zaterdag 12 september 2015

Jordan fi-l-qalb!

It’s almost two weeks after we landed on Schiphol and after living a few days in a Jordanian trance I’m totally back in the Dutch culture now. Looking back on an amazing trip, I realise how lucky I was to join this Summer school. I would have never made this trip by myself but I wouldn’t have missed it for all in the world. I want to thank all of the students for making this trip unforgettable and special thanks to Anna and Dorina for organising the summer school and familiarising us with tourism studies. The course gave me an other and more critical view on tourism.  I really enjoyed blogging, what I didn’t expect in the beginning. McCabe argued that the role of narrative is fundamental in construction of tourist experience and that narrative forms are currently underused in analyses of touristic interaction data.1 Tourists have an natural adoption of a narrativistic approach.1 Often tourists’ experiences of places are revealed  to family with a story-telling approach.  Blogging felt to me as story-telling in a different way than I was used to.
For everyone who (maybe after reading this, I hope so) has plans to visit Jordan, I will give at last some practical advises: Jordan is a moderate Muslim country so I can advise you to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees, but as a European blond woman you can’t avoid starring faces from locals with that.  In the touristic sites I never felt unsafe but I think this will be different at the borders, so avoid that. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I felt really welcomed to Jordan so don’t be afraid to ask and talk with locals, they will really appreciate that.  It feels a bit strange that this will be almost the end of my blog. I hope you all enjoyed reading it and if you have more questions or if you want more advise, don’t be afraid to contact me! (
). Jordan has really surprised me and has blown all my mixed feelings away:
1 McCabe, S. Foster, C. (2008) The role and function of narrative in tourist interaction. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 4(3) 194-215

Jordan is in my heart!

My mother was also happy to see me again....

vrijdag 11 september 2015

Watch out: Dutch students crossing on camels!

That morning a small part of the group, including me, woke up very early to enjoy the sunrise. After breakfast, we went on an amazing jeep tour through the desert. We had some stops at Bedouin tents and at the second stop part of the group continued their tour on a camel, a magnificent experience! After finishing our jeep tour, we went to Aqaba for a luxurious lunch and some free time there. With well stuffed stomachs we went back to ACOR for, sadly enough, our last night.  The next morning we took the flight at 12:00 to Amsterdam, where we arrived at 16:00. In the airplane I was sitting next to a lovely Dutch woman with Jordanian roots. That woman represents the Jordanian population to me. She asked me very interested about my trip and told me more about other unknown beauties of Jordan. She gave me (again) that warm, interested and welcoming feeling. Reflecting on Doxey’s model1 I felt really welcomed to Jordan, although it is a really well-developed country. When I asked locals about their opinion about the tourists they would always say: you are welcome here! That warm welcome perhaps also made that I never felt unsafe in Jordan. After a week in Jordan, I can totally agree with the words of the Dutch ambassador:

“You do not see the security but trust me they are everywhere, you are safe here!”
During the five hour flight I had also time to reflect on the socio-culturally framed eye of John Urry.2  This was especially visible on religious sites: where some people enjoyed the Jordan River because its cold and refreshing water, others saw this as a special place and took some water with them. Also, I noticed that at different times, different people were interested in what our tour guide had to say. History students liked listening to stories of Jordans history and medical students liked listening to stories about its healthcare system. While I was reviewing all these kind of memories, we were landing on Schiphol and before I knew it, I saw my sister waiting for me at the arrivals: I’m back! 
1 Williams S. (2009) Chapter 6: socio-cultural relations in tourism (p.134-156). In Tourism Geography A new synthesis. Routledge
2 John Urry (2011) The tourist gaze, Chapter 1. SAGE Publications

Jeep tour through the desert

Roading on camels

Reunited with my sister!

