Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Chapter 1 The Jordan Rift Valley
3. Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
    Future development of the tourism sector in the JRV will be facilitated by coordination and cooperation at various levels – including in the environmental assessment and mitigation of potential adverse impacts of the expected increase in tourist numbers.

3.1. Tourism Cooperation Project for the Northern Jordan Valley

The area south of the Sea of Galilee and in the north of the JRV has considerable tourism potential and offers numerous historical, scenic and religious attractions. Tourism facilitites on both sides of the border are currently relatively undeveloped. The ability to access thematically related sites in both Jordan and Israel opens opportunities for developing the tourism potential of the region.

The objective of this project is to maximize benefits to the tourism industry in both countries while maintaining the regions archeological and environmental integrity. A prefeasibility study conducted on the projects estimates that, given the number and diversity of attractions in the region, touris stays to the region can be lengthened to an average of 2-3 nights.

Project components include joint promotion, development of visitor centers and renovation of some achaeological sites. Private sector participation in the project involves development of hotels and resorts in the area.

a. General

Development of tourism in the northern Jordan Valley focuses on exploiting the thematic continuity of sites on both sides of the Jordan River. The major sites of historical interest are remnants of the Roman Decapolis cities of Beit Shean, Pella and Umm Qais.

Beit She’an – Located in Israel, Beit Shean houses ruins of the Graeco-Roman city, Skytopolis, including a hippodrome and amphitheater. It is located near the border crossing at a crossroads between Jerusalem and Tiberias. Approximately 300,000 visitors visit the site annually. Most tourists to the region are day visitors on route to other tourism centers.

Plans for tourism development of the region view the uncovered city of Skytopolis as a focal attraction for the region, particularly in light of the opportunities for cross-border tourism. Future plans include development of the excavation area and rehabilitation of the mineral baths. A commercial center is planned for the area east of the excavation site. Water attractions will be developed at Nahal Harod, once water quality is restored. Attractions along the border with Jordan will also be developed.

There are currently no hotels in the area. Town authorities plan to accelerate tourism development by extending archaeological excavations (only 10% has been excavated to date), improving the visitor center and museum and building a Roman-style spa, a tourist class hotel and a youth hostel. In total, 1,000 hotel and vacation village rooms are planned for the Beit Shean Valley region by the year 2010.

Pella – Pella is thought to have been inhabited for over 6,000 years. It straddled numerous important trade routes linking Europe and the Near East with Central Asia, China and Mongolia. The site houses remnants from prehistoric, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, including two Hellenistic castles, a Roman Odean and Byzantine churches. The site is popular with Jordanians for picnicing and is increasingly being visited by foreign tourists.

Plans for the construction of hotels in the area are in preliminary stages of development and will probably follow the opening of the hotel planned for Umm Qais. Two standards of accomodation are envisioned: basic accommodations based on camping in Bedouin tents and mud houses, and an up-scale development which will be centered around a near-by spa.

Approximately 5% of Pella is currently excavated. It is believed that when uncovered, Pella may prove to be the single richest archaeological site in Jordan. There are currently no accommodation facilities in the vicinity.

Umm Qais – contains ruins from the ancient city of Gadara, close to the border with Syria and Israel. It is considered the third most popular archaeological site in Jordan, attracting around 200,000 (primarily Jordanian) visitors. The Decapolis city of Gadara is under excavation has many antiquities, most in good condition, including a theater, a row of Toman shops and one of the citys main gates. Most of the city, however remains under ground.

The adjacent town of Umm Qais is relatively large, but has few tourist facilities. There is currently a rest house and a museum. Plans are underway to develop a high standard hotel development of 60-70 rooms, based on the renovation of old buildings.

b. Other Tourism Attractions

The Huga Gardens – Located on the way from the Sea of Galilee to Beit She’an, this park will ultimately cover 125 ha. At present the first stage of the park has been completed which includes swimming and fishing pools, lawns, restaurant, petting corner and a stage for holding cultural events. Upon completion, the park will offer a safari park

Gan Hashlosha (the Sachne National park) – A large water park near Beit Shean which attracted approximately 600,000 tourists in 1994.

Kochav Hayarden (Belvoir) – A well-preserved Crusader fortress overlooking the Jordan Valley. This site has been fully excavated.

