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easyJet opens up Jordan

16 December 2010

After last week’s news about the swingeing increases in Jordan’s visa fees for independent travellers comes the startling announcement that easyJet – Europe’s second-largest low-cost airline – is launching flights to Jordan, starting on 27 March 2011.

easyJet is intending to operate three flights a week from London Gatwick to Amman’s Queen Alia airport, with an unbelievably low lead-in price of £106 return (US$168; JD118). That price is likely to apply to very few flights – but even if a more usual fare turns out to be double (or even triple) that figure, it will still represent by far the cheapest way to get to Jordan.

It’s hard to overestimate the potential impact. It is, in short, the biggest shot-in-the-arm for Jordanian tourism from the UK (and, arguably, for Jordanian tourism in general) since, well, ever.

For years, Jordan has suffered from poor access and high fares. Two airlines fly direct between London and Amman – BMI and Royal Jordanian. Both operate out of Britain’s least favourite airport, London Heathrow, and it’s difficult to find fares on either of less than about £450 return. From London it’s often considerably more expensive to fly to Amman (3600km) than to Muscat (5800km).

Is that through lack of demand, or lack of opportunity? Well, we’re about to find out. I’m afraid easyJet’s arrival will be a kick in the pants for both RJ and BMI.

But this doesn’t only put the cat among the pigeons as far as the airlines go. Can Jordan itself actually cope with increased numbers of British travellers on short breaks and sun-seeking holidays?

Jordan’s high visa fees, and absurdly high entry prices at Petra, will put some off.

The over-concentration of five-star hotels in Amman, Aqaba and the Dead Sea – and the lack of high-quality three- and four-star midrange properties around the country – will be shown to be a mistake.

Jordan’s focus on pouring resources into developing package tourism, to the detriment of the independent travel sector, will be exposed as short-sighted.

And cultural issues, as Brits arrive expecting Amman to be like Sharm el-Sheikh or Aqaba to be like Hurghada, may be thrown into sharp focus. Ryanair’s cheap flights to the ancient Moroccan city of Fez have been a stop-start affair, not wholly welcomed on all sides.

On the plus side – well, it hardly needs saying. This puts Jordan into the ‘A’ league of European destinations. The increased exposure, simply through being on easyJet’s route listing, is invaluable. It opens up a whole new market for Jordan, price-sensitive but potentially high-spending independent visitors, who have previously been overlooked. Tourism accounts for roughly 20% of Jordan’s GDP (the country’s second-highest earner) and employs roughly 40,000 people, thereby supporting perhaps as many as a quarter of a million Jordanians, out of a total population around 6 million. It’s not an exaggeration to say that easyJet’s arrival could signal a rise in Jordan’s standard of living.

But perhaps the most important aspect of easyJet’s announcement is the vote of confidence it represents in promoting Jordan as a safe, decent, worthwhile place to go on holiday, regardless of whatever might be going on across the border in neighbouring countries. For years now, the negative impressions garnered from the news media, and allied concerns about personal safety, have been the single hardest barrier for Jordanian tourism marketeers to surmount. Amman’s appearance in easyJet’s big, bright, friendly, orange ads, alongside Corfu, Tenerife and Majorca, is the kind of PR money simply cannot buy.

Incidentally, this is also the first British low-cost routing to an Arab capital city. I don’t want to get too dewy-eyed about it, but there’s an undeniable element of bridging a certain awareness gap there. More Westerners experiencing Arab and Muslim society first-hand, from the inside, can only be a good thing.

I sincerely hope the Jordanian tourism industry – and Jordanian society – can flex with what is a seismic shift. Heaven knows Jordan needs easyJet; but, in truth, does easyJet need Jordan? I really hope that, by the end of 2011, it will be obvious they do.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 December 2010 5.51am

    It will be very interesting to monitor the impact of easyjet in Jordan! Though I am not a supporter of mass tourism in Jordan, but I think such an impact is needed to bend, shift and balance out the rigid “mentality” of our tourism industry sector in Jordan… Great post Matthew!

  2. 16 December 2010 6.02am

    Thanks for dropping by, Rakan – great to hear from you. I don’t think you need to worry: “mass tourism” is not on the horizon, but it will be interesting to see how things develop.

