During my recent tour of Jordan, I fought droopy eyelids each night
in favour of a deep dive through my phone’s camera roll, where I
cropped, edited and stitched together a series of photos and videos for
An Instagram reel featuring the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash? Check.
A photo of me wandering through the winding slot canyons of Petra?
And I imagined that even after a long day of sightseeing and hotel
inspections, most of the others in my tour group — which was made up of
12 North American travel advisors — were likely doing the same.
But here’s where this particular tour strayed from the normal travel
advisor fam trip: After posting to my account, I hopped over to a
friend’s profile (travel advisor Julie Patterson of @wanderfullyplanned).
She was also in Jordan, but was experiencing a completely different
itinerary and travelling with a different operator (the day that I
explored the ruins of Jerash, for example, she was floating in the Dead
I then hopped over to Gifted Travel Network’s Instagram page, which
was also sharing stunningly beautiful Jordan snapshots — in completely
different regions of the country.
Not your typical fam trip
Indeed, this trip to Jordan was no typical tourism board-hosted fam
trip; rather, I was part of Visit Jordan’s first-ever Masterclass, a
weeklong tour of the country that took place from 22-29 September and
included 60 US- and Canada-based travel advisors who were split between
five destination management companies (DMCs).
I was touring with United Travel Agency (UTA), the oldest-running
tour operator in Jordan, while other advisors explored the country with
Desert Adventures, Amin Kawar, Why Jordan Tours and Abercrombie &
Travel advisor Katy Chadwell, founder of Chadwell Traveled, toured with Why Jordan.
“Overall, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in
the Masterclass,” she said. “I thought it was well-executed and the
format with different groups hosted by DMCs seemed to work. One thing I
came away with was just how much Jordan has to offer. I can't imagine
spending less than eight days in the destination, and look forward to
better educating clients on all that they can do in Jordan and
partnering with Why Jordan to make it happen.”
Chadwell toured the country with DMC Why Jordan. Photo Credit: 2022 Katy Chadwell
My tour with UTA included three days in the bustling capital of
Amman; a day trip to As-Salt (which was named a UNESCO World Heritage
Site in 2021); the exploration of ancient cities Jerash and Petra; a
tour of Mount Nebo (the alleged burial site of Moses); a stargazing
excursion and overnight in a glamping tent in Wadi Rum; and a float in
the Dead Sea. Sprinkled in between were visits to several community- and
family-led social enterprise initiatives, meals at local restaurants
and hotel site inspections.
“Meeting with travel advisors was something we were seriously
considering until the advent of the pandemic put it on the backburner,”
said Munir Nassar, CEO of UTA, who also invited UTA's group of
travellers to his home for dinner during the Masterclass. “When the
Jordan Tourism Board suggested a Masterclass, UTA was among the first to
A trip sparked by travel advisor booking trends
The Masterclass initiative was organised, in part, to drum up healthy
competition among local DMCs who were aiming to win over travel advisor
business, and also to connect North American advisors with an
on-the-ground partner to help drive direct bookings to the country.
The event itself was the brainchild of Omar Banihani, marketing
director for Visit Jordan, who sent out surveys to two groups of travel
advisors (one group that was already selling Jordan, Northern Africa and
the Middle East, and another group that wasn't). His study revealed two
major insights: First, that more clients wanted to visit Jordan on its
own (as opposed to combining it with another nearby country, such as
Israel or Egypt) and second, that most travel advisors (about 65%) who
already sold the Middle East and North Africa were more likely to work
with an in-country DMC.
The direct-to-DMC booking pattern preferred by the advisors who were
already selling the region served as a jumping-off point for the
“[The survey] sparked some interest with the [Visit Jordan] team,”
Banihani said. “A lot of times, we focus on talking to advisors in North
America, and on partnering with tour operators in North America so we
can do co-op marketing and promotion. I had previously thought that the
funnel went from the travel advisor to the North American tour operator
to the Jordanian DMC. We’d worked that way for years. But we found out
that when [advisors are] selling travel to Jordan, they’re a bit more
I had previously thought that the funnel went from the travel advisor to the North American tour operator to the Jordanian DMC. We’d worked that way for years. But we found out that when [advisors are] selling travel to Jordan, they’re a bit more highly specialised.
