Covid effects

The economic effects of the pandemic on small scale sustainable tourism projects in southern Jordan. Is there a possible silver lining for the Dana Cooperative?

Dana and Qadisiyah are mountain villages in rural southern Jordan. While their location is stunning, the area falls within one of Jordan’s ‘poverty pockets’. Unemployment is high, and in recent years, the dependence on income generated from sustainable tourism has increased.

A ‘poverty pocket’ represents a rural district or sub-district in which more than 25% of the population is below the absolute poverty line.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Jordan

Like many other rural communities worldwide, the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has struck a devastating blow to all in the Dana and Qadisiyah community.

Spring and autumn are peak times to visit the Dana Nature Reserve, but restrictions on international travel brought an abrupt halt to visitors in the early spring of 2020. Thankfully, with the development of Covid testing and vaccination programmes, some travel restrictions are easing and international visitors are beginning to arrive in Jordan. The Jordanian tourism industry is adapting. It is beginning to welcome much needed and much missed international visitors, and generated income.

The Jordan Tourism Board’s “Breathe” campaign (launched in June 2021), promotes Jordan as an attractive tourism destination adhering to Covid-19 health and safety measures. It also promotes families and outdoor activities; a bonus for local tourism operators in the Dana area who are, quite literally, sitting on Jordan’s largest and most well known nature reserve.

It will take time for the industry and tourists to regain confidence, and to adapt to the new Covid-19 travel world. Sadly there will be tour operators, hotels, camps and related tourism services that will never re-open.

In relation to Dana and Qadisiyah, local people working in the tourism sector are experiencing severe financial hardship. There is no government support for small businesses or freelance individuals in Jordan.

The Dana Cooperative’s main income comes from its tourism projects. Not only are the Cooperative’s hospitality staff and guides experiencing severe financial hardship, but also the beneficiaries of the Cooperative i.e. the families who are members of the Cooperative (approximately 100 local families).

Keep in mind too, that the area is in one of Jordan’s ‘poverty pockets’. Few families would have been able to build savings in the pre-Covid years. Families are large with many dependents, so it is likely that even the fortunate few who had savings in the spring of 2020, are now also experiencing financial hardship.

This hardship is further compounded by the effects of climate change. Dry winters and springs have brought a drought which has impacted on the livelihoods of the farmers, shepherds and other pastoralists in the area.

Until now, the Dana tourism market has concentrated on international visitors. Tourism from within Jordan (Jordanian nationals) is low in Dana. If Jordanians do visit Dana, it is likely to be a short sightseeing trip, rather than staying in the area and hiking.

Tourist accommodation and services in Dana are provided by:

  • The Dana Cooperative
  • Local families who are not part of the Dana Cooperative
  • The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN)

The internal market is untapped by the Dana Cooperative and the other local families. The aforementioned financial difficulties, and lack of support for small businesses and freelancers, make it particularly challenging for the locally owned and operated tourism businesses to adapt to meet the needs, interests and expectations of the internal market.

The RSCN has establishments in the Dana area, and these tap into the internal market, to an extent. The RSCN is the official manager of the Dana Nature Reserve (and Jordan’s other reserves). It is a large organisation, based in Amman. Some local people from the Dana area are employed by the RSCN.

In difficult times, my grandmother used to tell me that every cloud has a silver lining. While we can agree that the Covid-19 pandemic is an extremely large and very dark storm cloud, the silver lining for employees and beneficiaries of the Dana Cooperative is perhaps that the Cooperative now has the opportunity and urgency to develop its sustainable tourism services to better suit the internal market. How it would achieve this is to be seen.

The Cooperative has reviewed and consolidated its establishments and staff, and openly acknowledges the challenges ahead. In the spring of this year, it had a soft opening for its newest sustainable tourism venture, the Wadi Dana Lodge in Dana village.

It is ready to grow when the seeds planted receive rain!

Find out more about the people of Dana and Qadisiyah (the ‘new’ village) here

Wadi Dana Lodge is a complex of stone houses and courtyards

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