- By: Lekha Menon
Not so long ago, the list of queries on a globetrotter’s diary would read like this: What are the prime attractions of a particular destination? Where should s/he eat? What’s the best way to meet locals? What adventures lay ahead for them?
The prime question on their mind is: How COVID-safe is the destination?
The pandemic may have grounded many a wanderer’s dreams but if you are itching to pack your bags, there is one parameter that can help you decide your destination—WTTC’s (World Travel and Tourism Council) Safe Travels Stamp. It recognises a country’s effort at dealing with COVID-19 by adopting global standardised health and hygiene protocols. The message: the country is safe to visit, albeit with some precautions.
As of today, around 20 nations have made the coveted list including the UAE, Aruba, Grenada and Croatia, among others. The most striking among these, arguably, is a tiny Middle Eastern country that offers everything—rustic beauty, safety, world heritage sites and spellbinding experiences. We are talking about Jordan.
Understandably, there are rules to be followed (see box). But the protocols aren’t too challenging and the effort is worth it for what awaits you is an exotic experience like none other.
WTTC Stamp: The hospitality industry’s view
Over the last few years, tourism has been a key driver of Jordan’s economy; in 2019, the country recorded 5.3 million visitors. The boom was the result of the introduction of direct low-cost flights, a fantastic marketing initiative leading to bloggers and travel writers endorsing the country as a must-visit destination, and the establishment of stunning properties by prominent hotel chains in prime locations.
Unfortunately, the market conditions and now COVID has dented the fairytale and the first seven months of 2020 saw tourism revenues plummet by 63.7 %. Perhaps that’s why the Safe Travels Stamp might just be the shot in the arm required for a revival.
Hoteliers are certainly hopeful. Michael Nugent, VP Operations, Levant and Pakistan, Accor Group that operates a bunch of hotels in the country, believes the Stamp can help travellers identify that Jordan has implemented the highest standards of safety and hygiene. Safety, especially, is a major plus point. “Unlike the neighbouring countries, Jordan remains a safe destination in the Middle East for travellers planning to visit the region in the upcoming period, which we project to pick up as soon as restrictions on travel start to ease,” says Nugent.
Safak Guvenc, Area Vice President – Gulf, Levant, Pakistan & Turkey, Marriott International, concurs. “For an industry that thrives on empathy and human connection, the impact of social distancing measures is significant—for both the hoteliers and the guests. As hoteliers, we are reimagining how to deliver the customer experience in a hygienic yet human manner. The Safe Travels Stamp award for Jordan is a significant step that recognises the country’s efforts at dealing with the pandemic and being able to welcome international tourists again.”
How are the hotels gearing up for travelers?
The strict measures being implemented in luxury properties have played a role in opening up tourism. The Marriott Group—which operates a portfolio of properties across the country including brands such as St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Marriott Hotels and Sheraton—has rolled out a range of new processes and platforms to elevate its cleanliness standards and hospitality norms and behaviours. This includes guidelines on chemicals and equipment to be used against viruses; increased frequency of cleaning and disinfection at highly frequented areas and staff areas; protocols for cleanliness for guest arrivals and post departures, COVID related training for staff and associates, and specific social distancing efforts such as floor graphics/ signage in lobbies and dining areas.
To encourage travel, the group has special offers for Marriott Bonvoy members and the public. “Members can get 2,500 bonus points on each stay, besides a one-time bonus of 5,000 additional points after three stays. We also have our Welcome Back offer which is valid until January—and members and guests can avail special deals in Jordan,” informs Guvenc.
Meanwhile, AccorHotels’ measures includes hands-on training for employees, a dedicated on-property rollout committee and a formal audit program; the appointment of specially trained ‘ALL Safe Officers’ to oversee cleaning-related operations; free health support and consultations with medical professionals for guests; physical distancing marks throughout the property; masks and gloves for guests and worn by staff; virtual restaurant and in-room dining menus. Additionally, a series of targeted offers have been launched to attract domestic travellers with loyalty programmes like ‘ALL’ promoting super sale and points boost offers for members, being in focus.
What Indians need to take care of while visiting Jordan?
In 2019, Indian tourist numbers to Jordan were up by 30%. Dr Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat, Managing Director of the Jordan Tourism Board, says: “The Jordanian-Indian relationship has witnessed a tremendous positive shift throughout 2018. His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein’s visit to India in February 2018 had a cascading effect on the whole dynamics that connect both countries. Granting Indian visitors an upon-arrival visa was one of these changes that helped increase the number of Indian tourists visiting Jordan for its remarkable religious and historic sites, such as the Baptism Site and Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
In a post-COVID world, social distancing regulations and mandatory mask requirements remain in place for business establishments and transportation, and gatherings are limited to 20 people.
This is what Indians are expected to carry with him or her when air travel opens between Jordan and India:
- Have a valid health insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment for the entire period of their intended visit.
- Submit a passenger health declaration form that can be downloaded from gov.jo, including a COVID-negative certificate.
- Pay $56 in advance for a second PCR test that will be conducted on arrival in Amman.
- Receive a QR code 24 hours prior to boarding the flight.
- Install the Job Application, a coronavirus exposure-detection APP by Jordan’s tourism department on a mobile device.
The Travel Itinerary
The Amman airport opened on September 8 and the country is ready to welcome tourists for there is much to savour in this magical land. The hotels certainly are ready for it and so should you be. A few safe destinations that Jordan tourism is promoting, with stays and hotels that follow COVID protocols to the tee.
