Jordan seeks to revive tourism from U.S.

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NEW YORK -- Despite "misperceptions" about public safety there, Jordan's tourism board vice chairman said the country is trying to build up its volume of U.S. visitors.

Marwan Khoury, vice chairman and director of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), said the public-private organization targets Christian, cultural/historical and ecotourism markets.

The JTB also is starting to look at the meetings and incentives market.

"It may be the right time to make long-term investments here" to tap that sector, said Khoury, who was in the midst of a swing to the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K.

Khoury's visit last week followed the Oct. 28 shooting death of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan.

Referring to anti-American extremism worldwide, the U.S. State Department last year cautioned U.S. citizens in Jordan "to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness to reduce their vulnerability."

Khoury claimed that the total number of visitors to Jordan is up 4% to 5% compared with 2000, with regional visitors from Syria, Egypt and Lebanon driving that growth.

However, travel from western Europe and North America is down about 50%.

"In normal times, the U.S. amounts to 10% of our traffic," he said.

"Our geographic location is nothing to write home about," Khoury said. "We live in a rough neighborhood."

"It's business as usual" for the JTB, he said, as the country counters, through agent training and familiarization trips, what he views as erroneous perceptions of Jordan.

Visitors sometimes expect a "desert land in the middle of nowhere," Khoury said.

"We are a moderate, modern and peaceful country," he added. "We are working with the private sector to come up with a program to work more closely with the trade."

The looming possibility of a U.S. engagement with Iraq, coupled with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, certainly dampens prospects for a revival of tourism, which accounts for 10% of the country's gross domestic product.

"The whole story is not good for us," Khoury said. "It is not good for the area. We need a close [in time] solution."

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