In expectation of a flood of visitors to the Red Sea port city of Aqaba, Abdullah Obeid has bought 12 glass-bottom boats to fulfil his dream of amassing a fortune from tourists whom he hopes will hire his boats once the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is established.
Initial studies have estimated that at least 50 percent of the investments in Aqaba will go to the tourism sector once the SEZ becomes a working reality.
Obeid hopes that the glass-bottom boats, which allow occupants to view the coral reefs for which Aqaba is so well-known, will help his dreams come true as the number of tourists and residents mushroom along with SEZ-related business in the port city.
Obeid has already embarked on equipping these boats with additional appliances that make them even more attractive to tourists.
Imad Fakhouri, a member of the appointed task force preparing the ground for the SEZ, expects Aqaba to occupy center-stage for tourists in view of its unique geographical location on the Red Sea, its proximity to Petra and Wadi Rum and its beautiful, pristine natural environment.
However, some economists are not as optimistic as Fakhouri, and expect tourism growth to face many obstacles in a city that is not only the country's sole maritime outlet, but also home to several industries as well.
Fakhouri concedes that Aqaba remains one of Jordan's main transport and industrial areas, but believes equitable attention to all sectors, including tourism, will help even out differences.
He says Aqaba's clean beaches, abundant coral reefs and warm winter climate will serve as major factors tipping the balance in favor of tourism.
But Fakhouri also notes that a great deal of work has to be done in the course of developing the Aqaba region as a major tourist centre.
The existing 1,754 hotel rooms are not sufficient to support a large-scale tourism industry in the area, he said, pointing out that neighboring Eilat has 9,038 rooms and Sharm El Sheikh around 13,810.
In his view, Aqaba needs another 4,000 hotel rooms by the year 2004 and yet another 11,000 by the beginning of 2020.
Fakhouri says a comprehensive plan for the SEZ that designates areas for industry, tourism and other services and that also gives due consideration to Aqaba's special and rare ecology has not yet been drawn up.
He said in the past, poor town planning and the concentration of all hotels on the beach created a problem. — ( Jordan Times )
By Issam Qadamani
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)