Nadine Godwin is visiting Egypt and Jordan with a delegation of travel professionals and journalists. Her third dispatch follows. Click to read Nadine’s first, second and fourth dispatches.
Members of our travel delegation to Egypt and Jordan spotted Sen. John McCain on the streets of Cairo on Sunday, but were surprised Monday to discover that he was in our hotel, the Four Seasons Nile Plaza. (McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was in Egypt after visiting Libya.
That occasioned a "meeting" of about two minutes, and Catherine Greteman, chair and CEO of the National Tour Association, wasted no time telling the senator why several travel professionals were in town. The senator applauded the group’s endeavor, saying the region needed the tourism "very badly."
The encounter at an end (as was our very short visit to Egypt), we then flew to Amman for the second phase of this journey. At the airport, we got a brief look (from the coach) at a stunning new airport now under construction and due to debut in 2012.
Then, moving at a purposeful pace, we headed directly to Madaba, a city of 65,000 near Amman noted for its historically valuable ancient mosaics.
Nayef Al-Fayez, managing director of the Jordan Tourism Board, joined us over a luncheon (read feast). He advised that in the first three months of 2011, Jordan’s arrivals from the U.S. were up 1.3%.
"Really? Why are we here?" I wondered aloud.
The answer is that business was up, however slightly, because few tourists with paid-for trips are canceling. After all, Jordan hasn’t seen political unrest — as has Egypt — that would bring tourism to a halt.
However, U.S. arrivals fell 11.7% in March. Our guide, Kamel Al-Jayusi, said he usually works every day in April, but this year, it will be about half the month.
Al-Fayez said advance bookings are falling off, especially for groups, and the local industry is concerned about the upcoming season beginning in September.
As a result, he said, the tourist board has bumped up its focus on social media, using man-on-the-street testimonials from randomly selected visitors beginning in February, and press trips for more than 200 in the same period.
He wants journalists to see the country for themselves and report to their audiences. Entertaining our delegation is part of that effort to spread a message based on firsthand observations.
What we are seeing is the same destination I saw more than four years ago. It is business as usual from the visitor standpoint. We played tourist in Madaba and then visited Mount Nebo, where Moses is believed to have died after seeing the Promised Land.
In Amman, we sampled custom trip components: a private wine tasting (yes, they were Jordanian wines) and a private dinner event in a Bedouin tent on the grounds of the old citadel overlooking the well-lighted Roman theater.
Petra, which we visited on a day trip today, looks just as I remember it.
We did not have it to ourselves, but tourists who come now get a break from the crowds.
Our guide, Al-Jayusi, estimated that at least half the people who would be at Petra on a typical April day were missing. He said the Basin Restaurant on Petra’s grounds served 23,000 guests in March 2010, but served only 9,000 in March this year, a 61% drop.
At the Basin Restaurant, I looked up just in time to see a young man walk by wearing a T-shirt that said, “Stop bitching and start a revolution.” I wish I knew where he got that.