As delegates from the world's travel and tourism industry wrapped up their working papers and got ready to leave, and five-star hotels bid their badly needed guests farewell, Jordan is left scrambling to lure tourists who cancelled reservations because of continued violence in the region.
Perhaps there is nothing better for a small country with big ideas than hosting this week's Global Summit on Peace Through Tourism. Organizers in Jordan hope that the summit's message will prevail around the world, to bring economic prosperity and comfort to the world's impoverished and war-torn regions, especially the Middle East.
Government and private sector officials involved in the tourism sector applauded the summit, which gathered more than 500 delegates from 60 countries and executives of industry giants, saying that the mere fact that it was held in Jordan sends a clear message to the world at large that Jordan is a safe haven.
“Having heard the commitment from the world community to support a culture of peace and to find Jordan as a [haven] in itself is a great achievement,” Tourism Minister Aqel Biltaji told the Jordan Times.
Representatives from the United Nations, the World Bank, tourism ministers and executives of the World Travel Organization, the World Travel and Tourism Council, American Express, representatives of heads of state and scores of airlines took part in the four-day summit.
The government had hoped to cash in on the new millennium and lure thousands of tourists to the Holy Land, but the wave of violence that has swept the West Bank, Gaza and Israel since September 28, has taken its toll on the tourism industry, the country's third largest foreign currency earner.
Peak season reservations for Jordan have declined by 30 percent, while Israel and Palestine have witnessed 60 percent and 100 percent cancellations, respectively, Biltaji said. But the events of the past six weeks will not hinder the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) in its aggressive efforts to market Jordan's many attractions abroad.
“In times of conflict, we double our efforts, we go full blast,” said Marwan Khoury, director general of the JTB. “This is a place that needs to be promoted heavily especially at this time. People have to know that coming here is not [coming to] the middle of a war.”
Biltaji and Khoury and other delegates headed to London last week to participate in the World Travel Market, one of the biggest annual tourism trade fairs. A five-minute video highlighting the global summit will be featured at the Expo in which 125 countries are expected to participate.
“Our worry is to keep the momentum [going] for next year. We need fresh bookings, that is why we are moving now internationally,” Khoury stressed. Recognizing Jordan as a land of peace, the four-day Global Summit on Peace Through Tourism coincided with the United Nations International Year for the Culture of Peace.
Delegates ratified an “Amman Declaration,” expected to be enshrined in UN documents, according to Louis D'Amore, president and founder of the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism. The declaration recognized travel and tourism as a worldwide social and cultural phenomenon, in which peace is an essential precondition.
The seven-point declaration, read at the summit's closing session, acknowledged that travel and tourism is one of the world's largest and fastest growing industries, creating one in every 11 jobs worldwide, bridging disparities between developed and developing countries and bringing prosperity that fosters peace.
In a statement delivered to the press, the declaration supported using the global reach of the tourism industry to promote a “dialogue on peace” that bridges the have and have not societies around the world.
D'Amore, whose institute organized the event, said a coalition of 26 partners, committed to pursuing the summit's goals, will serve as the driving force to implement the Amman Declaration.
US delegates interviewed by the Jordan Times said that a large number of American tourists are ignorant of Jordan, and stressed the need to spread public awareness.
Israeli and US travel advisories issued last month discouraged nationals of both countries from visiting most Middle Eastern countries as a “precautionary measure.” “We need more positive messages to offset the negative statements in the media and to show that there are lots of people working for peace in the region,” said D'Amore.
“If we get more of these activities, we can balance, neutralize and encourage leaders to get back to the peace table.” — ( Jordan Times )
By Suha Ma'ayeh
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)