Coastal attractions

25 Apr 2007 by business traveller

Much like the "dip in, dip out" tourists who venture into the Dead Sea, you get the feeling that Jordan has always just flirted with the notion of hospitality. True, you're rarely stuck for a bed in hotel-filled Amman, yet beyond these properties, and the Red Sea resorts, which are naturally geared up for international trade, executives haven't exactly been spoilt for choice. But that's all set to change.

Where once the Nabateans chiselled out impressive features from Petra's rose-red rock, latter-day Jordanians are hoping to carve out a modern tourism profile that will help them compete in the increasingly cut-throat Middle East arena. And providing the right balance is struck, Jordan could be the perfect ancient-meets-modern destination.

There's certainly some serious money flooding into the south of the country, with major projects currently under way including the US$995 million Saraya Development, the US$700 million Ayla Oasis and the US$320 million Tala Bay resort.

The Saraya Development, funded by the Hariri Group, Arab Bank, Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC), and Jordan's Social Security Fund, is set to be a 617,000 sqm waterfront complex combining shopping, dining, entertainment, freehold accommodation and cultural activities within the context of an authentically styled ancient city. Saraya Holdings also has projects on the go in Ras Al Khaimah (Saraya Islands) and Oman (Saraya Bandar Jissah) and all three are designed to be "cities within cities".

Saraya, due to open in 2009, will contain six five-star hotels, three operated by Jumeirah and three by the Starwood group. Starwood will manage the Aqaba Resort under its Westin brand and the Al-Manara Hotel under the Luxury Collection brand, as well as operate an adjacent boutique hotel. A key feature will be a man-made lagoon, which will be surrounded by hotels and other facilities designed to captivate and impress visitors with a strong Arabian theme. Interior designs are handled by KCA International, whose projects include the Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah.

Saraya and Ayla will add 17km of inland coastline to Aqaba's waterfront, but Saraya will be more exclusive and small-scale, built on 1.5km of beachfront. Ayla Oasis will contain five upmarket hotels which will offer between 90 and 600 hotel beds, 3,000 residential units, an 18-hole signature golf course and a nine-hole golf academy, as well as a town centre that encompasses a marina, retail units, cafés, and entertainment and recreational facilities. The entire development is generating 4,000 jobs.

Such is the importance of the new tourism drive that the entire Aqaba port is being shifted down the coast, a mammoth task that will take until 2011 to be fully complete. Unsurprisingly, ADC is actively courting private investors. Fadi Suleiman, sales manager for Tala Bay, says Aqaba has the potential to be a destination comparable to Sharm El Sheikh in two to three years' time. "The focus now is on real estate but you can't compete unless you have hotels around it," he comments.

Orayb Akeel, manager of investor relations and marketing at ADC, says it is actively targeting the MICE market but admits it's early days. "We hope to have an exhibition and conference centre, we're proposing it to investors," she notes. "While the new Aqaba will be a leisure destination it will also be popular with business travellers given the port, transport and logistics industries nearby."

It's just as busy on the Dead Sea shores, with projects piling up. In line with the growth plans for Jordan as outlined by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development, Emaar Jordan, along with a group of regional and Jordanian investors, has formed the Dead Sea Company, which will develop a luxury master-planned, mixed-use residential, leisure and retail project at the Dead Sea.

Issam Galadari, managing director at Emaar International for the Middle East and North Africa, says: "Jordan is a key emerging market in the Middle East and North Africa region – one of the thrust areas for Emaar's growth. Riding a new wave of economic resurgence, Jordan offers immense potential for enterprises that synergise with local growth plans."

Kempinski has been quick to get a foothold on both coastlines, with its Hotel Ishtar – pitched as the world's first health resort – up and running on the Dead Sea (117 rooms are already open and 201 sea-facing will open next year) and another property set to open in Aqaba. For top-tier business travellers, the 1,850 sqm Ishtar Royal Villa contains three bedrooms and private infinity pool with outdoor spa bath, and comes with a private butler, chauffeur-driven limousine, as well as a series of gardens and private beach with chalets attached.

The flipside to all this coastal focus is the major US$1.5 billion Abdali development coming up on 350,000 sqm of land in central Amman. With the infrastructure and underground works completed, the Abdali project, designed to turn Amman into a thriving commercial centre, is now ready to rise from the ground.

