Kaz Brown of Intrepid Travel says Jordan is one of the global adventure tour operator’s top destinations, and climbing toward the top of the list.
“Jordan is in the top 10 in the US and Canada,” said Kaz, a partnership growth manager, who recently led an online discussion about Jordan. That’s out of more than 100 countries that Intrepid offers tours.
“But in the last couple of months,” she said, “it’s in the top five destinations people are booking to.”
You might well ask: Why this sudden surge of interest in Jordan?
Kaz was hosting a webinar on Facebook Live with Malia Asfour, director of Jordan Tourism Board North America, and Nabil Tarazi, founder and managing director of Eco Hotels Jordan, for the benefit of Intrepid’s network of North American travel advisors, who are now busy strategizing their next moves as the travel industry looks toward reopening.
*photo by David Cogswell
With vaccines now pouring into the country and thousands already vaccinated, it looks like the end of the pandemic lockdown is finally really on the horizon. As COVID’s grip on the country begins to loosen, travel industry professionals trying to position themselves for the reopening are asking a series of questions:
- How and when will travel come back?
- Which will be the first destinations to open?
- What styles of travel will be the first to get going again?
- And importantly: How will travel be different in the post-lockdown period?
“Adventure travel is going to be one of the first to come back,” said Kaz. “Our travelers are passionate, curious, they want to get out and explore, and they want to impact positively.”
A large majority of Intrepid’s travelers, Kaz said, are booking for Q3 and Q4, August through November.
As the industry prepares for reopening, it’s a good question: Why is Intrepid seeing this surge of interest in Jordan? Does it represent a larger trend?
Like many others, Malia Asfour of the Jordan Tourism Board is seeing a trend of increased interest in eco-tourism. Her observations are backed up by numerous market research studies.
In the travel industry the increase of concern with environmental responsibility translates to heightened interest in eco-tourism, or sustainable travel.
Kaz asked Malia and Nabil why they think Jordan is gaining so much traction. To them, it’s mostly a spreading of awareness of what they have known all along about Jordan.
“Malia, why is Jordan the ultimate travel destination?” asked Kaz. “Why should everyone get there once in their life?”
“It is the destination where you can do every kind of adventure and history/cultural immersion combined together all in one place,” said Malia. “It’s an open-air museum, with incredible topography and UNESCO world heritage sites. We have everything you can imagine for a sustainable adventure experience, except for snow.”
Nabil chimed in: “I would add that country is small. In two weeks, you can cover the whole country from the forests to deserts to the lowest or the biggest spa on Earth, the Dead Sea, to eco lodges, to nature reserves, desert environments to diving,” he said. “A fabulous place.”
Off the Grid
Nabil Tarazi is the driving force behind Feynan Ecolodge, a resort hotel in the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Wadi Feynan in Jordan. The lodge is operated on a system designed with sustainability as its ultimate objective.
Owned by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, the property is managed by Tarazi, as managing director of EcoHotels, in a rigorously low-impact manner. In operation since 2005, Feynan Eco Lodge is a working model of sustainable tourism.
Kaz asked Nabil, a founding board member and treasurer of the Global Ecotourism Network, to define the principles of sustainability and ecotourism on which Feynan Eco Lodge is operated.
“Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff, and the visited,” he said.
The company’s model of sustainability rests on five pillars.
- “First is to give our guests unique and authentic experiences tied to nature, culture, adventure, history, astronomy, and food,” he said.
- “The second is to contribute to conservation.”
- “The third is to benefit the local community.
- “The fourth is to do everything we can to limit environmental impact.”
- “And the fifth, to be involved in interpretation and education.”
Nabil spelled out how Feynan fulfills its mission in each of those areas. For its guests, Feynan Ecolodge provides a unique experience, a comfortable way to experience a true wilderness, off the grid in the Jordan desert, and a truly sustainable travel experience.
Only a few miles north of Petra, the Feynan Eco Lodge is located in the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Wadi Feynan, the largest natural reserve in Jordan.
The Dana Biosphere Reserve is a 100-square mile area that contains four different bio-geographical zones, including Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo-Arabian and Sudanian. Elevations range from about 4,500 feet to below sea level. Its diverse terrain supports a wide range of flora and fauna, including more than 800 plant species and more than 400 animal species, including some endangered species, such as the sand cat, the Syrian wolf, the lesser kestrel and the spiny-tailed lizard.
The purpose of the reserve is to preserve and protect the desert environment for people to enjoy now and in the future. The lodge is designed to provide an entrance point for people to experience the wilderness area without having a negative effect on the environment. In addition, the income produced by the lodge helps to support local communities.
The lodge provides comfortable, hospitable, and aesthetically pleasing accommodations in an exotic desert setting – with practically no environmental footprint.
It benefits the local community by creating jobs for local residents in hosting, housekeeping, groundskeeping, and food service.
The resort is off the electrical grid and is operated on solar power. It uses hundreds of candles to light the area at night. To provide the candles it employs local women in a candle-making workshop.
What little electricity the property does need for heating water in the rooms is generated by solar panels. Waste food is composted and turned into fertilizer for the garden. The food that is not grown on the property is purchased locally whenever possible. The on-site shop sells jams, spices, and handicrafts created by local artisans and farmers.
The lodge’s restaurant serves vegetarian dishes based on Arab cuisine. The lodge’s water comes from a spring and is pure and safe for drinking. The rooms are lit by candle light except for one low-consumption electric light in the bathroom. There are no electrical outlets, but cell phones and electronic equipment can be charged at the front desk.
Guests at Feynan Eco Lodge can entertain themselves with a variety of activities, including hikes to various places to view wildlife, landscapes or archaeological sites, such as a nearby Roman ruin. The lodge offers biking; stargazing through dry desert atmosphere free of artificial light; cooking classes; craft workshops; meetings with locals in nearby villages; a visit to nearby thermal springs; and dinner and festivities in tents on the desert with Bedouins.
Jordan’s Star Attractions
Besides its own self-contained attractions, Feynan Eco Lodge can be a good headquarters for exploring Petra, and a good stop along the way for an exploration of Jordan at large.
Jordan is about the size of the state of Indiana, so its main points of interest are close enough to put on a single itinerary.
A well-round introductory itinerary for Jordan might include:
- Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist baptized Jesus
- The Dead Sea: A natural spa at the lowest altitude on Earth
- Aqaba, a port on The Red Sea
- Amman, the capital city, originally Rome’s Philadelphia
- Jerash, a well-preserved Roman city
- Madaba, the City of Mosaics
- Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the Promised Land
- Wadi Rum, the desert where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.
Each of the above is worth further examination, and there are many other reasons to experience Jordan. To an American (I can say because I am one), it’s a revelation.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.