Getting tourism development right

Enjoying new initiatives in the Madaba Christmas season.

JORDAN’S tourism industry is excited about the Jordan Tourism Development Project, Siyaha, a three-year (2005-2008) USAID funded project that aims to assist the country in the implementation of its National Tourism Strategy (NTS 2004-2010).

Recognizing the power of tourism to contribute to its economic growth, the country has put tourism high on its agenda. MAYSA ZUREIKAT  met with Siyaha’s chief of party, Ibrahim Usta, to find out more about crafting tourism policy and serving up authenticity. Excerpts from an interview:

Can you tell us more about the project’s goals?
The overall goal of this project is to promote Jordan’s competitiveness as an international tourism destination by establishing the proper institutional and regulatory framework that enables private-sector driven investment and development, and stimulates tourism growth while preserving national tourism assets and the overall environment. The programme will also design a robust financial framework to encourage private investment, catalyze the development of comprehensive products and services across the tourism value chain, increase awareness among Jordanians about the importance of the said sector in the economy, and position the industry as the employer of choice. The objective is to ensure institutions and policies are in place, which will facilitate the implementation and embedding of the National Tourism Strategy.
The implementation of these activities will lead to economic growth by lengthening the stay of tourists through a more diverse set of destinations, attractions, and events, facilitating the development of niche products, supporting the development of authentic Jordanian experiences, facilitating the marketing, branding, and positioning of products based on supply-side capacities and product readiness, and enabling Jordan’s tourism sector to provide a total destination experience for all visitors

How are you going about achieving that?
By way of three components. The institutional and sector reform component aims to develop strong institutions poised to realize the goals set out in the national strategy, while modernizing tourism-related laws and setting up a system to preserve Jordan’s heritage sites. The product and site development component focuses on developing competitive tourism destinations in Jordan, improved availability and attractiveness of tourism products, improved site management and strengthened tourism marketing. It supports public-private partnerships for effective tourism product development and a private sector model for site management. The third component aims to expand the qualified human resources pool for the tourism industry, improve service quality of tourism sector establishments, and generate public-private sector support for tourism as an important economic driver and the employer of choice, besides working to create a Council for Tourism Human Resources Development and other activities.

Your work is mainly focused in Madaba and Wadi Rum at the moment? Tell us more about your activities in Madaba?
Within the product and site development aspect, Siyaha is working with more than 120 people from the Madaba local community, as well as industry stakeholders and local government. In May this year we launched the Madaba Tourism Development Strategy to develop Madaba into an internationally recognized hub for religious and authentic cultural tourism. The aim is to create 4,200 tourism-supported jobs in Madaba and across Jordan, generate 27,800 bed nights in Madaba hotels and other lodging facilities, and increase tourism spending in Madaba to JD21 million ($29.6 million) annually. This, in addition to focusing on domestic tourism that so as to attract more than 4,000 Jordanians to the city each week. Consequently, the Madaba Tourism Development Association (MTA) was created to promote tourism in Madaba and to position the governorate as a tourism destination.

What about your work in Wadi Rum?
In October, Siyaha launched a comprehensive eco-tourism development programme to develop authentic desert and Bedouin experiences by improving tourism services and creating new products provided by tourism-oriented community-based organizations (CBOs). The launch saw the official signing of a $1 million project, including USAID grant agreements amounting to almost half a million dollars awarded to five CBOs in Wadi Rum. This will be used to create authentic new tourism experiences and improve existing ones.
Siyaha is also building the capacity of the five local cooperatives to ensure the successful development of these projects, besides spurring the development of micro and small enterprises and empowering the community in general, and women in particular. Through this, we hope to create 300 new jobs over the course fo the year in various areas.

Part of your brief is also supporting small tourism businesses. Could you elaborate?
We are supporting small and medium tourism businesses within the cluster areas selected for development, i.e. Madaba and Wadi Rum. This is to enhance the quality of available tourism products as well as diversify the selection, so as to improve the overall tourism experience at the destination, effectively leading to increased tourist numbers, overnight stays and tourist spend. In Wadi Rum businesses are being supported through fundraising and grants awarded to community-based organizations. In Madaba, Siyaha introduced the Madaba Enterprise Development Program (MEDP), a combination of grants, access to finance, and counselling to support businesses and entrepreneurs, as per the Madaba Tourism Development Strategy.
Since the launch, over 40 concept papers and four business plans have been received, in addition to having over 25 business plans in the pipeline. Siyaha also signed partnerships agreements with eight monetary financial institutions and banks to facilitate access to finance for those entrepreneurs with sound tourism ideas and businesses.

How is the project helping in overcoming the lack of skilled human resources in Jordan? 
We are working with the Ministry of Labour to develop the Vocational Training Corporation (VTC) – Hotel and Tourism Unit. The project is also building an infrastructure to develop VTC training centres, and is working to attract private industry partnerships and support for operation of the centres, thus building a sustainable base for public-private partnerships. In March 2006, Siyaha proposed a strategy for developing the VTC and 15 vocational training centres specialising in hospitality and tourism. The process began by creating a plan for a centre in Madaba to act as a model for other centres in Aqaba, Al Salt and other places.
Furthermore, an MoU was signed last July between Siyaha, various ministers and senior stakeholders to develop a stronger tourism workforce that projects a graduation of 4,200 students from 11 centres, more than doubling the output in three years. We are also working with the VTC and the Ministry of Labour to develop a full training facility at the Salt VTC centre with 20 hotel bedrooms and a capacity for 200 students. In 2005/2006, Siyaha was also involved in with the Aqaba Development Corporation in work on a new tourism college in Aqaba.

So what are Siyaha’s future projects?
Future projects include assisting the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to design brochures for key sites so tourists can appreciate their value and significance; and working on a tourism strategy and action plan for Amman city. Siyaha is also preparing a business plan to transform Wadi Rum’s Bedouin Fort into a museum that becomes an attraction in itself, offering visitors an insight into the history of the area and the unique culture of the Bedouin living in the Wadi Rum area.
Siyaha is also working on developing the human resource capacity at the national level through the establishment of a national council.