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As tourism revenue plunges, stakeholders lament ‘lack of vision’ to revive sector

By Bahaa Al Deen Al Nawas - Sep 24,2020 - Last updated at Sep 24,2020

AMMAN — The tourism sector has largely suffered throughout the crisis, with revenues falling by 63.7 per cent during the first seven months of 2020, according to data from the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ).

The CBJ data showed that tourism revenue stood at JD819 million in the same period, while Jordanians' spending decreased 67 per cent, standing at JD205 million.

A sector representative told The Jordan Times on Wednesday that there seems to be “no clear vision of where the sector is going or a solution to save it”. 

"The sector requires liquidity, at least to support the sector workers... around JD165 million would be enough to support 55,000 workers in the sector for six months at an income of JD500 per month," Jordan Tourism Guides Association (JTGA) President Raed Abdelhaq told The Jordan Times on Wednesday over the phone.

Abdelhaq said that the tourism sector revenues last year stood at over JD4 billion. 

"The government made it clear that there is no cash out from the beginning of the crisis; the sector showed resilience for several months, but it will not be able to go on any longer at this rate," he said.

 Owners of tourism companies and agencies, guides and owners of souvenir shops among others “only care” about mitigating their losses and are not looking for profit at this point, he added. 

The JTGA president said that out of 1,200 guides, barely 200 were able to benefit from the loans that were provided to the most hard-hit sectors.

"Tourism will not return to the way it was any time soon, not even in the next spring season, we expect it will be bad, and we will barely work during the fall. We try to have some hope to keep us going but the government needs to intervene to bring back liquidity into the economy," Abdelhaq said.

Nidal Bani Issa, head of the inbound tourism committee at the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents (JSTA), said that the impact on tourism agents, Hajj and umrah agents and ticketing offices as well, was “clear” from the very start of the crisis.

While the airports were opened to those returning to Jordan, Bani Issa said that there are still technical and bottlenecks facing travellers, especially since non-Jordanian travellers coming to the Kingdom require various approvals before and upon arrival.

"We conducted meetings with the crisis management cell and the ministries of tourism and transport to find solutions to the problems facing agents, and the issue of not having inbound tourists yet," he said.

"For example, in some areas in Egypt and Turkey, you are only required to take the test once upon arrival and then can enter the country, and this is what we are trying to do, instead of requiring visitors to test 72 hours prior to departure and once more upon arrival," he said

The hike in number of cases in Jordan and the changes in epidemiological situation are also affecting the process, he added.

A committee from the association is in contact with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to put Jordan on the “green list” of other countries, according to the committee head.

Inbound companies and agents are completely shut, and outbound tourism barely operates, Bani-Issa said, noting that the sector generally employ around 9,000 workers, who are all currently unemployed.

Moreover, there are hundreds of people coming to Jordan, but the approvals required for non-Jordanians have created a bottleneck that prevented many from receiving their QR code, which allows boarding, resulting in the cancellation of their tickets and causing further losses to the ticketing offices, Bani Issa said.

"The situation is very sad, all of our around 600 offices are shut down, and our capable people are moving into different sectors trying to make it elsewhere instead of receiving only 50 per cent of their pay, which means we will have to rebuild the entire sector if one day it goes back into work," he said. 

Economist Husam Ayesh said that the tourism sector in particular requires free movement and “no limitations”, which is why the sector has suffered the most.

He noted that if January and February were excluded from the CBJ's calculations, the impact might probably higher than a fall of 63.7 per cent. 

In many countries, the tourism revenue fell by a 100 per cent as activity was suspended completely, but last year the Kingdom's revenues from the sector exceeded JD4 billion, and were expected to increase this year by 7 to 10 per cent, but the coronavirus dampened the expectations. 

"The government, in dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic, could probably stop calculating revenues from the sector and rearrange its role in the economy and in the budget," the economist said, noting that this could be the case in every country around the world.

Ayesh said that the figures indicate why investors are now more reluctant to invest in the sector and related businesses of restaurants, hotels, airlines, among others.

“At present, there is no clear vision on the horizon to save the sector, which requires new measures to adapt to the virus crisis and, at least, allow minimal tourism movement,” he said.

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