Jordan strides into tourism spotlight with global events

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NEW YORK -- Jordan is in the Middle East spotlight this year, first with the visit of Pope John Paul II this spring, and with the upcoming Global Summit on Peace Through Tourism, scheduled for Nov. 8 to 11 in Amman.

Such events, as well as Queen Noor al-Hussein delivering the keynote speech at the 1998 ASTA congress held in Los Angeles and the recent visit of King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein to New York on behalf of the Global Summit, certainly have reminded the U.S. travel industry that Jordan is serious about promoting tourism to the Hashemite kingdom.

"The U.S. accounts for 18% of our foreign market, last year sending 115,000 visitors to Jordan," said Akel Biltaji, minister of tourism and antiquities, during an interview with Travel Weekly.

The mosaic-filled churches of Madaba are of special interest to Christian pilgrims. "We expect those numbers to grow as people become aware that Jordan is a very civilized country and serious about tourism as a bridge to peace in the Middle East region."

According to Biltaji, a primary objective of the tourism ministry is not only to increase the numbers of U.S. travelers to Jordan, but also to promote the reasons they should stay longer and explore more of the country.

While the ancient Nabatean city of Petra is far and away the chief draw for U.S. (and all other) visitors, Biltaji said travelers also enjoy Amman's Roman sites, museums, craft shopping and restaurants, as well as the Greco-Roman city of Jerash, 45 miles from the capital.

According to Biltaji, among the places visitors have yet to discover are the desert castles in and around the oasis of Azraq, which lies east of Amman; Ajloun, one of the most complete examples of medieval Arab-Islamic military architecture that guarded trade routes in the 12th to 15th centuries, and the nature reserves at Wadi Rum, Shomari, Dana, the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib -- Jordan's answer to the Grand Canyon.

Petra, the leading tourist destination in Jordan, is famous for its rock-carved monuments. Resort development here continues to expand, led by the five-star Movenpick Marriott Dead Sea Resort and Spa, offering not only 233 guest rooms in a two-story village complex, but the luxury Sanctuary Zara Spa, designed with local stone, domed ceilings and mosaics and housing state-of-the-art facilities and 60 spa treatments.

Marriott will be the second international chain to open a property by the Dead Sea; the debut date is expected to be in February or March.

Aqaba is slated for upscale resort development, including 13 hotels and two golf courses. The 215-room Movenpick Resort Aqaba opened its doors this spring, joining the Radisson SAS as Aqaba's second five-star property.

The Red Sea resort offers visitors coral reef snorkeling and scuba diving, and a base from which to explore the Wadi Rum by camel or by spending a night under the stars in a Bedouin tent.

According to Biltaji, Jordan also is working to put the country on the map as a major incentive and conference travel destination, spurred by the opening of the Zara Expo Exhibition and Conference Center in Amman.

Linked by a walkway to the 316-room Grand Hyatt Hotel, the center offers more than 30,000 square feet of exhibition space plus a 300-seat conference auditorium equipped with the latest in conference technology.

While Jordan presents meetings planners with 17,000 rooms countrywide, the boom in infrastructure remains centered in Amman, where hotel capacity continues to expand at a record pace.

The Hotel Inter-Continental Jordan added 121 rooms for a total of 478, including Club Inter-Continental rooms occupying two floors and offering a lounge, business facilities and complimentary breakfasts and cocktails for guests.

Also new are an exhibition hall and eight meeting rooms.

The long-awaited Sheraton Amman Hotel & Towers opened last month with 286 rooms, including 48 Tower rooms, six suites and a Royal suite.

Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, a business center, a ballroom accommodating 1,236 guests and seven meetings rooms.

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