Yesterday – oddly, yesterday in the late evening, Jordan time – I spotted, by chance, this Facebook status by Adel Amin, director of marketing at the Jordan Tourism Board. It announced the Jordan Pass, a unified ticket for many of Jordan’s historical sites that is an attempt to help revive the country’s desperately struggling tourist trade.
Looking at the detail – which, initially, wasn’t easy, because the Jordan Pass website has been coded poorly and didn’t display properly on my phone; I had to resort to my desktop – there is much to praise.
First, the idea is simple. One ticket, bought before you leave home and sent by email, serves to waive the 40 JD fee charged on arrival for a visa and grants free admission to over 40 sites (including Petra).
It shows a bit of innovative thinking – the idea of trying to make a visit to Jordan easier, less bound up with red tape and restrictions, is a sound one. It also shows that there is some degree of cooperation emerging among stakeholders in the industry. Cooperation is good.
Most importantly, it’s one of the first steps by the Jordanian authorities to recognise that tourism patterns have changed and that independent travellers really matter. Group tourists will remain largely unaffected by this product (they already benefit from a visa fee waiver and usually have the cost of site entry fees bound up in their total holiday price).
The Jordan Pass is about making life easier for individual tourists. And the future of Jordanian tourism lies in encouraging individual tourists.
The pricing is good. At 70/75/80 JD – depending on whether you choose 1, 2 or 3 days at Petra – it’s a bargain. With a visa at 40 JD and entry to Petra alone costing 50/55/60 JD – before you even consider Wadi Rum, Jerash and the rest – most people will save money. Sometimes, quite a lot of money.
(Whether the Jordanian public funds spent on developing this product would have been better spent on reducing Petra’s fees to stimulate more headline growth is another argument.)
But there are a few idiosyncrasies – and a few problems.
Buried in the terms and conditions, it says the pass is only valid for 2 weeks. To see 40 sites in 2 weeks, especially some of these farflung spots, you’d have to race. The standard tourist visa is valid for a month – I wonder why the pass wasn’t also valid for the same period.
There are some significant ticketed sites omitted from the scheme. These include the Baptism Site (admission 12 JD), Mount Nebo (2 JD), the Church of the Map in Madaba (1 JD), the Jordan Museum in Amman (5 JD), the Royal Automobile Museum (3 JD) – and probably more, including the hugely popular candlelit Petra By Night walk (12 JD).
And this totally ignores the non-historical sites, such as the Dana Biosphere Reserve (7 JD), Ajloun Forest (7 JD), Wadi Mujib (13 JD) and so on.
On a supposedly universal pass that already costs 70 JD, having to fork out anything from 15 to 50 or 60 JDs extra to see such key sights is very disappointing.
Equally, there are many sites included in the pass which are either free anyway (Pella, Umm Ar Rasas, Shobak Castle, Qasr Al Hallabat/Hammam As Srah, Lahhun, Humeima, Tell Mar Elias, Qasr Mushatta, Salt Historical Museum, etc) or which, in my ignorance, I’ve never been to (Rehab, Umm as Surab). I don’t know which site is meant by “Al Sarhan”.
It’s a pity that, on top of the poor website coding, the list of included attractions has mistakes. Humeima is listed with a photo of Aqaba. The photo of Al Sarhan – an image watermarked by APAAME – looks like it has been used without permission. And wouldn’t it have been nice if this page – a dead gallery – could have included some information on each place, linking to a map, to help inform people and entice them to visit? The map provided is very poorly executed.
On a 70 JD pass, I make the total cost of admission to every included site, were you to pay separately, 83 JD in total. (It’s unexpectedly hard to work out, exactly, but I think that’s right.) Add in the 40 JD visa fee waiver, and a total saving of 53 JD is enough to get my vote.
On balance, the Jordan Pass is a good thing. It’s a start, and it follows up the announcements made earlier in the year, which would have been better kept back until now. As it is, I can’t find a press release about the Jordan Pass anywhere – at the time of this writing, the only info to go on is a Facebook post and the website itself. Some of those earlier announcements about visa regulations remain unaddressed, incidentally.
The test will come, firstly, when someone tries to buy it (does the online purchasing work? Please tell me in the comments below) – and, as always, in whether the effort can be sustained. Will the scheme be honoured at every site? Will a nervous foreigner who doesn’t speak Arabic or English showing a QR code on a cracked phone screen to airport immigration staff – or officials at one of the quieter border posts – at 3 in the morning really be granted a free visa? Will the QR scanning technology work every time? Do you need a charged phone battery in order to be granted admission, or can you print out your QR code in case?
Will the scheme still be up and running in a year’s time? Two years’ time? Five years’ time?
I hope so.