North Shuna and Al Himmeh – Both these sites are located in Jordan and house geothermal springs which have been developed for domestic tourism. Plans to upgrade existing facilities and building new facilities to handle foreign tourist traffic are being develoed. North Shuna also has considerable archaeological attractions from the Bronze Age as well as Graeco-Roman period.

c. Outlying Attractions

Jerash – this site was one of the Roman Decapolis cities. Its buildings and streets are unusually well preserved and give visitors a real sense and feel of territorial urban life 2000 years ago.

The Sea of Galilee– a large inland sea, which is a major tourism and recreational site. It includes attractions of historical, religious, and ecological interest. Lodging is available in Tiberias and at various kibbutzim and moshavim around the lake.

Ajloun – A fortress dating to the Crusader period, it is an example of Arab military architechture. the view of the Jordan Rift Valley from the top of the fortress is particularly spectacular.

Deir Alla – Alleged to be the site where Esau was reunited with Jacob, Deir Alla housed a religious community dating back to 1600 BC. There are ruins of a temple and shrine as well as ancient artifacts and remnants from early Christian periods.

Abila is another one of the Decapolis cities, lying northeast of Umm Qais, containing Roman temples, Byzantine churches and early mosques. The city remains largely unexcavated is not targeted for immediate development.

Hammat Gader – in Israel, on the border between Jordan and Syria, this site houses natural hot springs, an alligator farm and ruins of a Roman bath.

Umm et Jimal lies to the east of the immediate development area. It houses a number of remnants of ancient civilizations, such as black basalt stone houses, churches a Roman barrack and fort complex. The site has not been developed for tourism.

Ain Ghazal is neolithic site located in north Jordan.

d. Project Description

The project as envisioned in the JRV Master Plan involves the development of joint promotional campaigns, establishment of visitor centers at Pella, Umm Qais, Abila and Beit Shean, and investment in tourism infrastructure and new attractions.

The focus of the project is placed on the compatibility of Israeli and Jordanian interests. The establishment of a Joint Promotional Working Group will serve as a conduit for collaboration in the region. The projected increase in tourism traffic will help stimulate local economies on both sides of the border.

The site rennovation and development component of the project focus primarily on developing Pella and Umm Qais as viable tourism products. This involves excavating the sites and improving overall physical and informational standards.

It is estimated that the development of hotel rooms by the private sector will be as follows:













Project costs identified for the various components of this project are summarized in the table below:






million U.S. dollars

Public Sector:


Tourism Infrastructure:


Promotion Boards




Site/Visitor Facilities




Site Development




Public Sector Total




Private Sector:














Private Sector Total




Total Private/Public




It is projected that this plan will increase the number of visitors to the region by 200,000 day visitors and 165,000 overnight stays in Jordan and 565,000 day and 510,000 longer stays by the year 2020.

3.2. Cross-border Desert Tourism in the Wadi Araba/Arava

Tourism could be developed around specific tour routes, activities and unique vacation themes, similar to the wine route in Europe. Open borders will facilitate the development of a continuous series of scenery, animal and plant life, where the tourist may begin his vacation in one country and end up in another, or sleep over in one country and visit sites in the others without restrictions.

Petra is the major attraction in the Arava/ Wadi Araba region. However, one could add the natural and archaeological attractions extending from Hadeetha to the Gulf of Aqaba. Sites such as Dhira, Lots Cave, Wadi Hasa, Wadi Feifa, Wadi Khneizeera, Wadi Tlah and their irrigation systems, the copper mines, the Nabatean outposts in Wadi Araba, are all tourist attractions. The Jordanian government proposes upgrading tourist accommodations in the Petra tourist area including 1000 hotel rooms, restaurants and other facilities.

a. The Spice Route

The Spice Route was a Nabatean trade route that led from India, Somalia and Arabia to the coasts of the Mediterranean via the Wadi Rum, Negev and Sinai deserts. It stretched 1,600 kilometers, passing through Petra and crossing the Arava Valley to Nahal Nekorot and the Nabatean city of Avdat. In the first century, thousands of camels laden with perfumes and spices made their way along this road. To protect and service them, the Nabateans built fortresses, guard posts and caravansaries. The remains of some of these structures can still be seen.