The Dubai Contracting Company unveiled two new construction projects in Abdali at the Cityscape show, held recently in the emirate. The 61,873 sqm Vertex Tower and Residences will cost US$128 million and consist of a 34-storey tower and two seven-storey podiums, while Commerce One, a 13,471 sqm office development, will cost US$19.9 million and contain six storeys.

Hospitality interest is also starting to grow, with Rotana Hotels set to open its first property in Jordan at Abdali in late 2008. The 450-room property will contain modern meeting rooms, leisure facilities and restaurants. The Abdali downtown will effectively link old Amman with the more modern Shmesani business district. As a central location, it is surrounded by more than 25 banks and financial institutions, 12 major hotels, 16 public institutions, nine hospitals and Amman's legal district.

By spring this year, two bidders will have won tenders to build a 28km light-railway link from Amman to the industrial city of Zarqa and a new terminal building at Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA). Both projects are geared towards boosting the kingdom's long-term economy and transforming Jordan into a modern, regional business and transport hub. One of the main factors behind the rail project is the alleviation of traffic congestion on the main highway between the two cities, and once the rail system is fully operational it is hoped 100,000 commuters a day will climb aboard and leave their cars at home.

When it comes to the new terminal, six qualified consortia have been chosen to bid for the US$284 million contract. The winner will build a 83,613 sqm terminal alongside the existing one, with a completion date of 2010. A sizeable number of regional firms, especially from Turkey and the Gulf Arab states, are part of the various conglomerates. On completion, QAIA should be able to handle around nine million passengers a year, nearly three times as many as currently. With flag-carrier Royal Jordanian transporting a total of 223,000 passengers in August last year, a 15 per cent jump on the same month in 2005 and the highest-ever single-month figure since the airline was founded, the tender for the new terminal building is timely. Royal Jordanian recently became a member of the Oneworld alliance and president/CEO Samer Majali believes that this, too, will significantly boost passenger load factors and bolster throughput at Jordanian airports.

A quick flick through the Emerging Jordan 2006 report details the enigma that is this historic country, with strong GDP growth (7.2 per cent in 2005), booming real estate (sales rose to US$130 million in the first half of 2006, up from US$99 million in the first half of 2005) and strong FDI (up to US$1.5 billion), offset by concerns over rising poverty, unemployment and a near-doubling of inflation (3.5 per cent in 2005, predicted to hit 6.5 per cent this year). Rohan Marwaha, group development director at Cityscape Dubai, notes that, with excess liquidity and exceptional returns, investors are focused on real estate throughout the region. It is estimated that some 500,000 Iraqis have crossed over into Jordan, fuelling the real estate boom as demand for apartments and office space intensifies. "Besides Iraqi investments, there is a trend developing for the Gulf states to invest in Jordan now, which represented 14 per cent of land sales in 2005, accounting for almost US$30 million," he comments.

With so much widespread investment pouring into Jordan, the country has high hopes for its leisure and hospitality sector. The biggest tests are likely to come on its own doorstep, in terms of maintaining effective security, competing effectively with its Gulf neighbours – many of whom are already far down the development track – and managing to strike a balance between modernity and preserving the country's unique history and culture.


  • Royal Jordanian has put into service the first of its seven Embraer 195 aircraft on order from the Brazilian plane-maker. The remaining jets will be delivered over the next two years and will work the airline's short and medium-haul routes. rj.com
  • Amman-based RayaJet has completed 20 months' service in the sky. The private jet operator's portfolio includes evacuation services, priority valuable cargo, brokerage and aircraft leasing and management. Its 10-seater Challenger 601 has a listed rate of $4,750 (£2,250) an hour. rayajet.com
  • Oman Air launched its new Muscat-Amman route in December, offering three non-stop weekly flights on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Other new routes for the airline in 2007 include Damascus, Lucknow and Jaipur. oman-air.com


Served from Heathrow by Bmed and Royal Jordanian. Return fares with Bmed (book though British Airways at ba.com) start at £320 for economy class and £1,460 for business class. Fares with Royal Jordanian quoted by Travelocity (travelocity.co.uk) are £320 for economy and £1,762 for business class.

Other alternatives quoted by Travelocity include indirect routings with Air France via Paris CDG and Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Air France fares start at £433 for economy and £1,310 for business class, with departures possible from Heathrow as well as Southampton, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Lufthansa costs from £517 for economy and £1,331 for business class with flights out of Heathrow, London City, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

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