Free to you. But not to you.

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?