Life & Leisure

The untapped promise of Jordan’s religious tourism

By Hayat al Dbeas

Madaba, Jordan, Dec 27 (EFE).- One of the few nations mentioned in the Bible, Jordan is an important pilgrimage destination for Christians but the Middle Eastern nation has yet to capitalize on the potential presented by religious tourism.

“Jordan has a fertile environment for coexistence between religions and to send a message of harmony and tolerance,” Yusuf Zureika, a religious science expert, tells Efe.

“But it has yet to take advantage of this opportunity by investing in it like Israel has done,” he says, adding that both Israel and Palestine have created networks with clerics internationally.

Jordan’s most important pilgrimage location is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, an archaeological site on the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea where, according to Christian belief, Jesus Christ was baptized.

At the beginning of December, King Abdullah II of Jordan and religious leaders gathered at the site where officials are pondering the construction of a tourist city worth $300 million.

The head of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media Rifaat Badr tells Efe that the proposed project, which is scheduled to take six years to build, although is still pending funding, would be positive for religious tourism in Jordan.

Anas al Oduan, spokesman for Jordan’s tourism authority, tells Efe that visits to archaeological sites with religious importance grew between 8 and 12% in 2022 compared to recent years although it was not exactly clear how many of those visits were for pilgrimage purposes.

Oduan adds that during New Year, the kingdom’s churches organize the first pilgrimage trips to Jesus’s baptismal site to celebrate the Epiphany, with the number of visitors ranging between 5,000 to 8,000 people from across the country and beyond.

Back in 2000, in coordination with the Vatican, Jordan officially granted Christian pilgrimage status to sites such as Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Mount Nebo, the Fortress of Machaerus and Tel Mar Elias, among others.

This effort to capitalize on religious tourism in Jordan occurs at a time when the kingdom’s income from tourism increased during the first 11 months of 2022 by 115%, reaching $5.3 billion, compared to the same period of the previous year, which was blighted by Covid-19 restrictions, according to data from the Central Bank of Jordan.

This growth was due to the increase in the number of tourists who arrived in the Arab country by some 2.4 million, up to a total of 4.6 million, according to the same source.

According to the World Bank, Jordan has begun its recovery from the Covid-19 crisis as its GDP grew by 2.2% in 2021 after a contraction of 1.6% in 2020.

Jordan had the strictest Covid-19 measures in the Middle East, with 24-hour curfews and with the tourism sector completely closed. EFE


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