Although Visit Jordan organised the trip’s structure and qualified
its advisor participants, Banihani said the event gave the tourism board
a way to step back from the process and let on-the-ground operators
compete for their piece of the pie: Each applied for inclusion in the
programme, and the top five who were accepted then designed their own
itineraries for the participants.
“A few of the DMCs don’t work much with the North American market,
and they saw this as a great opportunity to get started,” he said. “And
two have already been working with the North American market, and this
was an opportunity to work with them even further.”
The benefits of the experience are already apparent for UTA, which
received a request within a week of the Masterclass for small-group
travel to Jordan in April 2023.
Members of UTA's tour group during the closing reception of Visit Jordan's Masterclass. Photo Credit: 2022 Emma Weissmann
A focus on meaningful and responsible travel
During the trip, Jordan’s DMCs also highlighted the country’s
Meaningful Travel Map, which was created in partnership with travel
industry nonprofit Tourism Cares. The map highlights 12 social
enterprises and experiences throughout the country and includes unique
travel opportunities, such as the Jordan Trail, a 40-day long-distance
hiking trail beginning in Um Qais in northern Jordan and winding its way
to Aqaba in the south, visiting 52 villages along the way.
Masterclass DMCs were encouraged to include social enterprise visits
over the course of the week; my tour with UTA included Meaningful Map
stops at Bait Khairat Souf (a restaurant and home that provides
Jordanian women a platform to financially support themselves) and Wild
Jordan, an eco-tourism and crafts center trademarked by The Royal
Society for the Conservation of Nature.
“While Jordan has a plethora of sites and natural attractions that
travellers explore during their holiday, no visit is complete without
getting to know the Jordanians at home — their culture, their
enterprises, their beliefs, their family values and, of course, their
food,” UTA's Nassar said. “We firmly believe that we must do our best to
mitigate as much as possible some of the negative effects that tourism
may have on the environment and culture of the country by involving
local communities in providing services to visitors. Such communities
can then become stakeholders in this industry.”
We firmly believe that we must do our best to mitigate as much as possible some of the negative effects that tourism may have on the environment and culture of the country by involving local communities in providing services to visitors. Such communities can then become stakeholders in this industry.
Partnering with like-minded suppliers
Visit Jordan also sought out thoughtful event sponsors with similar
visions, who see the importance of reaching the US traveller and also of
promoting meaningful travel to the country.
Partners included Royal Jordanian and Dead Sea Marriott Resort &
Spa. Karim Makhlouf, chief commercial officer for Royal Jordanian (RJ),
Jordan’s national air carrier, said the airline partnered with Visit
Jordan for the Masterclass because it aligned with RJ’s company-wide
growth strategy, which includes a heavy focus on the country’s
“As an airline, we’re doing some nonconventional things,” he said.
“Focusing on tourism is not typical for an airline, but I strongly
believe in it, which is why we work very closely with the Jordan Tourism
Board, with the aim of bringing more people into Jordan. This country
is undersold in terms of tourism, and its attractiveness is much bigger
than the actual number [of people visiting]."
This country is undersold in terms of tourism, and its attractiveness is much bigger than the actual number [of people visiting].
And Muhannad Sabri Hameed, general manager of Dead Sea Marriott
Resort & Spa, which hosted the final night’s closing reception,
highlighted the importance of the US market to its overall brand. He
also noted that the hotel (which is solar-powered) recently updated its
sustainability and social-enterprise initiatives, including selling
local Jordanian goods in its gift shops and switching from single-use
plastic water bottles to reusable water bottles as a provided guest
“We look forward to the return of travel advisors; we’ve missed them
the past two years,” he said. “What we like is that [North American
travellers] are easy to deal with, they appreciate the culture, and they
want to know local people. You can see the interest and how meaningful
it is to them. For us … it’s a win-win.”
Source: TravelAge West