Pro-democracy revolts across the Arab world are taking their toll on tourism in cash-strapped Jordan, where revenues from the key source of hard currency earnings have dropped by 16 percent this year, while Turkey's rising regional status is translating into a booming tourism sector.
Tourism generated three billion dollars last year, with 4.8 million tourists visiting attractions such as the Nabataean rock city of Petra, the Roman town of Jerash, the Dead Sea -- lowest point on earth -- and the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.
There have been some protests in Jordan, but the country has been relatively quiet compared with unrest in other parts of the Middle East, which has frightened off travelers this year.
“The Arab Spring has negatively affected the tourism industry in Jordan,” Shaher Hamdan, head of Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents, told AFP.
“Travel agents' income has significantly dropped by around 90 percent in 2011 compared to last year,” Hamdan said, adding that 70 percent of travel tours and trips from Europe have been cancelled this year.
“We used to have joint tourism programs with Egypt and Syria, but instability in the two countries has affected us,” he added.
Tourism, which contributes 14 percent to the gross domestic product, and bank transfers from Jordanians working abroad are the top sources of hard currency earnings in the kingdom of nearly 6.5 million people.
With its economy hit by unrest, Jordan badly needs the money it earns from tourism.
“There is no doubt that the Arab Spring has had an impact on tourism in the kingdom,” tourism board chief Nayef Fayez told AFP.
“Although the situation in Jordan is safe and stable, there is a misconception that peaceful demonstrations here are similar to what is happening in the region.”
Since January, Jordanians have been protesting to demand sweeping economic and political reform, as pro-democracy uprisings have flared with other countries in the Middle East shaking off years of tyrannical and oppressive rule.
A recent Jordan Hotel Association study said that 7,700 room reservations in three-, four- and five-star hotels were cancelled between February and April as a result of popular uprisings in the Middle East.
The ancient ruins at Petra include spectacular temples and tombs hewn from rose-coloured rock and were featured in the Hollywood film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
Jordan is also home to the wind-swept peak of Mount Nebo overlooking the Dead Sea and the hills of Jerusalem, and is where biblical tradition says God showed Moses the Promised Land.
Jordanians also say their country is home to the site where Jesus Christ was baptized by his cousin John, who was later beheaded by Herod the Great, the king of biblical Judea.
Meanwhile the number of Arab tourists visiting Turkey has dramatically increased over the recent years, making the country a favorite destination in the Arab world, while Israeli tourist numbers have plunged sharply, official data showed.
Only 61,950 Israeli citizens visited Turkey in the period from January to August this year, amounting to a 27 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2010, according to statistics from the Turkish tourism ministry.
“The figure is destined to be down further for the remaining months,” analyst Esen Caglar of the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Institute said.
“Tensions with Israel on the political front merely hit the tourism sector and defense industry,” he added.
Once regional allies, with Turkey a favorite holiday destination for Israelis, relations between the Mediterranean neighbors have been in tatters since last year’s deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish aid vessel.
The bloodshed that left nine people dead prompted Ankara to expel the Israeli ambassador and cut all bilateral military agreements.
“The drastic decrease in Israeli tourist numbers is directly linked with the political crisis between the two countries,” said Hasan Akcakayalioglu, vice-president of the Turkish-Israeli business council.
The drop in tourist numbers is nearly 60 percent from 2009.
On the contrary, the number of Arab tourists visiting Turkey increased by 16 percent in the first eight months this year, according to the ministry’s statistics.
Istanbul is regarded as one of Turkey’s main tourism destinations as well as Antalya in the Mediterranean.
Some 1.4 million Arab tourists visited Turkey in the period from January to August this year, up from 1.2 million in the same period in 2010 and from nearly 912,000 in 2009.
Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government is enjoying growing popularity in the Arab world, mainly stemming from Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan’s strong confrontations with Israel at a time regional leaders were seen by their people as impotent when it comes to the Jewish state and the West.
But another factor is the popularity of Turkish soap operas in the region, with tourists eager to see the Ottoman palaces, ancient sites of Istanbul, and other locations featured in the television series.