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Tourism in Jordan suffering due to instability in region: official

Since the Arab Spring erupted in late 2010, the tourism sector in many Arab countries has suffered as a result of fear and uncertainty surrounding the instability around the region, and Jordan's visitors have decreased by 11 percent in the last month, according to the country's tourism and antiquities minister.

Although Jordan had largely avoided the street unrest that has swept across the region over the past two years, a recent government decision to remove fuel subsidies has sparked some discontent, which in turn may have had an influence on the tourism sector.

Tourism is one of the most important sectors in Jordan's economy, accounting for over 7 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Some of its major tourist attractions include historical sites, like Petra, which is a UNESCO World heritage site and one of the New Seven wonders of the world.

Removal of subsidies on fuel prices this past month and the events that took place in some sites around the Kingdom definitely had a negative impact on the tourism sector, but we were able to overcome this due to the short duration of this disturbance, said Nayef Al Fayez, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.

The subsidy cuts announced by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour led to a fuel price increase of up to 53 percent, with a liter of octane petrol to rise from 0.71 dinars (98 U.S. cents) to 0.80 dinars (112 US cents) and raising the cost of household gas from 6.5 dinars (U.S. 9 dollars) to 10 dinars (U.S. 14 dollars) per cylinder, state television said.

Fayez also said the recent war in Gaza had a greater influence on tourism than the protests did.

The greater negative impact (on tourism) was actually caused by the events that took place in Gaza. This led to many cancellations by tour groups. We are still trying to accurately evaluate the negative impact of the events that have taken place in November, however we can say that the number of visitors to the country this past month has decreased by around 11 percent as a result of the events, he said.

Chairman of the Jordan Society of Tourism and Travel Agents, Samir Darbi, said external factors had a more significant influence on tourism than internal factors.

The increase in prices, in itself, had a small influence on tourism as it led to an increased cost of hotels and transportation. However this was not the greatest deterrent for visitors, the situation of countries that surround Jordan had a larger influence.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of overnight visitors had grown in October by 7.8 percent, but due to the events that took place in November, this number dropped to just under 6 percent.

Despite this hiccup in the sector, the minister maintained a sense of optimism and said 2012 was a good year for tourism.

The first 10 months raked in around 2.1 billion Jordanian dinars (U.S. 2.8 billion dollars) in income, Fayez said.

These numbers are similar to the numbers seen for the first 10 months of 2010 before the Arab Spring swept across the region.