Thematic development of Spice Route comprises the establishment of tourism routes and includes construction of desert inns, hospitality tents, overnight camping grounds and toilets, relaxation and health facilities such as thermal water wells and spas. A park and desert tourism center at Sapir is in advanced stages of planning

Development will emphasize the environmental sustainability. It will be possible to develop excavation recreation sites around the ruins of ancient Nabatean cities and fortresses under the guidance of archaeologists and experts which include tourists in excavation activities. Alongside the sites it will be possible to set up lodging facilities and restaurants which recreate the ambiance of the region’s history. Centers featuring Bedouin culture and life styles can be incorporated into the tourist development of this area.

 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism

The Petra-Gaza Spice Road

When the Nabateans settled in the Negev in the fourth century BCE, they took over the transport of spices and incense from Somalia, India, and the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean shore. The spice trade was the basis of the Nabateans’ legendary wealth, and in order to defend it from the encroachment of the Seleucids, Hamoneans, or Romans, they were ready to go to war time and again. The main Nabatean route crossing the Negev is the Petra-Avdat-Gaza road. The Nabateans apparently began using this route as early as the third or fourth century BCE. The paving of the road, its installations, and the milestones posted along the way show a distinct Roman influence. Since contacts between the Nabateans and the Romans intensified in the time of Pompey, the road was probably paved in or after the first century BCE. The milestones were probably erected during the reign of Augustus, when this practice became prevalent in the Roman Empire. They were apparently installed during the reign of the Nabatean king Obodas III (30-9 BCE), and his successor, Aretas IV (9 BCE-40 CE).
After Aretas’ death, the Nabateans’ fortunes in the Negev declined and, apart from a brief renaissance during the reign of the last Nabatean king, Rabel II (71-106 CE), traffic on the Petra-Gaza road dwindled. After the Nabatean kingdom was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 106 CE, the trade routes across the Negev shifted and the Petra-Gaza route was abandoned as one of the major international trade routes.

 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
Negev Touring Map
  b. Desert Tourism Center in the Wadi Araba at Gharandal

This project is outlined in the JRV Master Plan. While it concentrates on development of a desert tourism center in Jordan, this center will facilitate cross-desert tourism activities in the Wadi Araba/Arava region in the future. The project proposes the establishment of a desert tourism center in Gharandal. The objective of this development is to encourage overnight visitation to the Wadi Araba (Petra) and Aqaba and improve hotel occupancy rates in these area.s.

Gharandal was inhabited in antiquity because of its springs, east of the mouth of Wadi Gharandal. There are sand dunes and a number of archeological remains in the area, most of which have yet to be excavated. The village houses the ruins of a large Nabatean/Roman caravanseri. Approximatley 20 kilometers south of Gharandal is Rahma, which has a small Nabatean fort and copper smelting site. Risha is located 10 kilometers north of Gharandal and includes remains of a Roman fort. Al Humeima is about 20 kilometers southeast of Gharandal. This is potentially a major arcaeological site which has recently been excavated with remains from the Nabataean, Roman and Islamic periods, including: an aqueduct, Roman fort and five churches. Other sites lying farther afield can also be considered destinations for desert touring in the Gharandal region, including Bir Mathkoor, Khirbet Tiyibeh, and Wadi Fidan.

The proposed Center would serve as a headquarters for desert activities It would handle approximately 100 visitors daily and 30 overnight tourists. The type of activities to be operated from the proposed Center include camel tours, jeep tours, hiking, Bedouin feasts and natural history tours. These activities are similar to those currently running out of Israel and in the future a twin-centered desert toruism region, involving participation of both the Jordanian and Israeli private sectors could be established. Development of this center would help increase tourism stays in the Petra region and would contribute continuity of tourism developement between the main hubs of the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

A prefeasibilty study for this project has been drafted. It is assumed that the Center will achieve 50% capacity within the first year of operation, gradually reaching full capacity (30,000 visitors, of which 6,000 overnight) by year four. 90% of these visitors will stay overnight in either Petra, Aqaba or at the Center.

The project will involve the construction of a small building serving as a visitor center, restaurant, hostel and central office. Estimated investment comes to $8 million for the building, infrastrcture and landscaping, furniture and equipment. It is estimated that the center will be operated by a staff of approximately 40 people and that annual operation and maintenance costs will come to $250 thousand. Construction of the center will take approximately one year.

