Friday, February 19, 2010

In reply to an Editorial in the Jordan Times

Not wishing to take the name of the Lord in vain, I couldn’t help but exclaim a huge 'Oh my lord, what are you thinking Mr Editorial' – when I read your thoughts on developing and pushing tourism at the Baptism site.

Whoever wrote that piece of misinformation, should take a few steps back and reflect on the course of action that has been taken and is being pushed in the name of tourism development. First of all, we need to remember that this is a religious site, special to so many people of many beliefs, not to mention historians, archaeologists and the Jordanian public at large - this is not Vegas!

As such, the existing visitor’s centre and accompanying shops/restaurants/facilities are more than adequate for the needs of tourists. If they would like to spend the night, a simple ten minute drive up the road will give a superb choice of hotels to use. Another beautiful drive through pristine landscape will give a choice of some charming hotels at much lower rates in Madaba, thus supporting the local community. And within thirty minutes they are back in Amman … so why the need for more hotels - those notorious water wasters?

The point being because of the natural beauty and spiritual significance of this very special place, it should not be developed. People come here to get away from modern development. As it is, the huge number of churches being built is questionable – couldn’t we just have had one international church for all the faithful?

The thought of walking in the footprints of prophets, of bonding with the surrounding landscape of earth, sand, water, stone and vegetation untouched by consumerist demands is what I look for at this site and I know this is what ‘the tourist’ wants too – a unique experience. Touristic buildings will take away the one treasure and special feature of this site ----its natural landscape and the fact that it is not developed. I don’t see how a church can place “tremendous strain on the present infrastructure” as claimed in the editorial, after all 25,000 people do not descend on the place all in one day! The work that is needed is simple and already in place – good site management – ie people focused!

And I don’t like predictions …. so all those hundred of thousands of people making their way to Jordan will only come if they are encouraged … so why encourage them? People know their own religion, this place will speak for itself, if only we can maintain its sanctity.

Real estate developers and proponents of infrastructural development have an unfair say in forcing change on a society trying to keep up. And while we are at it, it is not the infrastructure at tourism sites that needs to be considered, rather the way they are administered, maintained and managed, again people focused. It is a simple question of understanding that buildings need people to run them properly. How many times have I gone to tourism sites, found a lovely piece of ‘infrastructure’ with no information inside them, and a bored and embarrassed guard who cannot even hand out a leaflet about the site being visited, due to inter-departmental squabbles about who does what and when.

And finally, “with few other resources”, concludes the editorial, the writer proceeds to put the horse before the cart by focusing on the tourist. I would have thought that all that money assigned to infrastructural development, would be better spent on developing training and opportunities for Jordanians in the tourism industry. That would be a much wiser decision indeed.