The “Arab Spring” – that spectacular wave of street protests and civil unrest that has spread across the Arab world, ousting once mighty rulers and giving voice to those speaking out against human rights violations, corruption, absolute power and inequality – continues to bloom. But luckily for those in the events and incentive travel industry, corporates still need to touch base with their partners in the Middle East, professionals still need to attend conferences for trend updates, and employees still need to be rewarded for a job well done during the year.
While agitation for change has been low key and violence only sporadic in Jordan, the backdrop remains an uneasy one, although industry players are far from giving up. “It’s been a rough 18 months, with business dropping dramatically,” admits Sean Cullen, director of sales & marketing–Jordan, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts. “The trick is to develop new markets which can live with the geopolitical reality.” With the kingdom’s core customers – not counting domestic travellers and Gulf countries – from Russia, France and the UK continuing to stay shy of the region, Cullen is now more determined to pursue opportunities in Japan, Australia and China.
What are features of Jordan’s unique selling proposition that he would push to them? Cullen says: “As a hub in the Middle East, we are very accessible, and with Royal Jordanian [Airlines] now privately owned, it has more flexibility to expand and build its links not only to Europe but Asia as well. As a oneworld alliance member, it can make use of codeshares to bring visitors to Jordan. Other Middle East carriers such as Emirates and Etihad have also helped to improve connections from Asia. Pricing wise, we offer value for money, unlike destinations like Dubai, which have grown very expensive.”
The Treasury in Petra
Cullen also believes that Jordan provides a winning contrast to the shiny, newly minted metropolises of the UAE and the Gulf, with its arid but stunning landscapes and priceless ruins, reflecting the line of city-states and civilisations that flourished and waned over the course of millennia. “Jordan is driven by history and culture and people who are very real,” he adds.
The government has also recognised the need to ramp up efforts to burnish its business events profile. Recently, the Events & Conference section was set up in the Jordan Tourism Board for that very purpose. Since then it has been nonstop activity, senior manager Nader Hammad informs Mix, saying: “We had plenty to occupy us last year.” The list of events included the World Economic Forum held beside the Dead Sea, the biennial SOFEX global military exhibition and 4th International Symposium on Innovation in Information & Communication Technology in Amman, as well as the 11th HOG Middle East Rally, red-letter days for Harley Davidson fanatics.
Hammad’s team, he says, is tasked with acting as a “one-stop shop” for event planners. “We will handle any visa requests and help with securing permits to host in the ancient sites, let’s say, gala dinners in the Treasury in Petra. We also monitor and oversee the quality control of local destination management companies [DMCs].” Hammad reports that they are preparing for company visits from South Korea, Japan and China, and in early June, Jordan welcomed a group of 500 important tour operators from different parts of the world, who arrived in waves.
Oval Plaza in Jerash
While Amman, Petra and the Dead Sea are the most obvious destinations and continue to enhance their attractions, Aqaba, on Jordan’s southernmost coast, is laying the groundwork for some impressive future infrastructure. Hammad cites the Ayla Oasis Project, a US$1 billion, 430-hectare development created around a man-made lagoon with hotel and leisure components; the 634,000 sqm Saraya Aqaba, a master planned community on Aqaba’s north shore, featuring luxury hotels to be managed by the Jumeirah group among other facilities; and Marsa Zayed, an enterprise of mega proportions – 3.2 million sqm to be exact – which will include several marinas, a modern cruise terminal and eight hotels comprising 8,000 rooms.
Raja Sharayha, director of Karma House DMC, reveals he is smiling more broadly these days due to increased overseas enquiries and bookings for later this year. “Business is moving very nicely. We’ve confirmed three groups from Europe, including Russia,” he says. These represent companies from the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors.
Like Cullen of Mövenpick, Sharayha singles out history, culture and the Jordanians as the country’s most outstanding assets. “Imagine, a private alfresco dinner in the 7,000-year-old Citadel of Amman, one of the city’s seven landmark hills, or cocktails in Jerash, an actual Roman city [45 minutes north of Amman by car] which we can ‘dress up’ with carpets and have ‘Roman soldiers’ line up to meet guests when they arrive, followed by a gala dinner in the Oval Plaza.”
He says there is always the possibility of inviting one of the Royal Family to grace an event, especially if there is a social orientation, for example donating to a good cause such as orphans and the like. “We can get a high-profile guest of honour for such occasions."
For Muhannad Mabrouk, department manager, MICE & special interest groups, Abercombie & Kent DMC–Jordan, Asia-Pacific corporate customers come mostly from India and in limited numbers at that, but A&K isn’t discouraged by this fact and will keep on trying to reach out to the region, he says.
The unrest in the Middle East is not likely to go away for some time; people will just have to adjust and keep exploring new business opportunities. For Karma House’s Sharayha, the situation is not one of loss: “We’ve always had demonstrations in our country, but that’s a sign that the people are free to voice their opinions.” It looks like Jordan had their Arab Spring long before anyone else did.
