Several cooks, a chef, and two men in suits pose for a photo in a kitchen standing behind several small hors d'oeuvres.

Changing Perceptions: Countering Stigmas around Tourism in Jordan .

With Sharia-compliant financing, small- and medium-sized tourism enterprises in Jordan can more easily access bank loans that are critical to economic growth.

Tourism has an important economic role in Jordan, contributing to about 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Despite its significant economic potential, however, many Jordanians harbor doubts about tourism’s value and reputation. These stigmas are culturally- and gender-based, hinging on unfamiliarity with the sector and historically weak standards for hospitality training. Without domestic support, the tourism workforce has limited potential.

Improving domestic support of tourism in Jordan involves a fundamental shift in attitudes, which isn’t a quick or easy transition to make. The USAID Economic Growth through Sustainable Tourism program focused in part on tackling these challenges, and the current Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism project carries on its core activities. Tailoring approaches for different participants in the tourism “ecosystem” — including industry partners, educational institutions, as well as young Jordanians and their families — has created a holistic approach to countering these cultural and gender-based stigmas.

The first step was for program staff to become more aware of the stigmas’ causes. Interacting with local populations shed light on the stigmas, related to prejudices against vocational training and reservations about young women entering the workforce.

“Tourism is Jordan’s largest industry, and it’s also the largest industry in the world,” explains Ibrahim Osta, chief of party of Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism. “But there’s a general tendency in Jordan for young folks to seek college degrees instead of vocational training, because the latter doesn’t carry with it the same level of social prestige.”

“Another big stigma is with female employment in tourism,” Mr. Osta said. “There was resistance from families because some thought that having girls working in lodging facilities compromised them.”

After identifying these causes, the next step was to tackle the part of the tourism sector where perceptions could be altered: training institutions. This meant strengthening vocational training centers (VTCs). Program staff modernized VTCs in the cities of Salt, Tafileh, Abu Nusseir, Ajloun, and Marka by physically upgrading the facilities and updating the curricula and teacher manuals with industry best practices.

It’s not just about creating jobs to work at tourism establishments. One of the good things about the awareness programs we did was that they delivered the messages that you can be your own boss. You can develop your own business, and that elevates your positioning in the community, which counters that cultural stigma.”

Amjad Sawalha, the project’s destination marketing component leader

The program also partnered with the Higher Education Accreditation Commission to develop a structured approach to accreditation for the country’s schools that offer degrees in tourism. The program has accredited five college programs and nine university programs in a variety of subject areas, including hotel and tourism management, hospitality management, culinary arts, and cultural resources management.

Bringing in industry support early on was critical. By aligning tourism and hospitality program offerings with standards put forth by the industry, the program has ensured that the skills young Jordanians are learning will make them competitive candidates once they graduate. A six-month internship program, an initiative supported by hotels such as the Four Seasons, Marriott, and Sheraton, has introduced 864 students to new careers and has led to about 80 percent of VTC program graduates gaining full-time jobs.

Female-focused certification programs also steered tourism organizations to better integrate gender equity into their mandates, critical for attracting more young women to the sector. The USAID project has hosted a series of six workshops on gender equity for human resource department staff and managers. A total of 4,200 tourism professionals, including 70 heads of industry, took part.

Were these industry changes enough to shift Jordanians’ perceptions of tourism? Not entirely. Improving the training was important; making young workers and their families cognizant of the changes was a necessary next step. Open-house days at universities and VTCs have been successful in boosting student interest in these career paths. One campaign with 4,000 brochures and 500 promotional flyers led to a 40 percent increase in registration from 2013 to 2014, with almost 2,000 students enrolling in 2014.

“It’s not just about creating jobs to work at tourism establishments,” said Amjad Sawalha, the project’s destination marketing component leader. “One of the good things about the awareness programs we did was that they delivered the messages that you can be your own boss. You can develop your own business, and that elevates your positioning in the community, which counters that cultural stigma.”

“One of the other things we did was bring in students and parents for visits to the hotels. The parents would come, speak to the manager, be hosted, look around the facilities,” Mr. Osta said. “So the parents would hear about the career path and how their children, if hired, would be treated, which was really effective.”

Assuring the parents of young women interested in joining the tourism sector has been especially important. Knowing this added layer of concern, the program tailored its workforce development outreach tactics to align with local cultural values.


students introduced to new careers through six-month tourism industry internship program


tourism professionals trained in workshops on gender equity for HR departments


brochures and 500 promotional flyers distributed through campaigns

“In the Petra Marriott, for example, we made a push in this conservative town not just to hire females but the way it was done: Hire the matriarch first, and then have these leaders – the aunt, the mother, someone from the immediate or extended family – train the young ladies at the VTCs,” Mr. Osta said. “Seeing these matriarchal figures supervising things gave parents more comfort, since they knew their girls were being taken care of by the family.”

Young Jordanians, such as 12th-grader Afnan Khalil, are cognizant of the impact that these types of outreach catered to parents have: “The awareness sessions helped a lot because the parents got to see firsthand what hospitality is all about.”

The concrete changes in the industry’s approach to training and workforce development have given Jordanians good reason to reassess their older misgivings toward the sector. Although it’s not happening overnight, these family mindsets toward the sector are slowly and surely beginning to change.

And that kind of shift helps the young people of Jordan, and the country as a whole.