By Taylor Luck
AMMAN - The number of tourists to the rose-red city of Petra has witnessed a decrease so far this year, as tourism officials prepare for a series of administrative measures to take advantage of the ancient city’s treasures.
According to Petra Archaeological Park (PAP) Director Emad Hijazeen, 349,000 visitors entered the ancient Nabataean city in the first half of this year, compared with 396,000 in 2008.
The month of June saw a dip in revenue: JD672,000 was collected in entrance fees to the city, compared with JD827,000 during the same period last year, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.
“The overall numbers in the end will be OK, but not like last year,” Hijazeen told The Jordan Times, noting that 2008 saw a surge in visitors in the last few months of the year.
In order not to be dependent on international tourism trends, particularly in light of the global economic crisis, Petra tourism officials are looking to boost domestic tourism and promote the New World Wonder in the region.
“We still need to build tourism infrastructure for Arab tourists. There is not even a good guidebook on Petra in Arabic,” Hijazeen said, adding that the lack of mid-range hotels and hotel apartments has deterred Arab families, which tend to be larger than those of Western visitors, from spending the night in Wadi Musa.
Officials are looking to accelerate the development of the area through the new Petra Region Tourism Authority, which was recently endorsed by Parliament and aims to streamline public agencies working in the area.
Under the new agency, a five-member board featuring representatives from the PAP, the Petra National Trust, the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourist Police and other officials will work quickly to expand the number of services available to citizens, according to Hijazeen.
“We will no longer have to travel to Amman, to go from this ministry to that ministry. Everything will be based here in Petra, as it should be,” he said.
Hijazeen said the authority, which will fall under the umbrella of the Prime Ministry, will be more capable of preserving the site and encouraging Wadi Musa residents to benefit from the tourism sector, which accounted for some 14 per cent of the Kingdom’s GDP in 2008.
Under the Petra Region Tourism Authority Law, 25 per cent of the revenue generated by visits to the park will go to administration and promotion of the Nabataean city, while 10 per cent of tourism receipts will go directly towards community development, he pointed out.
As part of these efforts, the PAP has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with local NGO Bayt Al Anbat to develop a centre for tourism awareness at the visitors centre at the entrance to the rose-red city.
The centre will educate local residents on how to treat tourists, prevent child labour, put a stop to cruelty towards animals, preserve the site and incorporate local heritage into tourist services.
“We can’t work without local communities,” he said.
The new centralised authority will also look into ways to extend visitors’ stays in Wadi Musa, according to the tourism official, to promote the lesser-known Little Petra, and nearby natural areas.
“Right now, people are spending an average of two to three hours in Petra, but the area really needs two to three days,” he stressed, adding that increased evening activities within Wadi Musa will be a priority for future development efforts.
Meanwhile, the PAP, the Ministry of Tourism and the USAID/Jordan Tourism Development Project are currently drawing up new trails through the stone-carved city to alleviate tourist traffic by the iconic Treasury.
“Most guides just take people to the Siq to the Monastery and back. There is so much more to discover,” he said, expecting the trails to be prepared by January 2010.