3.3. Development of Tourism Infrastructure at the Dead Sea

A large portion of tourism to the western side of the Dead Sea comes from Europe (90%). Medical tourism to the Dead Sea, primarily of psoriasis patients, constitutes approximately 15-20% of the total number of tourists visiting the Dead Sea. The average stay duration of these tourists is longer (an average of about 24 days) than that of those who come to the region for leisure and sightseeing.

Overall development both of tourist attractions and of accommodation sites, depends to a great extent on the fluctuating water level of the Dead Sea, which directly affects the water line. The level of the northern basin drops by an average of 0.9 m every year, while rising by an average of 20 cm in the southern basin. As a result, new shore areas become exposed, the sea moves further away from the users and the natural balance which has existed over the years changes. One of the objectives of the proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal is long-term stabilization of the level of the Dead Sea.

a. Dead Sea Health Perspective

Apart from the relaxation and recreation facilities afforded by the Dead Sea, the region’s unique climatic and natural resources render it an important location for treatment of various conditions. Factors at the Dead Sea relevant to therapy include: the sun’s ultraviolet rays; arid climate, high temperatures and low rainfall; high barometric pressure; pollen-free and bromine-rich atmosphere; mineral-rich saline waters and mud.

Dead Sea therapy, based on exposure to the sun, bathing in the waters of the Dead Sea and the application of ointments and emollients has proven itself to be of value in treating a number of diseases skin, arthritic and respiratory conditions.

The beneficial effects of the Dead Sea’s raw materials on the skin have been acknowledged since ancient times, and today some 50 modern plants manufacture cosmetics, skin-care products and bath salts based on the nutrients extracted from the Dead Sea. Scientists at these plants have dlines of mineral-rich products which are exported all over the world.

b. Recreation at the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the ideal place to relax and unwind, and a unique combination of facilities are available for those with specific complaints or for those suffering from hypertension, or stress:

  • Bathing in thermomineral baths
  • Floating in the Dead Sea or in heated Dead Sea water pools
  • Walking
  • Physical exercise
  • Supervised sunbathing
  • Pelotherapy – mineral mud treamtents
  • Massage, jacuzzi and sauna
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
Sweimeh Development Area
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
Dead Sea Development Zones



 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
Ein Gedi Tourism Development Area



 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
 Jordan Rift Valley- Tourism
Ein Boqeq Hotel Development Area

c. Tourism Development on the Eastern Shore

In December 1994 The Jordan Valley Authority adopted the Dead Sea Tourism Project Master Plan. The plan identifies three major development sectors in the eastern Dead Sea region: Suweimeh to the north; Zara in the center; and Al-Mazara in the south. An additional site will be the Citadel zone which is located between the Zara and Al-Mazara sectors.

The Master Plan for the east coast of the Dead Sea provides for the development of a total of 24,900 bed units: 12,000 for Suweimeh, 12,000 for Zara and 900 for the el Mazara Area. The Suweimeh site plan for tourist facilities include the development of motels and hotels of various standard, roads, water and wastewater systems, power and telecommunication services, recreation and park areas and campsites, restaurants, sport activities, and a health center.

Infrastructure improvements at Suweihmeh and Zara, including construction of roads, water and wastewater systems, electricity and telecommunications is required to leverage private sector investment in tourism. It is estimated that a total of $27 million will be required to complete these projects. Projected required investment for the construction of hotels and camp to meet long-term development targets at Suwehmeh and Zara comes to $350 million. Short term investment is estimated at 30% of this sum.

d. Tourism Development on the Western Shore

Developed tourist attractions on the Western side of the Dead Sea include:

  • "Attractions" Water Park;
  • Benyamin Beach;
  • Nahal Dargot rock climbing and desert tourism center;
  • Qumran – national park and archeological site where ruins of an ancient settlement and the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered;
  • "Ahava" cosmetics factory;
  • Ein Gedi resort and nature reserve;.
  • Ein Gedi and Mizpe Shalem spas and thermal baths;
  • Massada – national park run by the National Parks Authority. The archeological site includes Herods fortress and the last stronghold of the Zealots during the Great Revolt. The eastern entrance to the site cannot accommodate the large number of visitors, resulting in long lines. In 1993 the site was toured by 650,000 visitors, and estimates for 1997 stand at 900,000 and for 2005 – 1.3 million visitors.
  • Ein Boqeq- Hamei Zohar – the main lodging site on the western side of the Dead Sea. Tourism infrastructure includes hotels and spa resorts, restaurants and a promenade along the beach.

