Travel to Petra to cost more from Israel
Tour operators protest gradual increase in entry fee to famous Jordanian site of up to $80, more than fee charged from tourists entering via Egypt or those who remain in Jordan for at least one night. New price policy puts Eilat tour operators at disadvantage. Tourism Ministry to set up inter-ministerial team to discuss implications
Jordan has decided to gradually raise the entry fee to the Petra site for those entering via the Arava border crossing near Eilat, angering many Israeli tourism elements.
By the last quarter of 2010, the gap will reach some $80. A tourist entering Petra from Israel will pay $130, unless they plan to spend at least one night in Jordan. Meanwhile, a tourist entering from Egypt will continue to pay today's rate of $49.
According to Petra tour operators, this new policy puts Israeli tour agents and the hotels in Eilat at a disadvantage, especially against agents in Sinai, who already have a major chunk of the tourism that in the past used to belong to Eilat.
Travel agents in Israel have announced that if the problem is not solved in the coming days, they will cancel all tours slated to leave to Petra next Friday between 6:30 am and 9:30 am and protest at the crossing.
Kfir Schwartz of the Ahalan Olympus incoming tourism company and member of the incoming tourism board said, "The Jordanians are trying to get tourists sleeping in Israel to sleep in Jordan. Any tourist entering Jordan via the Yitzhak Rabin Arava border crossing pays $60, as of March 1, they will pay $74, and as of October 1, they will pay $130. A tourist coming from Egypt, or coming from Israel but spending at least one night in Jordan, will continue to pay $49."
Samo Samurai, director of the Eilat Municipality's department for regional cooperation, who is makes daily contact with the Jordanians, said the decision to raise prices at the border is part of a new marketing strategy employed by Jordan.
"Using this strategy, they hope to minimize one-day tourism, and increase the number of overnight stays in Jordan," Samurai told Ynet. "The Jordanians say one-day tourism doesn't bring in any money, so they would rather focus on tourists that also sleep in Jordan."
Aerial and maritime entry fees into Jordan will not increase and will remain at their current rate. This decision essentially pulls the rug out from under Eilat's travel agents, who have marketed tour packages from Egypt to a one-day trip to Petra via Eilat. Following the fee increase, such deals become more expensive and less worthwhile for tourists. The ferry, which will remain at the same price, will most likely be favored by tourists as an alternative.
The Eilat tourist agents who are being affected by this recent move made by the Jordanians claim that they brought Petra to the fore of world consciousness throughout the years, investing in a campaign for the city and even promoted it on the internet to be added as one of the Wonders of the World.
The tour operators in Eilat even turned to President Shimon Peres with an urgent request to intervene in the issue for the sake of maintaining good relations with the Jordanian king in hopes that this will result in the revocation of the discriminatory decision and an equitable price policy be instated in its stead.
'No doubt protest will be felt by Jordanians'
Eytana Ben-Shimon, owner of Eilat-based travel agency TourPlan Israel who is leading the travel agents' campaign, claimed that the essence of their struggle does not revolve around increased prices, but around discrimination against Eilat tour operators.
"Raising prices is a policy of the Jordanians and their internal calculation, and we do not have a right to intervene in this," said Ben-Shimon. "We are angered by the discrimination against us, which hurts us directly and puts in a uncompetitive position vis-à-vis tour operators in Sinai."
According to Ben-Shimon, the Foreign Ministry reported that their request regarding the issue will be passed along by the Jordanian ambassador to the relevant officials there. Ben-Shimon also said that the travel agents' request to the president was met with the response that the president is currently very busy and may or may not have time to address the issue this week.
On the future steps to be taken by the travel agents, Ben-Shimon said: "We don't have any intentions of closing off the border. We will have a presence with signs at the terminal. However, we decided that all the tour operators will protest this activity and will not send tours there on Fridays. We have no doubt that this move will be felt by the Jordanians because a majority of the agents in the center of the country acquire these packages via Eilat tour operators."
Eilat Hotels Association Chairman Shabtai Shay also expressed his dissatisfaction with the Jordanian decision, and claimed that it will have a detrimental effect on tourists seeking accommodations in Eilat on their way to Petra.
"We helped the Jordanians out a lot by encouraging tourism to Petra and making it easier. They, for their part, made a move that creates discrimination. It's a shame that this happened," said Shay to Ynet. "We have joined a series of protest activities at the Foreign Ministry, and now are waiting to see results."
The Tourism Ministry reported in response to a Ynet inquiry: "Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov sees a fundamental importance to cooperation between countries in the region in the area of tourism. According to the minister, 'The Holy Land acts as a bridge for peace, prosperity, and brotherhood among the nations. Tourism is a joint interest of all the nations and countries. Joint activities in the past succeeded in promoting tourism – the pope's visit, Christmas events, and more. I am certain that we will continue to collaborate in the future.'
"The tourism minister spoke about the issue with the foreign minister recently, and the two decided that a professional inter-ministerial team will convene soon to discuss the implications of this decision."
Ezra Arbeli, Ahuva Mamos, and Amit Schneider contributed to this report