Ecotourism in Jordan  has grown tremendously due to environmental pressures and the demand for jobs outside cities, especially since the creation of the Danaen Biosphere 1993, the first biosphere reserve. [1]

The ancient history of ecotourism in Jordan is attributed to His Majesty, the late King Hussein who initiated the creation of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, established in 1966, which protects and manages Jordan’s natural resources. [2]  There are currently ten protected areas abroad. [3]  Jordan was one of the countries that responded to the declaration of the International Year of Ecotourism in 2002.  [4]  Ecotourism practices were taken into account when planning tourist destinations in order to enhance its contribution to local and national economic development. [5] The Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) published an Ecotourism Brochure in April 2004 with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and the Jordan Royal Ecological Diving Society. [6]  [7]  The brochure includes all ecotourism sites in Jordan with a brief description of each site location, what it is, and what has been done to improve and develop the site. [7]  Six nature reserves, including Ajloun Forest Reserve, Dana Biosphere Reserve, Mujib Nature Reserve, Azraq Wetland Reserve, Shaumari Wildlife Reserve and Wadi Rum, in addition to the Dead Sea, Bethany beyond Jordan , and the Gulf of Aqaba stand out. [8]The booklet also provides important and useful guidelines for visitors; the guidelines include:

  1. Respect the culture and traditions of the local community
  2. Buy local products
  3. Use energy conservation practices
  4. Follow the instructions and rules of the reserve
  5. Use water conservation practices
  6. Do not use natural water resources as they may not be clean
  7. Do not walk alone in the dark  [7]

The brochure also encourages tourists to become members of the RSCN, by providing them with a membership form. [9]  A person may become a regular member with several benefits or may “adopt” an animal by paying fees that provide certain benefits such as a “parent” certificate and free entry into the reserve to visit the adopted animal. [ten]

Jordan uses tourism as a conservation tool. By promoting tourism throughout the country, business owners and hoteliers contribute to the preservation of the Jordanian landscape. [11]  The ecotourism program has provided employment opportunities and a market for local products, bringing much needed economic stability to some of Jordan’s poorest rural communities. [12]

In addition to small NGOs and other organizations, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and USAID are largely responsible for increasing ecotourism in Jordan. In 2003, a branch of the RSCN, Wild Jordan, was created to manage socio-economic development and ecotourism activities in all protected areas of the RSCN. [13]  In 2000, USAID began supporting the development of the Jordanian ecotourism industry as a way to create jobs in rural communities. The RSCN and USAID partnership is now 20 years old and both are working together to make ecotourism a success. [14]

Ecotourism has generated huge revenues for the country and rural communities in nature reserves. The RSCN has a 100% local employment policy in all of its protected areas, which has allowed ecotourism to directly support approximately 160,000 families across the country. According to USAID, in the community of Dana, more than 85 jobs were directly created, helping around 800 people. [15] The Feynan Ecolodge in Wadi Feynan directly creates 32 jobs for locals and many more indirect jobs. [16]  Job creation is a concern in Jordan as the unemployment rate is around 12.3 and 15.3%. [17]Through income-generating projects with ecotourism, communities living around nature reserves earned 1.6 million JD in 2012, or about $ 2.3 million. The annual report of RSCN also showed that ecotourism revenues were up 10% in 2012 compared to the previous year, from 831,336 JD to 916,141 JD. [18]  There is enormous potential for this industry, which could generate about 50,000 jobs in a decade through environmental conservation. This would amount to about 1.3 billion dinars, or about 2.1 billion dollars. [19] According to the Secretary-General of the Ministry of the Environment, Ahmad Qatarneh, the destruction of the environment costs Jordan about $ 1.25 billion a year, five percent of GDP and about twice the amount of aid received in 2009. A green economy helps to compensate for reducing degradation. [20]

It is the involvement of local communities in these nature reserves that makes ecotourism a success. Local communities contribute to ecotourism by organizing guided tours and hikes, working in pavilions and restaurants, transporting people and resources, and various other jobs. Manual labor is used more than machines, which reduces the impact on the environment and increases the number of jobs. [21] Community members first relied on hunting and raising for income. Now, with the wide variety of jobs, there is less hunting and a better standard of living. [22] Herding was once sustainable, but with the growth of the population there was too much pressure on the various plants and the grazing area. Hunting reduced biodiversity and endangered animals like the Nubian ibex. Now these animals are used as a tourist attraction rather than food. Communities still graze their herds, but they keep much less and respect no grazing area. [23] In addition, ecotourism also contributes to community recovery. With the help of USAID, the city of Dana, near the Dana Biosphere Reserve, rebuilds 57 historic houses. The purpose of the project is to bring back community members who have left the poor city in search of work. Through ecotourism, poverty is reduced, the environment is protected and heritage is restored. [24]

However, despite the economic benefits, ecotourism is not without controversy. Ecotourism projects, especially at the beginning, are not always as environmentally conscious as possible. For example, in the Wadi Rum Nature Reserve, the sudden increase in tourism has been accompanied by an increase in roads, power lines, hotels and rubbish. Although development has helped improve the Bedouin village of Wadi Rum by providing more reliable water and electricity, decisions about the fate of Wadi Rum have often ignored local views. For example, plans have been made to move the village away and make the existing village a tourist site without consulting the Rum community. [25]Despite the efforts, there are still environmental problems on the reserves. Threats include logging, overgrazing and hunting, but these threats have declined significantly in recent decades.