Strategic planning for tourism development on the western shore of the Dead Sea emphasizes the need to retain the biblical character of the Dead Sea environment. Integration between resort, desert and cultural tourism is stressed as a central goal of tourism development. Landmarks such as the Sedom Mountain Range and the "flour caves", and the Dead Sea works will be made more accessible and attractive to tourist groups.

Hotel capacity at Ein Bokek, Hamei Zohar and Ein Gedi will be increased from 2,200 (1995 figures) to 11,500 rooms by the year 2010 . The Ein Gedi region is earmarked as a major development area. Lodging for this area is planned to be based on vacation villages characterized by low buildings which blend into the desert environment. A small town to serve vacationers is proposed which will be used as a springboard for desert and health tourism activities on both sides of the Sea.

Hotel construction is currently at various stages of preparation by private sector developers, including major international hotel chains. The estimated scale of investment in these projects comes to $100 million.

e. Possibilties for Joint Ventures in Developing Tourism Infrastructure

Within the framework of tourism development at the Dead Sea, Israel and Jordan, with the assistance of the United States is currently exploring opportunities to develop a bi-national park which will encompass sites along the eastern and western shores of the Dead Sea (See the Lowest Park on Earth project).

Other examples of possible joint ventures at the Dead Sea include:

  • a spa and health center;
  • a toxicological center to provide services to the chemical industry in the area;
  • an exhibition and commercial center highlighting products from the area such as locally produced beauty and cosmetic products, herbs and related health products, organic fruits and vegetables, aquaculture products and other local handicrafts.

The potential for joint Israeli- Jordanian ventures at the southern end of the Dead Sea is considerable, particularly if border crossing facilities are developed in this region. This region, being located within the vicinity of accommodation, important historical and industrial sites could focus on, desert adventure trips, cultural heritage, Bedouin culture, and bird watching. Other themes can include the potash works at Safi and Sedom as well as demonstration of desert agriculture.

3.4. Joint School for Tourism at the Dead Sea

The proposed project is part of the JRV Master Plan. It would establish a school for hotel management at the Dead Sea as a joint venture between Israel, Jordan and a foreign participant. The School would help address the needs of major hotel and tourism facilities being developed on both sides of the Dead Sea. Programs will include courses for formal certification, short training course, hands-on traiing in hotel/restaurant managemnt.The proposed location for the site is Suweihmeh in Jordan.

The project will be implemented in phases, focusing first on training programs to fulfill the immediate requirements of the hotel industry:

Short Training Programs for Service Staff: training for waiters, chamber maids, bar attendents, doormen, etc.; programs for security personnel, receptionists, guest relations and business center staff; training for sports, enterntainment and recreation staff; programs for hotel-based tour organizers, transport services and public relations personnel.

Courses for Services Management: These courses would be longer in duration and will include training for food and beverage service management, concierge services, guest floor managers, reception staff and guest relations management, reservations and hotel administration, entertainment and recreation and program management, etc.

Diploma in Hotel Management Programs: This program will be open to high-school graduates and will be one-year courses leading to certification in general hotel managment, hotel related accounting and financial managment, catering and food services, recreation and sports, marketing and public relations. The diversity and scope of degree programs will increase as the School is developed.

Training and Development for Wider Tourism Activities: Other courses that could be offered at the School include: courses for tour guides; technical writing courses for tourism related promtoional materials and promotional campaigns; programs for suppliers of goods and services to the tourism industry.

Induction Courses for Technical Personnel: These would be short courses to familiarize outside technical personnel, such as service and maintenance engineers, health experts, doctors, nutritionists, etc. with special requirements of the tourism industry.

To complement formal education, the School will develop hands-on training programs with the cooperation of the hotels and spa resorts in the Dead Sea region.

A pre-feasibility study has been drafted. The primary cost components include: construction of class rooms, industrial kitchens and infrastructure for the school; construction of a 150 room dormitory for approximately 200 students; acquisition of furniture, equipment and instruction materials. Total estimated costs come to $20.75 millidollars, with an annual operations and maintenance costs estimated at $775,000.

Summary of Capital and Operating Costs (US$ million)

Type of Facilities

Capital Investment

Annual O&M