Aqaba builds to­wards a MICE fu­ture

Ramy Salameh's ob­ser­va­tions on de­vel­op­ments in Aqaba af­ter a re­cent visit to Jor­dan...

Travel Daily ME - - News -

Sit­ting in the of­fice of Capt. Mah­moud Abu Sheikha, GM of the Royal Yacht Club of Jor­dan, a pho­to­graph of Aqaba taken in the 1980’s grabbed my at­ten­tion.

It showed a sun-kissed shore­line with al­most no de­vel­op­ment.

This was in stark con­trast to the view I wit­nessed on re­turn­ing from a fish­ing ex­cur­sion; ma­jor ho­tel brands, such as the Kempin­ski, stretched around the coast­line and a few cranes above ma­jor new mul­tiuse de­vel­op­ment ar­eas. Upon the hori­zon, Aqaba’s present and fu­ture as­pi­ra­tions were un­veiled.

These de­vel­op­ments have the in­gre­di­ents for at­tract­ing a new wave of MICE busi­ness; ‘Ayla’ and ‘So­raya’, the duo of multi-bil­lion dol­lar projects are re­defin­ing both the land­scape and fu­ture for Jor­dan’s jewel of the Red Sea.

‘Ayla’ of­fers a strong in­cen­tive port­fo­lio and ‘So­raya’ the con­fer­ence and ex­hi­bi­tion in­fra­struc­ture, re­quired for this sec­tor.

Ms Ghada Na­j­jar – MD of Karma House Jor­dan stated, “Am­man fos­tered Jor­dan’s MICE mar­ket, this has rip­pled out to the ever pop­u­lar ‘Dead Sea’ area, which held the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum – Mid­dle East and N. Africa in May, and Aqaba’s ma­jor in­vest­ments will pro­vide the next step­ping stone for MICE in this coun­try”.

Since its in­cep­tion in 2001, Aqaba Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone Author­ity (ASEZA) has played a key role in se­cur­ing in­ward in­vest­ment and to turn Aqaba into a cos­mopoli­tan busi­ness hub and world class leisure des­ti­na­tion.

‘Ayla’ and ‘So­raya’ will be key fac­tors to achiev­ing this goal and to en­sure a solid foun­da­tion to cre­ate a long term and sus­tain­able MICE in­dus­try. Ms. Salma Red­wan, from the Tourism Prod­uct De­vel­op­ment Di­vi­sion of ASEZA, said “We just re­turned from IMEX Frank­furt, the first such ex­hi­bi­tion ASEZA has par­tic­i­pated in, to en­gage with buy­ers. We are po­si­tion­ing Aqaba as a des­ti­na­tion for MICE, thanks to our new fa­cil­i­ties and the var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able in Aqaba, Wadi Rum and be­yond.

Re­cently, ASEZA signed an MOU with Royal Jor­da­nian Air­lines to align some route ser­vices, such as same day con­nec­tion from Lon­don Heathrow to Aqaba via Am­man, to match the needs of var­i­ous sec­tors in­clud­ing the ever pop­u­lar ‘dive’ mar­ket from the UK and this will be sup­ported by joint mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tives ”. ‘Ayla’ is the larger of the two ma­jor projects and is nearby ‘So­raya’; com­bined, they will con­trib­ute to­wards dou­bling the num­ber of ho­tel rooms in the city.

A ded­i­cated con­ven­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­tre ‘Al Mul­taqa’ is one of the cen­tre-pieces of So­raya and will be sup­ported by four 5-Star prop­er­ties; it will be op­er­ated by the Jumeirah brand and Star­wood brand.

‘Ayla’ oc­cu­pies an area of over 4m sq. me­tres, cre­at­ing five ma­jor dis­tricts, The Ma­rina, Creek, La­goons, Golf Hills and Av­enue, and is head­ing for com­ple­tion in 2018. ‘Ayla’ will be home to the Hy­att Re­gency Ho­tel and Souk Ho­tel, the for­mer sched­uled for a soft open­ing early in 2018. As with ‘So­raya’, the de­vel­op­ment in­cor­po­rates real es­tate, re­tail out­lets and tourism fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing Jor­dan’s first 18-hole cham­pi­onship golf course, de­signed by golfer Greg Nor­man.

Golf is a key part of Ayla’s tourism strat­egy, nour­ished through sea­wa­ter de­sali­na­tion and so­lar power and is al­ready open for busi­ness. The ‘La­goons’ part of the project sits at 3 and 6 meters above sea level and are fed di­rectly from the Red Sea. These world-class fa­cil­i­ties are al­ready at­tract­ing sports events with the ‘2017 Asian ASTC Sprint Triathlon Asian Cup and West Asian Cham­pi­onships’ and many in­ter­na­tional events cen­tred on the in­cred­i­ble Golf fa­cil­ity.

Aqaba’s Ma­rine Sci­ence Sta­tion & Aquar­ium, Bird Ob­ser­va­tory, Wadi Rum pro­tected area, UNESCO world her­itage site of Pe­tra, na­ture re­serves and bio­spheres are all on the port city’s doorstep.

Each sup­ports the study, preser­va­tion and sus­tain­abil­ity of these unique nat­u­ral and his­tor­i­cal en­vi­ron­ments. Com­bined they pro­vide knowl­edge clus­ters that will also have po­ten­tial to at­tract new MICE busi­ness.

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