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Free to you. But not to you.

28 September 2012

It was clear, and unambiguous. On 13th September the Jordan Tourism Board posted on its Facebook page:

In celebration of World Tourism Day on September 27th, entry to tourist sites in Jordan, including Petra, will be free of charge to ALL visitors (NO entry fees on September 27th & 28th).

They linked to this article in the Arabic daily newspaper Al-Rai – owned by the government – which quoted Nayef Al-Fayez, the Minister of Tourism, saying that free admission applied to:

العرب والاجانب والمقيمين

Meaning “Arabs and foreigners and residents” (‘residents’ means citizens of other countries who hold official Jordanian residency).

The announcement – which meant foreign tourists could get into Petra for nothing, saving 55JD (£47/$77) on a two-day ticket – was tweeted widely and posted on travel forums such as TripAdvisor and Couchsurfing.

Fast forward to yesterday, September 27th, and it became apparent that, in fact, foreigners were being charged full price at the gate, and that free admission was being extended only to Jordanians and foreign residents. Mosleh Farajat, who runs the Cleopetra hotel in Petra, had posted the bad news on TripAdvisor (scroll to post 5) on Sept 25th. The minister tweeted it on the 27th.

This morning (Friday 28th), the Jordan Tourism Board twitter feed is buzzing with confusion and disappointment – but they maintain they were not told of the change, and have no further information. I believe them. This is also the weekend in Jordan, so there likely won’t be a resolution until the work week begins on Sunday.

It is, I would say, impossible that AlRai would knowingly allow a ministerial quote to go into print wrongly, or to allow false information to stand uncorrected (that’s a big issue in Jordan right now).

The JTB – which is a public-private body that faces outwards, promoting Jordanian tourism to the world – looks as if it is at fault, but it isn’t: it was only recirculating information from a reliable source.

So what happened?

That TripAdvisor thread, post 7 – written by Patricia Al Hasanat, who runs a B&B in Petra – gives a clue. Bizarre as it may seem, the body which runs Petra (the PDTRA, Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority) is semi-autonomous. Its board of commissioners answer directly to the Prime Minister. They work alongside the Ministry of Tourism, but have no formal links to it, and are not bound by its decisions. (Why is it like that? You may well ask. There are reasons, but not very good ones.)

So here’s my guess as to what happened: two weeks ago the Ministry of Tourism decided to run a World Tourism Day promotion, and let the story out via the media. The JTB picked up the story and publicized it to the world. Meanwhile, down in Petra, the PDTRA decided to opt out – but didn’t tell anybody.

Result? Angry tourists. JTB left to pick up the pieces. A minister out in the cold. And Jordan looks like a mess.

Who will be held accountable?

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 September 2012 10.44am

    My theory is that it was simply a typing error in Arabic. So instead of العرب والاجانب والمقيمين it should have been العرب والاجانب المقيمين (very easy mistake to make). This changes the translation from “Arabs and foreigners and residents” to “Arabs & foreign residents”, which makes more sense actually cause why would they add “residents” if it was meant for all foreigners?

  2. 28 September 2012 10.47am

    Interesting! Thanks, Lama. But my counter-question would be, why run a promotion for World Tourism Day that excludes tourists from around the world? Jordanians & foreign residents only pay 1JD (85p/$1.40) for a ticket anyway, so free entry isn’t much of an enticement for them: if they want to visit Petra, the ticket price is unlikely to put them off…

    And then there’s the issue of correcting false information. If AlRai made a mistake, why did nobody correct it? If you’re right, that one letter has caused damage to Jordan’s reputation around the world – pretty serious typo!

  3. 28 September 2012 10.54am

    Because this is what awful marketing looks like. The only real beneficiaries would have been foreign residents but for those who don’t read the small font, it will appear that Jordan is participating in World Tourism Day. Obviously that backfired because of the miscommunication.

  4. 28 September 2012 11.00am

    Sadly, that makes sense. Domestic tourism is a stated priority for this year.
    Perhaps, then, this will be spun as only ever having been intended to be a domestic promotion – but why didn’t someone stop JTB putting out all that stuff out on Twitter & Facebook, then? Surely MOTA talks to JTB? And surely JTB talks to MOTA? And surely both of them talk to PDTRA? Right?

  5. 28 September 2012 11.04am

    Are you sure about all those surelys? :)

  6. 28 September 2012 12.58pm

    In my personal opinion the government should make it up for that confusing situation and do one day free of charge in very near future and if they government have done that it will be a very good marketing for Petra and Jordan as there still so many people around the world don’t know about it and if the government want to advertise in the media that would cost a lot of money and let’s say if they make that happen for the 27th & 28th Sep the tourists who will be visiting Petra wont be more than 1000 People per day so that means for 2 days 2000 people and it will be to total cost 100000 JD so people who will be doing that will talk everywhere they could and tell more friends by using the social communication that they have been to Petra one of the new 7 wonders of the world for ( free ) cuz the word free will make them write all over and that will encourages a lot of people to come and visit the wonderful hospitable people of Jordan a part of the historical sites

  7. 28 September 2012 1.02pm

    Thank you, Mosleh. Spot on – I hope the authorities are listening to you.

