“We don’t have petrol,” says Faleh Badarneh, the supervisor of the Captain Tourism Hotel in Aqaba.
Without any oil reserves to depend on, the southern Jordanian resort city is heavily reliant on tourism. But Badarneh, who works in the lobby of the three-star hotel, says tourism is in decline and that workers like him are deeply affected.
“This is the main sector, it’s very important,” he says. “We need to work, it affects me.”
In the week we visit Aqaba, the holy month of Ramadan is beginning, so the streets are silent during the day. Although they come alive at night, several locals are concerned that the city is much quieter than usual, due to the low numbers of visiting tourists.
Feras Ajlouni is the Tourism and Marketing Director at the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority, which administers the autonomous economic region and promotes tourism and development. He says the drop in numbers is dramatic.
“The decline accelerated this year, with the number of overnight visitors down by 50% in the first two months of 2015.”
Ajlouni says that there is concern that thousands of tourism jobs could go with the lack of tourists.
There are several major issues affecting the Jordanian tourism sector. These include the need to increase the ratio of overnight visitors, along with the volume of tour packages. Another priority is to increase investment in hotels and resorts.
So tourism is also dependent on the overall state of the Jordanian economy, which Ajlouni says is showing some positive signs, compared to neighbouring countries.
“Jordan’s economy is doing slightly better than the regional average, with 3.4 percent growth projected for 2015, compared to 1.2 percent growth of the Middle East and North Africa.”
What does the future hold for tourism in Aqaba?
Badarneh says that Aqaba won’t close any hotels as it relies heavily on tourism. Without historic sites, like Petra, an hour’s drive north, Aqaba must continue to develop its tourism infrastructure.
“Its very dangerous for economics. No Petra nothing, we depend on tourism. "
He is enthusiastic about the creation of a Swiss-owned hotel with private access to the coveted city centre, which opened on the 20th April 2000.
“We have for example Movenpick, private beaches with swimming pools everything,” he says.
“I think Aqaba will be best in ten years,” he says.
Aljouni agrees that Aqaba will have a positive future, especially if more developments get underway.
“We are very optimistic that tourism will boost and will be (the) gateway to the whole of the kingdom,” he says.