Meet in Jordan

30 Aug 2012 by BusinessTraveller

The kingdom’s historic sites and dramatic vistas provide memorable backdrops for gatherings, says Paul Revel.

We are a quiet house but we have noisy neighbours,” says veteran Jordan travel expert and consultant Majdi Saleem. An eloquent understatement, given that Jordan’s neighbours are Saudi Arabia, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

This is the issue on everyone’s lips at the moment – the Arab Spring has been somewhat of a long winter for Jordan’s MICE sector. Operators in the region agree that while Jordan is stable and secure, some business has stayed away because of perceptions about the troubles in surrounding countries.

Emilio Barba is UK and Ireland sales manager for national carrier Royal Jordanian. He says: “The biggest challenge in attracting business to Jordan is its geographical location at the heart of the Middle East. Unrest has created a perception of instability, but Jordan has always been an oasis of stability in the region, which has allowed it to develop into a leading business centre and tourist destination.”

Kempinski area director Patrick Ritter agrees: “The political situation around the region makes it more challenging to bring international companies to the area, and puts Jordan in direct competition with other nearby places such as Turkey – even though Jordan is well known as one of the safest destinations in the Middle East.”

Nevertheless, there is an optimism in the air, reflected by strong forward bookings and heavy investment – from a new airport to multibillion-dollar development projects that will boost the kingdom’s already impressive roll-call of high-end properties and venues. 

One of these is the Hilton-managed King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre (KHBTCC) on the Dead Sea, on the country’s western border, a 64km drive from Queen Alia airport. The state-of-the-art centre has 24,000 sqm of event space comprising 26 conference halls, lounges and outdoor terraces, and can host more than 3,000 delegates. It will benefit from an adjoining new 285-room Hilton hotel due to open in time for the World Economic Forum in May next year. Other well-known brands in the area include Marriott, Movenpick, Kempinski, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn.

The capital, Amman, in the north-west of the kingdom, is also a major event destination. It has a host of global hotel brands offering extensive facilities, such as Four Seasons, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Marriott. The Grand Hyatt manages the adjoining Zara Expo, which accommodates 1,800 delegates theatre-style.

Stephen Hurp, UK director of the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB), says: “The JTB has a dedicated business to support conference and incentive arrangements, from facilitating visits and helping with logistics to organising customs clearance and providing visas, which can be obtained free for groups.” Ritter says competitive prices and a lack of visa restrictions are helping to attract business.

Another boost is the new US$750 million Foster and Partners-designed terminal at Queen Alia International airport, 32km from Amman. The new terminal is due to open by the end of the year, and will replace the current one. Royal Jordanian flies to nearly 60 destinations worldwide, and Barba expects to add two to three more a year. “The new terminal is expected to increase capacity from 3.5 million passengers annually to 12 million,” he says. The airport has already seen about a 40 per cent increase in flight frequency in four years, and the number of airlines flying here has risen to 44, from 28 in 2007.

Aside from the poured concrete and big numbers, Jordan boasts a vibrant culture and rich heritage that feels very different from some of the Gulf states. Everywhere are historic landmarks straight from the pages of the Bible or Koran – usually both. There’s the sacred site of John’s baptism of Jesus by the River Jordan, while overlooking the Dead Sea is the pillar of Lot’s doomed wife. Up on Mount Nebo, Moses’ burial place is a pilgrims’ favourite, while in Aqaba the ruins of Ayla, an ancient port city, is an important Islamic site. 

As Saleem says: “The history of humanity comes from this part of the Middle East.” Jan Heesbeen, sales and marketing director at the KHBTCC, adds: “Jordan’s heritage really adds to the attraction for some MICE market segments, with great tours and spouse programmes.”

These attractions can make spectacular backdrops to events. The stark beauty of the Wadi Rum desert plays host to champagne receptions and gala dinners, complete with candle-lit red carpets and grand pianos playing under the stars.

The Movenpick Petra is located right by the entrance of the sublime UNESCO World Heritage site. Ancient Petra is rarely available for private use, but the hotel’s Rania Bawalsa points out that only 15 minutes away is Little Petra, which offers a range of wow-factor options – its stage-lit ancient façades set an enchanting scene for evening banquets, receptions and performances.

The JTB’s Hurp also cites the “huge plans” for the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba, a 40-minute flight from Amman. A new JW Marriott will join the InterContinental, Kempinski, Movenpick and Radisson Blu properties already there. The US$1 billion Saraya development is set to include luxury residences, Jumeirah and Starwood hotels, retail and entertainment outlets, and a conference centre. The 3.2 million sqm, US$10 billion Marsa Zayed marina development will include luxury residential towers, business and financial districts, several hotels and a cruise ship terminal (the first phase is due for completion by 2014).

The only quandary will be how to fit all the country’s attractions into a few days.


King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre

Opened in 2005, this three-storey complex overlooking the Dead Sea is one of the main conference venues in Jordan, with 26 meeting spaces – the largest can host more than 3,000 delegates theatre-style. Managed by Hilton, it attracts players such as the World Economic Forum and the UN. 

 Crowne Plaza Amman

This 279-room property is in the “Sixth Circle” business district. The top floor is home to the Club lounge and the popular Al Halaby restaurant. The hotel’s position on one of the highest points in Amman offers panoramic city views. Event facilities include five meeting rooms, the largest of which holds 500 people theatre-style. There are indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and a large fitness centre.

Grand Hyatt Amman/Zara Expo

The Zara Expo is managed by the adjoining Grand Hyatt hotel, and together the two properties offer 16 flexible meeting spaces including a 297-seat auditorium and exhibition halls. The 311-room hotel has a dedicated floor of event facilities, including a 900 sqm grand ballroom that can be divided. During my visit, the meetings floor was abuzz with auditions for the Jordanian version of BBC TV show The Voice.

InterContinental Aqaba

While Aqaba’s multibillion-dollar projects are still under construction, the InterContinental remains one of the biggest venues in the port city for large events. Facilities include a multipurpose sea-view ballroom that can host up to 1,100 guests theatre-style, with comprehensive audio-visual equipment. The hotel has 255 rooms and suites, and a large pool area and private beach on the Red Sea.

Movenpick Petra

Of Movenpick’s five properties in Jordan, this boutique-style five-star hotel is one of the smallest, at 183 rooms, but is worth mentioning for some standout features. It is situated right by the gates to the ancient UNESCO World Heritage site and features intricate pearl-inlaid Syrian furniture, Arabic chandeliers and a chic roof-garden bar and barbecue. The royal suites have hosted the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton and King Abdullah II.

Event ideas

  • Wadi Rum: bespoke events in the famous, otherworldly desert landscape include gala dinners, overnight stays in luxury Bedouin tents, camel and jeep tours, and teambuilding activities.
  • Little Petra: this small-scale sibling of the UNESCO site makes an atmospheric backdrop for memorable receptions and candle-lit banquets. Other events held here include concerts and car shows.
  • Jerash: the 2,000-year-old Roman city has a range of spectacular settings for high-profile events, from corporate-branded gladiator fights in the hippodrome, to concerts, launches and gala dinners in the amphitheatres.

Go to visitjordan.com

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