A Jordanian resident plays the oud, a traditional musical instrument
ACCESS: Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport is the main entry point to Jordan, serving more than 35 airlines that link it to major cities in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Royal Jordanian Airlines also has flights to a number of cities in North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Malaysia and Hong Kong via the Thai capital Bangkok.
CLIMATE: Summers are very hot and dry, but evenings can be pleasantly cool. The rainy season is from November to March, and winter is generally warm.
LANGUAGE: Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken, and French, Italian, German and Spanish to a lesser extent.
ViSA: All nationalities require a visa, but this can be obtained at the international airport in Amman and at most other main border points. It costs 10 dinar (approximately US$15) and must be paid for in local currency.
CONTACT: Jordan Tourism Board
ABERCROMBIE & KENT DMC – JORDAN
FOUR DAYS/THREE NIGHTS
Prepared by Akorn Destination Management Company
• Arrival at Amman Airport – meet and assist by staff.
• Check in at InterContinental Amman to rest and freshen up.
• 6:30pm – Drive to the winery of pioneering vintner Omar Zumot, whose pinot noir won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Mundus Vini competition in Germany in 2009, and has garnered many other accolades for labels under his St George brand. Zumos is also renowned for his organic wine. Wine tasting and dinner follows.
• 10pm – Drive back to the hotel to rest.
• 8am – Breakfast at the hotel.
• 9am – Check out of the hotel and begin city tour.
• 1pm – Lunch at a local restaurant.
• 3pm – Drive to Petra.
• 6pm – Check in at local Petra hotel and freshen up.
• 8pm – Walk to the Nabatean Cave to dine there. The former tomb site has been transformed into a classy venue. If some of the guests find it somewhat morbid to sit on graves while sipping their cocktails and nibbling their aperitifs, outdoor seating can be easily arranged. Walk back to the hotel after the meal for overnight stay.
Dinner at the Royal Automobile Museum
• 8am – Breakfast at the hotel and check out
• 9am – Tour of Petra. Enter the ancient site on horseback for about 800 metres, then continue on foot for the rest of the exploration. The most popular photo opportunity is the Khazneh (the Treasury), which featured prominently in the 1989 movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
• 12:30pm – Lunch on the terrace. of Basin Restaurant in the Petra archaeological site, famous for its generous buffet.
• 2pm – Return to Amman.
• 5pm – Check in at InterContinental Amman and freshen up.
• 8pm – Dinner at the Royal Automobile Museum, which affords visitors a glimpse into a bit of history of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan through the stunning vehicle collection of its Royal Family. After a private tour, guests will be led to the interior forum of the museum where a dinner setup with music by a classical or Oriental quartet awaits them.
• 8am – Breakfast at the hotel.
• 9am – Drive to Ammam International Airport and depart.
Here’s just a small selection from the vast range of hotel options available in the following three popular visitor hubs:
Grand Hyatt Amman
This 311-room hotel is linked to Zara Expo and Zara Centre, which make up one of the city’s most ambitious developments to date. Grand Hyatt adds 2,500 sqm in facilities, including the Grand Ballroom – divisible into three – a foyer, three boardrooms and seven meeting rooms. High-speed wifi is provided throughout these meeting areas.
A recent renovation – that brought 440 guestrooms and suites up to date with the latest amenities and tech gadgets – has also affected the function space. There are nine meeting rooms, the largest with a capacity for 900 (theatre style). A dedicated team of professionals is on hand to make sure events flow without flaws.
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea
Set on the northeastern shore of the Dead Sea with beachfront access, this 346-room property boasts its own convention space (pictured top right). There, you will find eight function rooms with capacity for 1,500 people, an outdoor Roman theatre
for over 500, an auditorium for 198 and
an ocean-facing lounge for 300. Other areas of the resort can also be used for networking purposes.
COMING IN 2013: The Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of next year with 285 guestrooms, seven restaurants, extensive meeting facilities, and a range of leisure options including tennis courts, a gym and swimming pool. In 2010, the chain also garnered the privilege of managing the area’s King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre, which hosted the 2009 World Economic Forum.
Petra Marriott Hotel
This 100-room property – a five-minute road trip from the rock-hewn city – offers 1,790 sqm of meeting space, including a ballroom looking out to the Petra Mountains that is divisible into two and can accommodate 120 guests for cocktails, 80 for banquets and 60 in a classroom setup. There are also three meeting rooms.
Mövenpick Nabatean Castle Hotel
Designed by Rasem Badran, an Agha Khan award-winner for Islamic Architecture, this hotel enjoys breathtaking hillside views. There are three meeting options: Amra, for up to 60 persons and with a spacious pre-activity foyer; Arabella, catering to 250 and featuring a skylight; and Ayla, which can host 40 people and features its own bar and adjacent terrace.