Jordan is embracing life again after a long two-and-a-half months of curfew and lockdown imposed by the government due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which — as of June 18 — has claimed the lives of nine citizens and registered 987 cases. But, the seemingly unstoppable increase in new cases might force the government to take harsher measures in the coming days.
So far signs of normal life can be felt after the government decided to prolong business hours and reduce curfew time: mosques and churches organized services for worshipers; restaurants opened their doors for dine-in, delivery, and wholesale; and, malls and the construction sector are full of people.
But despite the relief and joy, one sector appears left behind: tourism.
“All sectors were impacted by the crisis and the curfews . . . but the tourism sector was the most affected.”
“All sectors were impacted by the crisis and the curfews imposed by the government but I believe that the tourism sector was the most affected including travel agents, airlines, tourist guides, souvenir shop owners, restaurants, and even people with odd jobs whose work depends on dealing with tourists,” Murad Ghsoun, owner of the Amman-based Sky Gate Travel Agency, told Inside Arabia.
“Definitely, we will need a lot of time and patience to recover, as before the crisis we had a busy schedule with tourists coming from all parts of the world to visit Jordan like any summer season, but now since all reservations are cancelled or postponed, we see a bleak future for our business,” Ghsoun said.
According to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Kingdom witnessed a 9 percent increase in the total number of visitors reaching 5.36 million in 2019 compared to 4.9 million in 2018; the number of overnight tourists rose to 4.5 million tourists during 2019, an increase of 8.1 percent compared to 4.15 million tourists in 2018.
The remarkable surge in the number of visitors and tourists in 2019 contributed to the increase in the Kingdom’s income from tourism reaching a whopping $5.8 billion USD, but this year it seems a far-fetched target to achieve.
“It is a sad moment for tourism everywhere as we are delving into the unknown!” Ghsoun added. “Many depend on tourism to feed their families; we have many guides and agents who are struggling to keep their business running with hope to have a normal life again. I have six employees, and despite the difficult situation, I did not let anyone go and paid all their salaries, but the question is until when?”
Many people, especially informal workers, were hurt by the lack of opportunities during the curfew. According to a recent study by the Phenix Centre for Economics and Informatics Studies, a non-governmental organization which tracks national public opinion, around 40 percent of people in Jordan lost their businesses or jobs between mid-March and mid-May 2020.
The survey measured the responses of 2,120 individuals. Thirty-six percent working in the private sector said that their jobs had been eliminated, while 57 percent of business owners said that they had closed down their establishments; 48 percent working for international organizations or local and foreign civil society entities said that they had kept their jobs, while 39 percent had their jobs suspended partially.
A glimmer of hope is somehow still there with the news of Europe desperately racing to lift restrictions on tourists.
But for Ghsoun and many others, a glimpse of hope is somehow still there with the news of Europe desperately racing to lift restrictions in order to have tourists back again and give much needed optimism to the troubled economies of the world.
“We are pinning a lot of hope on airlines returning to business,” Amjad Abbood, owner of Two Brothers Travel Agency said. “We are happy that the budget-friendly Ryanair is returning to business because since 2018, the year when Ryanair launched 14 new airline routes to the Kingdom, business has been increasing; it was like a secret formula for tourism in Jordan.”
As expected, Jordan’s tourism revenues decreased by 10.7 percent to $1.1 billion USD in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the increase of 5.2 percent during the same period in 2019.
After achieving a growth rate of 13.6 percent during the first two months of the year, March 2020 witnessed a sharp drop of 56.5 percent which affected the sector in addition to April and May, according to the Central Bank of Jordan.
Queen Alia International Airport, Jordan’s main and largest airport, is currently closed to tourists and will remain closed until July 1.
Saturday, June 6 was the first day of lifting restrictions on restaurants, cafes, and pubs—a sector that faced many challenges during the COVID-19 dilemma, yet establishments opened their doors with optimism to people to make up some of what they have lost during the curfew.
According to Ahmad Jamal, who works at a popular café nestled in the old streets of the Jabal Webdeh area in Amman, populated by many foreign students, life is getting back to normal although slowly.
“On [June 6], we had a couple of people come for coffee and it was a great scene as life returned to normal after a long and challenging period for all of us,” Jamal said. “We can all see that it will take some time to recover but this issue was difficult on all sectors and now we wish for summer to return to normal with tourists and citizens visiting our café.”
Earlier, owners of restaurants and cafés launched the campaign #وبعدين #weba33dain (meaning “and then” in English), targeting the government’s decisions and requesting more restriction lifted as the losses were accumulating. The government responded by decreasing the sales tax from 16 percent to 8 percent as a way of assisting this sector; yet, at the same time, it closed more than ten cafes on the first days of the restriction reductions for neglecting safety measures.
Downtown Amman, where as they say, “life began,” witnessed heavy traffic on the first day sans curfew.
Downtown Amman, where as they say, “life began,” witnessed heavy traffic on the first day sans curfew with shop owners inundating the market with special offers. And while many were happy to watch life resurrect itself in the liveliest area in Amman, some are still displeased, requesting that the government provide assistance with rent and taxes.
“We still need to make up what we have lost during the curfew and while it is true that we have excellent [crowds] in the streets today, still people are not buying,” Khaled Tabaza, a merchant in downtown Amman, said. “We need the government to [intervene] and request the landlords to lower the rent in addition to . . . high [taxes] as we cannot survive if slow purchasing . . . continues here.”
With hopes held high for the “new normal” to find a place in Jordan, ordinary citizens and business owners are left licking their wounds after a long and bitter battle with the coronavirus, which has claimed so far the lives of 452,000 and infected more than 8.5 million worldwide.