said a revival would take time. “We need at least two years to get back to where we were,” he said.
Reporting by Jehad Abu Shalbak and Muath Freij, written by Suleiman al Khalidi, editing by Raissa Kasolowsky
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