    Amman, for instance, is SO under-promoted, and under-resourced (in terms of tourism), that I hope easyJet’s new customers aren’t disappointed. People will want a pacy, engaging urban experience – can Amman deliver? Hmm…

  3. Ahmad Hallak permalink
    16 December 2010 9.12am

    Personally I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to travel to London from Amman for less! I suspect Jordanians travelling to the UK will benefit from this a lot more than potential tourists from Britain.

  4. 16 December 2010 9.16am

    Thank you, Ahmad – interesting perspective. I’m not sure you’re right – the potential market for Jordanians travelling to London is a lot smaller than Brits travelling to Amman – but let’s see what happens! Fascinating times.

  5. 16 December 2010 9.47am

    Welcome news … Amman is a convenient base from which to visit Jerash and the Dead Sea; not as often frequented as Petra and Wadi Rum.

  6. 16 December 2010 9.53am

    Thanks, Keith – yes, you’re right. This may signal a shift of emphasis towards more travel in the (VERY underrated) north and east of Jordan…

  7. Mohammad Arabiat permalink
    16 December 2010 10.06am

    Informative Article, I would like to emphasis on the issue related to the connection flight Amman- Aqaba via RJ; as they have only two daily flights from Amman to Aqaba though, it’s an opportunity for RJ to have more flights to Aqaba -to be in appropriate timing with the coming flight from London- ,it also will add value to the Easy Jet route London-Amman.

  8. 16 December 2010 10.15am

    Many thanks, Mohammad. You’re right – there must be better connections into Aqaba: the airport there is a severely under-utilised resource. However, in my opinion the next step is for RJ (or anyone else) to launch direct flights to Aqaba from London and other cities in Europe and the GCC. Changing planes at AMM is never going to be attractive.

    And while RJ continues to charge 100 JD for a round-trip Amman-Aqaba, I’m afraid nobody will want to fly with them.

  9. Theo permalink
    17 December 2010 11.10am

    Dear Matthew,

    You say that easyJet will be the cheapest way to fly to Jordan – come on! Since long there have been possibilities to fly to Aqaba for prices even lower. It is possible to fly return from Brussels to Aqaba for prices as low as € 130. Website: http://www.jetairfly.com. Added plusses: no entrance-tax to Jordan, no exit-tax (included in the already low prices). Amsterdam has a simular deal with arkefly…
    So, easyJet coming to Jordan is great, but cheap flying into Jordan is certainly not new, and has been available for a much longer period already!

  10. 17 December 2010 11.38am

    hi Theo – Thanks for weighing in! I should have been clearer: when I wrote easyJet will be “the cheapest way to get to Jordan”, I meant in context of scheduled air links from Britain.

    As you say, there have been lots of options for cheap flights from other European cities for some time now – Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and others – but (unless I’m mistaken) these are all once-weekly charter flights being sold on a seat-only basis. Britain also has seasonal, once-weekly charter flights into Aqaba for some time, run by vjv.com out of Gatwick – with prices that can easily undercut the legacy airlines.

    But scheduled services, on such a high-profile airline, are a different kettle of fish. That’s why this is big news. It’s not only about the price – it’s about the PR, the regular service, the point-to-point routing, and (for Brits) the ease of purchase and familiarity.

    But thanks for the heads-up – and I agree, more scheduled airlines should use Aqaba! Always great to hear from you.

  11. Saja permalink
    19 December 2010 8.20pm

    Go Easy go, kick RJ’s ass, they have had it their way for so long.

  12. 20 December 2010 11.46am

    No comment.

  13. Sam Omar permalink
    29 January 2012 2.49am

    It is very good for the British as visas issued in the airport. It is very difficult for Jordanian to get visas for UK so more less one way system this is the product of the western democracy. I bought few Easy jet tickets to Jordan as I travel regularly. I have noticed an increase in tickets prices. I bought ticket in Summer, I paid just over £100 and another one in November I paid just over £200 and at present looking for a ticket during Easter break it will cost as much as RJ over £450 . The BMI started this way cheap tickets and not before long prices gone high. Every so often BMI offer cheap tickets, I bought one of their £200 tickets in Xmas break. I was surprised that more than half of the seats were empty going to and coming from Amman, which gave me the chance to have three seats for myself. Time will tell if Easy jet will keep their prices down or follow BMI. Easy jet must remember a part from not providing food , and their flight arrive middle of the night at Gatwick also Ryan airline will be interested to Fly to Jordan the other 4 days not used by Easy jet

    Waiting for commentd from Matthew Teller.

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