Community-Based Tourism is Reviving Rural Villages in Jordan and Creating Opportunities for Local Businesses

 

USAID LENS supports the development of products, services and experiences in local communities to encourage experiential tourism and boost local economies

 

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Photo credit: Baraka Destinations 

 

For many travelers around the world, the wanderers and the rolling stones, staying in resorts and visiting tourist attractions is just not quite enough to satisfy their travel needs. They look for experiences in foreign countries that allow them to soak up the unique vibes of local life and cultures. This passion has a name: “experiential tourism”, and it has become a rising trend not just in Jordan, but on a global level. Experiential tourism gives travelers a chance to connect with a country’s culture, history and people by immersing themselves in experiences where they meet locals, spend time with them and get to know their way of life.

 

Experiential tourism is particularly beneficial for a country like Jordan as it helps micro and small business owners located in local communities to benefit from tourism dollars, and provides them and their families with an additional source of income.

 

Muna Haddad, founder of Baraka Destinations, a Amman-based consulting firm specialized in sustainable tourism, realized that there is a need for Jordan to adopt this new trend due to its deep historical roots, rich culture and its people who are known worldwide for their warmth and hospitality. She also found a gap in supporting local communities because they were unaware of how to harness the rich cultural experiences they can provide to tourists, and make an income from it.

 

 

Through thorough consultation with the local community and comprehensive coaching, Baraka Destinations identified several tourism activities that locals can run as small businesses. However, most of these locals had little to no experience in running businesses, and needed training and resources to be able to carry out their activities as required. That is when Muna sought a grant from the USAID Jordan Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS). The grant supported Baraka Destinations to generate community-based tourism in Um Qais, a charming village in the North of Jordan that is also home to well-preserved Roman ruins.

 

Photo credit: Baraka Destinations 

“I did some work in this village years ago and fell in love with it. I came back to set up tourism businesses with the locals so we could share this amazing place with visitors” says Muna.

 

Muna also set up a bed & breakfast called Beit Al Baraka (House of Blessings) in 2017. What was once a simple house in a small village became a warm, welcoming home for travelers in the heart of Um Qais. The B&B not only serves as a destination that lets visitors experience the authentic Jordanian village life, but also gives locals an opportunity to generate income using skills that they already possess but are often neglected and non-monetized.

Since launching, Baraka Destinations – Um Qais supported the establishment of six tourism businesses, creating 38 direct and indirect jobs. It is now considered a hub for the tourism services and activities offered in the surrounding community.

The activities offered by Beit Al Baraka were all developed hand in hand with the local community. Camping, hiking, biking, foraging, beekeeping, basket weaving and home-cooked meals by locals are all activities that are run by locals as micro and small enterprises (MSEs).

 

Photo credit: Baraka Destinations 

 

Traditionally, tourists would only spend two hours in Um Qais visiting the archeological site which it is known for. However, since launching in March, over 700 tourists have visited Baraka Destinations- Um Qais spending up to three days in the village making connections with the local community. Since the soft opening in March 2017, the businesses have seen increased revenues ranging from 600 JOD - 4,500 JOD (US$ 847 – 6,356) over the course of six months.

 

 

Photo credit: Baraka Destinations 

 

Yousef Al-Sayeh’s passion for beekeeping started 10 years ago. His salary at the time was barely enough to make ends meet, so he sought financial support from his family, and purchased his very first set of beehives. “I managed to maintain and grow the two beehives I bought over the years, but it was always a side business. I joined the Air Force and worked there for a while, but after retiring, I realized that beekeeping is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life” said Yousef.

Baraka worked on developing his English language skills so that he can better communicate with visitors who participate in his beekeeping experience. With USAID support through Baraka Destinations, Yousef now is able to offer a full beekeeping experience that visitors can enjoy, from learning about the history and different types of bees in Jordan, to putting on the full gear and experiencing beekeeping firsthand. Baraka also coached him on how best to package the different types of organic honey he makes to be able to sell them as part of his experience.

 

 

 

Alia Kenani is a well-known basket weaver in her community whose basket weaving business is one of the tourism businesses that was developed by Baraka Destinations. As an older woman who weaves for a living in a small traditional village, life can get a little tough. There are very little opportunities for showcasing her products, which limits her income as a result. However, now that she has been working as a weaving instructor at Beit Al Baraka for over a year where she started giving classes to locals and foreigners alike regularly, she has been able to increase her revenue and customer base. Other than the opportunity to work and generate income, Alia received English language and capacity building training to be able to interact with her students seamlessly.

 

 

Through USAID LENS, Baraka Destinations is working with a few other locals from the village to develop businesses that can create sustainability and growth, and to help them generate more revenue. For example, Galsoum Sayeh provides home-cooked meals at her home for tourists who visit Beit Al Baraka. With Baraka's support, she became an MSE owner with a sustainable source of income, and she is only getting started. Another MSE owner which Baraka works with is Ahmad Al-Omari who leads people on hiking trips around the area. His revenue also saw a great increase, so did his customer base, and his hikes are quickly gaining popularity due to his professionalism and incredible knowledge of mountains and nature.

 

Photo credit: Baraka Destinations 

 

The Baraka model is a great example of how micro and small businesses can be effectively integrated into the Jordanian tourism industry and generate income for local, remote communities. Tourists who travel for “off-the-beaten-path” experiences will also be able to enjoy more authentic, local experiences in Jordan, thereby benefitting the tourism sector and the economy as a whole.

 

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