PETRA, Jordan -- It's a late afternoon in May on the main drag of
Petra. A young Jordanian offers a ride in an "air-conditioned taxi"
-- the camel he's riding -- for three dinars, a little more than
$4. Upon refusal, the price drops quickly, through stages, to about
Beyond the rider, the Cardo Maximus, a road added by the Romans
to this ancient city of the Nabateans, stretches for several
hundred yards. Not another person, or even a camel, is in
Business is slow at Petra, one of the world's most fabulous
archaeological sites and Jordan's most popular tourist
The cause of this nation's tourism troubles lies on the other
side of the Jordan River, which serves as a portion of the border
between Jordan and Israel.
The continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which
flared up last fall, has had a severe impact on travel to Israel.
But other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Jordan, also are
being hurt by the troubles.
According to the Jordan Tourism Board, tourism arrivals from
January through May this year are down 38.5% compared with the same
period in 2000.
In contrast, in early 2000, Jordan experienced 20% to 25% more
arrivals than during the same period in 1999.
What's behind the decline?
Marwan Khoury, vice chairman of the Jordan Tourism Board, said
the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the reason fewer people
are coming to Jordan this year, despite the fact the problems are
in another country.
"At this stage, we have to stress safety," Khoury said. "Not one
tourist has been hurt."
"We have peace with all our neighbors, but we're always punished
somehow," he added. "We hope our neighbors would find other ways of
For Jordan, a slowdown in tourism has a noticeable effect on the
country's economy. Tourism accounts for about $850 million of the
nation's gross domestic product -- about 12.5%.
Yet even well-established destinations like Egypt have been
affected by the turmoil in Israel.
Egypt attracted about 2 million visitors from January through
April, up about 4.5% overall.
However, Omayma El Husseini, deputy director of the New York
office of Egyptian Tourist Authority, said Egypt had expected an
overall growth this year of about 8% to 10% compared with 2000.
Business will have to pick up substantially in the latter part of
the year for Egypt to reach those projections.
"We have been affected for sure, but not to be compared to other
destinations," said El Husseini, who added that most of the missing
visitors have been connected with groups that travel on joint
programs between Egypt and Israel.
As a source market for Egypt, the U.S. is lagging, as the number
of American visitors dropped about 2.5% from January to April 2001,
compared with the same period in 2000. Egypt attracted a total of
about 235,000 U.S. visitors in 2000.
El Husseini said the U.S. was the only major source market to
show a decline in visitors.
She also echoed the popular theory that Americans are not
well-versed in Middle Eastern geography, and consequently lump
nearby nations into the Israeli conflict.
"The hardest part is educating the public about the geography of
the area," said El Husseini. "It's a problem that we have always
been suffering with -- the American market in particular. The
people are educated about the culture, but not much about the
Travel suppliers and tourism officials throughout the area said
they hope the situation in Israel will have a peaceful resolution,
and sooner rather than later. The consensus is that, once peace
returns to Israel, the region's tourism industry will rapidly
"Peace and tourism are intertwined," said El Husseini. "If you
don't have peace, you don't have good tourism."
"If you go to a country, you want to feel safe, you want to see
peace," she added. "Whenever peace is going on, tourism
Holy Land's travel industry is hardest hit
TEL AVIV -- At the center of the violence, the Israeli travel
industry has been hit the hardest.
According to statistics from the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the
country had slightly less than 900,000 arrivals by air from January
to April 2000.
During the same period this year, Israel received approximately
475,000 visitors by air, a drop of nearly 50% (The ministry
measures only air arrivals -- another estimated 20% of visitors
arrive by land or sea).
North Americans accounted for nearly 180,000 visitors from
January to April 2000, a figure which plumetted to 110,000 during
the same period this year.
In 2000, Israel had about 2.2 million visitors by air, 540,000
from North American markets, only slightly above the total of 2.1
million in 1999. Interestingly, North American arrivals were
actually higher in 1999 than in 2000, with about 566,000.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has tried to counter the
perceptions of Israel seen on newscasts and in newspapers
throughout North America by pointing out that the troubled areas
are, by and large, in Palestinian-controlled parts of the
"We can understand why [those perceptions] arise when people see
CNN over here," said Itai Eiges, director general of the Israel
Ministry of Tourism. "It is something we have to overcome, but it
is a hard job to compete with the media."
Yet, what can tourism officials -- who are paid to attract
people to their countries -- say about tragedies like the June 1
bombing in Tel Aviv that killed 21 people?
Ron Huldai, mayor of the coastal Israeli city, spoke the
thoughts of many when he said, "This just proves that the whole
country is the front line."
But the cease-fire efforts which grew out of the bombing may
represent some positive steps.
"We hope and believe this was a turning point," said Eiges. "In
a month or so, we might have a totally different situation."