  8. 28 September 2012 4.04pm

    You welcome & I hope so and I hope they will be reading your plug any pay some attention

  9. 28 September 2012 7.07pm

    I read the article in the print version of Al Rai and it said for locals and residents, not foreigners. So I guess the online version of Al Rai is the one at fault, and then JTB running with the story without double checking such an important announcement!!

    here are two links to another news agency (in Arabic) talking about only locals and residents.

    http://www.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=132679

    http://www.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=132976

    on a different note: I agree with you Matthew why on earth would the announcement exclude foreigners, why wouldn’t they just make it an open for all day… isn’t this a WORLD Tourism Day??!!

  10. 28 September 2012 9.14pm

    Thanks, Yamaan, that’s useful to know. Also, the minister clarified today in a tweet: “I am the one who announced it, I only said free for Jordanians & residents”:

    So it seems my original conclusion may have been wrong: it wasn’t the Petra authorities making their own decisions, it was simply a newspaper’s onscreen typo.

    If that’s right, though, surely JTB should have double-checked with MoTA? And surely MoTA should have double-checked with JTB?

  11. 28 September 2012 9.35pm

    most welcome Matthew….
    back to Lama’s question: are you sure about all those surelys?!
    I am sure you’ve worked enough with both organizations to draw a conclusion :-) which is quite sad really come to think about it…

  12. 28 September 2012 9.47pm

    It’s all guesswork, Yamaan. Until there is a clarification, we don’t know what happened. All we know is that there were some angry tourists today, and also some confused and disappointed tourists too – but nobody really knew exactly what was happening.

    https://twitter.com/keruso1624/status/251377565808340992

    https://twitter.com/keruso1624/status/251620186124328960

    I’m just asking questions, and hoping to find some answers somewhere…

  13. Yamaan permalink
    28 September 2012 10.02pm

    this is reading these tweets from the comfort of our homes, can you imagine arriving at the ticket office and realizing this?!?! add furious to the list…

    this has dealt a bad blow to our reputation, to say the least…

    here are a couple more questions:
    – will somebody or some institution step up and say this was MY fault?
    – will somebody or some institution propose a viable solution?

    3an jad haram!

  14. 29 September 2012 7.05pm

    nothing to add, except to say sadly, that’s Jordan!

  15. 30 September 2012 11.37am

    When we announced the free entry to Petra and other tourist sites in Jordan in celebration of World Tourism Day on the 27th and 28th of September, we had linked to an article published by AlRai newspaper, which stated that Arabs, foreigners, and residents were entitled to free entry on those dates. We had tried to verify that information and were not told of any conflicting details or changes; as such, we posted and circulated the news, as it is our duty to promote Jordan’s tourist sites.

    It appears, as far as we now understand, the Minister of Tourism had only told AlRai that free entry was for Jordanians and residents and AlRai had misprinted that information to include tourists.

    We have no control over what the Ministry issues; however, we do apologize for circulating misleading information.

  16. 30 September 2012 11.53am

    Many thanks for your clarification – I am grateful that you have taken the time to pursue the issue and post a response here. I will circulate your statement and apology as widely as possible.

    It seems, then, that my first guess was wrong: AlRai *did* publish an inaccurate quote from the Minister. As I posted in the comments above, that has also been confirmed by the Minister himself:

    Yamaan Safady (a leading Jordanian tour guide, for those who don’t know him) provides useful detail in the comments above:

    http://quitealone.com/2012/09/28/free-to-you-but-not-to-you/#comment-1314

    Your comment today backs that up as well, and your apology will, I’m sure, be valued by visitors to Jordan, observers of the country and Jordanians themselves.

    Questions remain – among them, has AlRai admitted its mistake yet? Are its editors aware that their one-letter error started a chain of events which brought the country into disrepute?

  17. 1 October 2012 12.32pm

    I traveled from Dubai to Jordan last week and was in Petra last Friday. It was trip planned weeks ago, even before I learned about the supposed free entrance. I was happy when I learned that my trip coincided with the World Tourism Day.

    But then when I got there, I had to pay 50JD. I am okay with paying the amount, as I originally budgeted for it anyway. Disappointed, yes, but not as disappointed as the other folks I know who traveled all the way from nearby countries or those backpackers who made significant changes to their plans just to take advantage of the offer.

    Jordan is a lovely country, and Petra is definitely a must-see. But I still think that 50JD is one of the highest entrance free price among heritage sites in the world!

  18. 1 November 2012 12.36am

    This looks like a bit of mess or better said, misunderstanding? Hope it is all fine now.

  19. 2 November 2012 8.43am

    Anythings unclear will make misunderstanding. Especially tourism and pricing are always sensitive things to run any promotion
    Jane – Sunway Hotel Hanoi

    http://hanoi.sunwayhotels.com

  20. 20 December 2012 1.36am

    It was a mess for Jordan tourism board. This gave a negative impression to tourists. I hope this issue is resolved now.

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