Crowds of people speaking different languages. A never-ending display of camera flashes. Tourism brings waves of visitors to countries around the world each year, and those visitors leave with souvenirs and lasting memories. But if we turn 180 degrees and focus on the tourism destination, we see a completely different impact.
“Tourism is an important catalyst for small and medium enterprise development, and one of the beauties of tourism is that it diffuses economic benefits throughout the country so it’s not just concentrated in a single area or city,” explains Ibrahim Osta. Mr. Osta is chief of party for the USAID-funded Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism program in Jordan, implemented by Chemonics. According to the U.N. World Tourism Organization, there were more than 1.1 billion international tourists globally in 2014, a number that is expected to grow by at least 3 percent in 2015.
Tourism also plays a huge role in defining cultural identity, Mr. Osta acknowledges. “Another important benefit of tourism is cultural exchange, bringing different cultures and civilizations together, and that enhances peace and understanding,” he said. “And that’s important, especially in these days now, of conflict, stress between countries and peoples.”
Although Jordan is stable, it is no stranger to being near pockets of conflict. And with the instability that has plagued the Middle East for the past few years, many tourists have paused to reconsider the country as a vacation destination. Acutely aware of the role that perceptions play in tourism’s success, Jordan has embraced innovative marketing and strategic partnerships to develop its tourism sector and make its sites appealing — and safe — in the eyes of international visitors.
The Jordanian government began a more robust approach to tourism with the 2011-2015 National Tourism Strategy, developed with support from the USAID Jordan Tourism Development Project. Among other things, the strategy pushes for more public-private partnerships led by the Jordan Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. The government is coupling its marketing investment with funds from the private sector to increase international awareness about the country’s tourism assets. The project’s experiences with Columbia Sportswear and Turkish Airlines illustrate the key role that partnerships and marketing play in establishing and changing external perceptions.
The goal behind these partnerships has been to improve travelers’ perceptions of Jordan as a desirable and stable tourist destination. Although the main focus has been to make the country look appealing as a vacation spot, there is also an underlying assurance of safety.