Life on the Dead Sea
When you drive away from Amman towards the Dead Sea through zig-zag roads surrounded by rugged hills, you will be surprised to see a signboard that reads ‘Sea level’. It looks insignificant but it’s a special geographical point since it is earth’s lowest elevation on land. The Dead Sea is 1,300 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the world and the highlight of your Jordan trip.
So what should you do here? Float! In the bucket-list for most travellers, floating on the Dead Sea, ranks high in the pecking order. The mineral-rich waters of the sea (it’s actually a lake!) is so high in salt content that once you wade in, your body immediately bobs up to the surface. So, you can ‘lie’ on the eye-stinging waters, staring into the skies or reading a book! After a while, you can slather the mud on the shore which is supposed to have healing properties. A natural spa that takes the stress and years off your weary body!
Undoubtedly, the Nabatean city of Petra is one of Jordan’s most unique and awe-inspiring attractions. An exploration of the rock-cut architecture of this deep valley—listed among the Seven Wonders of the World—is unforgettable to say the least. The endless alleyways leading to the tombs, carved pillars, tall structures, deep canyons, stunning facades and ancient temples—mostly swathed in pink sandstone over which the sun casts a golden glow —transports you to another era.
The Dunes of Wadi Rum
The Wadi or a vast desert valley offers the rustic, raw and natural beauty of Jordan. It is not surprising why David Lean chose this destination to shoot Lawrence of Arabia. The breathtaking desert-scape, sandstone mountains, valleys and dunes offer an unusual experience especially if you choose to live in a Bedouin guest camp for an authentic feel. Your social distancing requirements will be well taken care of in the desert.
The views of Mt Nebu
Rich in mythical folklore, Jordan has a spiritual feel to it. This elevated ridge plays a role in the Old Testament as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. At the peak of Mount Nebu, you can see panoramic views of the country and perhaps even spot Israel on one side. Jordan is surrounded by Israel, Syria and Iraq. The most spellbinding sight here? The sunset.
Jordan’s Dead Sea might be apt for floating but for the real deal, visit the Red Sea shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba. This area is comparatively unexplored, with pristine reefs and coral gardens. The activities include snorkeling and diving.
Stamping its antiquity further are the ruins of Jerash, Jordan’s largest Roman site. Expect ceremonial gates, avenues, temples and theatres, all pointing to the time when Roman civilization ruled supreme. It’s a fascinating site to explore as you pass fallen columns, the theatres, arches and temples in what is likely to be a three to four hour trip.
In a nutshell, Jordan has a bit of mystery, a whole lot of history, some awe-inducing locations and gorgeous landscape.
Getting to Jordan
Indians entering and exiting Jordan from Aqaba, along with the Red Sea, are granted a 1-month visa for free. It will cost a total of 40 JOD (Jordan Dinar), as per Jordan Tourism Board International. From India, there are no direct international flights to Jordan, so there will be a stopover on flights by airlines such as Jet Airways, Air India, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Air Arabia, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air.
Four Seasons, Amman
Four Seasons Hotel Amman is located on the city’s highest hill and offers sweeping views of Jordan’s capital. As part of an ongoing drive to further elevate the guest experience, its spacious accommodations have been modernised to reflect the contemporary influences of today’s Amman. The accommodation offers an adaptable space that guests can readapt to their own needs. A great deal of attention has been paid to the artwork featured in the rooms and suites, which draws heavily from local history and artisanal craftwork.
Nestled in the heart of modern Al-Abdali, the past meets the future and the traditions and history of Amman, Jordan, are instilled with unmistakably vivid design. W Amman stands tall as a unique and contemporary architectural achievement near shopping, nightlife, breweries, museums and more. As one of the newest five-star hotels to launch in the country, glam up your stay with stunning views of the Jordanian capital and its seven hills.
Hilton Dead Sea Resort & Spa
Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ first property in Jordan is located at the lowest point on Earth on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea. The luxury hotel is 45kms from the capital city of Amman, 65kms from the Queen Alia International Airport, and a short drive to many of Jordan’s major tourist attractions, including Wadi Mujib, Ma’in hot springs, Madaba – the city of Mosaics and the Baptism Site. The hotel’s 285 guest rooms have terraces with sea views.
Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea
Spread over 6,000m and built to resemble an Arabian village, the resort’s choice of 10 different categories across 346 rooms, offering mountain, garden or sea views, is one of the best in the region. Sample the healing traditions and signature Dead Sea treatments at the award-winning Zara Spa, or pick from nine eclectic dining choices at the resort.
Petra Marriott Hotel
There is a lot going for Petra Marriott Hotel, besides its luxury setting. Panoramic views of the desert and the mountains and loads of local experiences, such as barbeque in a Bedouin tent and Turkish Baths. Petra’s ancient Nabatean city, a Unesco world heritage site, is close by. Rooms are set around an atrium featuring archways and hung with festive red lamps.
Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp
The Luxury Dome lies in the heart of the Wadi Rum desert. It is perfect for two guests and is fitted out with all modern luxuries, and yet, allows for an enriching experience of an ancient desert. Kitted out with king-size beds, the rooms also come with bean bag chairs, air-conditioning, a bathroom with a shower, and a private deck. Wake up to views of the sunrise over Wadi Rum’s red sandstone peaks.
Among the mid-range hotels across Jordan are Holiday Inn Resort Dead Sea (ihg.com/holidayinnresorts/hotels/us/en/dead-sea/ddljo/hoteldetail); DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Aqaba (hilton.com/en/hotels/aqjdtdi-doubletree-aqaba/); ibis Amman Hotel (https://all.accor.com/hotel/6313/index.en.shtml); Amman Rotana (rotana.com/rotanahotelandresorts/jordan/amman/ammanrotana)