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Tourists surge back to the desert marvel of Petra

Tending to his camels in Petra, Jordan’s spectacular archeological marvel hidden deep in a desert canyon, Hussein Bdoul is all smiles: The tourists are back.

After years in which the COVID-19 pandemic turned the storied “Rose City” into a ghost town, the father of seven is back at work, offering visitors rides on his decorated animals.

“Tourism has returned and the numbers are even greater,” said Bdoul, 35, wearing Bedouin garb with a red keffiyeh over his long black hair, reflecting on a resurgence last year.

Photo: AFP

“At the time of the coronavirus pandemic, we did not see anyone in Petra,” Bdoul said, adding that it was a disaster for the town where “90 percent of people work in tourism.”

Jordan tourism authorities said that Petra is back in business and drew 900,000 visitors last year, close to the record of one million set in 2019.

Jordan received 4.6 million visitors last year — almost four times the level from 2020 — earning the country US$5.3 billion.

Top draw Petra, famous for its stunning temples hewn out of the rose-pink cliffs, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a 2007 online poll.

It was built in 312 BC as the capital of the ancient Arab kingdom of the Nabataeans, which fell to the Romans in 106 BC.

“This place and the colors are incredible,” marveled French student Alia, 16, taking a break from exploring with her mother to check out a souvenir stand.

About 1,700 people make a living from Petra as tour guides, trinket sellers or by taking visitors through the site on donkeys, horses, camels or electric buggies.

“We breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the return of tourists,” said Muhammad Samahin, 16, selling drinks while sat on woven rugs inside the Moon Cave near the famed Treasury site.

Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority head Suleiman Farajat said the post-pandemic tourism comeback had exceeded all expectations.

At the height of the pandemic, “there were days when there were no tourists” in Petra, located 230km south of the capital, Amman.

The recovery was helped by official promotional campaigns in new overseas markets, low-cost airline flights and new hotel rooms, Farajat said.

Petra has 4,000 rooms, and permits have been granted for three new five-star hotels, so capacity would soon almost double from 2019, he said.

“If things continue this way, we may reach, during the next three to four years, the threshold of two million tourists in Petra” every year, he added.

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