AQABA, Jordan - Jordan’s Red Sea port city of Aqaba is looking to boost tourism by transforming the city and overcoming challenges posed by regional conflicts.
The Aqaba Recreation Centre (ARC), a 13,000-sq.-metre entertainment centre that, when completed, will provide a variety of entertainment facilities lacking in Aqaba is seen as a strong step towards targeted tourism.
The multimillion-dollar ARC project will provide the city of more than 188,000 people and a 27km shoreline a “high-level tourism environment with an excellent service to locals and tourists from everywhere,” Khalil Faraya, communications officer at Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA), said.
“The strategically located project in the centre of the city and its closeness to the hotels make it a perfect addition to Aqaba’s tourism efforts and will provide various entertainment options.”
“The ARC project will offer what we believe is lacking in the city, such as movie theatres, five-star restaurants, children’s entertainment facilities, museums, branded coffee houses and a global amusement appeal in addition to using technology such as virtual reality,” Faraya added.
“Tourists will be able to enjoy a virtual tour of Aqaba and its sites using the latest technology that generate realistic sensations as if you were there, just by wearing special headsets.”
Aqaba resident Ahmed Abu Ezz, 25, a shop salesman, said the ARC Project will be an excellent attraction for both locals and tourists.
“Imagine a touristic city without a movie theatre or a closed entertainment facility because in summer it gets really hot here and we need covered air-conditioned places. Aqaba is also famous for its diving sports and shopping. This new project will be a great addition in the life of many people who enjoy visiting the city,” Abu Ezz said.
“We also expect that the project will create many job opportunities and will increase the number of tourists coming here as we really had bad seasons in the past few years due to conflicts around us.”
Jordan’s Department of Statistics said the unemployment rate in the country was 18.5% in the third quarter of 2017. It stood at 15.4% among males and 30% among females in that same period. Aqaba registered the highest rate of unemployment, at 19.8%. The lowest rate was in Zarqa governorate, where unemployment was 11.4%.“Through various investments, ASEZA aims to create job opportunities, which is considered a huge challenge and we hope that we will be able to create 10,000 jobs by 2020 and 20,000 by 2025,” Faraya said.
In 2017, Aqaba experienced an increase of 27.1% in the number of travellers and the number of international flights grew 12.6%, with four new routes connecting Europe to Aqaba’s King Hussein International Airport. Budget carrier Ryanair’s entry into the Jordanian market is expected to boost the numbers.
“There is definitely a need for change in Aqaba’s approach towards a better tourism. Every summer we go there and we do the same things all over again because not much has changed. That is why I think this project will bring the aspired change. The project might take some time to materialise but at the end it will offer more variety and badly needed entertainment,” said Amman resident Khaled Tabaza, 34.
“As visitors, whether local or foreign, we are seeking more options to extend our stay in Aqaba. I believe this can be achieved through the offer of more and better entertainment,” he added.
In addition to the ARC, Aqaba is planning a marine life station, birds garden, Olympic village and medical centre.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.