maandag 7 september 2015

An (authentic) Bedouin experience

After a beautiful day in Petra, we left early to be in time to see the sunset in Wadi Rum. We spent the night there at the Hillawi Camp. We had gotten some information about the camp beforehand and based on that I was expecting an authentic Bedouin and also a bit primitive night. At the arrival we were all happily surprised by the facilities of the camp but when I settled with Ginger in our double room I was on the other hand also a bit shocked by all the luxuries in the camp.  Each double room has an own bathroom with shower, electricity was always available and  even wireless internet in the middle of the desert! For me, too much luxuries to experience a authentic Bedouin night.
MacCannell first mentioned this concept and explained that tourist behaviours are widely shaped by an implicit search for authentic experiences as a reaction to the inauthentic and superficial qualities of modern life.1 MacCannell based his theory on work by Goffman who argued that social spaces are divided into front and back areas. MacCannell argued that tourists are searching for the (inaccessible) authentic experiences of the back area but usually confronted with the front area.1  Wang talked about an ‘existential’ authenticity which tourists reconnect with their real selves through engagement with diverse tourism practice.1 This way, a beach holiday, which has nothing to do with authentic experiences according to MacCannell, can be regarded as authentic by tourists. So, in many situations there is no single, authentic experience. Perhaps this explains why the reviews about the Hillawi Camp on the internet range from ‘real bedouin experience’ to ‘not authentic’.
After settling, we climbed up high rocks to see and enjoy the beautiful sunset. That evening we enjoyed dinner prepared by the Bedouins and the dance floor with Arabic and, special for us, Western music....  
Williams S. (2009) Chapter 6: socio-cultural relations in tourism (p.134-156). In Tourism Geography A new synthesis. Routledge 
Hillawi Rose Sand Camp

Beautiful sunset

Enjoying the sunset on a high rock

Visiting one of the seven new world wonders

Today was the day we finally visited Petra. Due to his beautiful rock-cut architecture, the city has been one of the new seven world wonders since 2007. So, one thing is clear: you can’t leave Jordan without visiting Petra.
A long road trough narrow gorges leads us to Petra’s most famous facade: the Treasury. It is almost 40 meters high and intricately decorated, really magnificent to see!! Our tour continues quickly because we try to reach the Monastery. A beautiful route with amazing views everywhere leads us to the start of 800 stairs climb. The largest monument of Petra and an magnificent overview of Petra makes the heavy climb worth. After taking a lot of pictures and enjoying the view I start my way back alone. It gave me a lot of time to take in the beautiful environment and to think. For the first time in Jordan I saw a lot of tourists and the level of involvement of them was terribly high.  Most of the male locals were dressed as if they came directly from the set of a new Pirates of the Caribean movie, women were selling scarves and jewellery everywhere and camels were decorated like Christmas trees. It was funny but also strange to see and I wondered if this is what we want to see as tourists?
 In tourism we call this the demonstration effect: changes of behaviour from locals through tourists. Fisher (2004) locates the origins of the concept in the work of De Kadt (1979) who observed how local patterns of consumption will often adapt to reflect those of the tourist.1 In some cases, the demonstration effect can have positive outcomes but more typically, in my opinion and in this case as well, is it characterised as a disruptive influence because it takes the authentic experience away. 
1 Williams S. (2009) Chapter 6: socio-cultural relations in tourism (p.134-156). In Tourism Geography A new synthesis. Routledge 
The Treasury  or Al Khazna, featured in the Indiana Jones movie

Amazing views

The Monastry or Ad Deir, 47m wide by 48m high

Local (or more a pirate?)

A (decorated) camel

Being a tourist (again)

Today, the Baptism site and the Dead Sea were scheduled on our program. After two tiring days we were all looking forward to a relaxed afternoon by the Dead Sea. During our drive I realized how much we were behaving like tourists during our trip so far: We have our own tour guide, our own bus, and even our own driver who picks us up and drops us at the hostel every day and brings us from site to site. The bus dropped us off in front of the entrance of an enormous resort by the Dead Sea. Like all tourists, naturally we made pictures of us floating in the Dead Sea and covered our bodies with mud.  Afterward we all found a bed at the pool and enjoyed relaxing, swimming and going down the slides. So, a ‘being a tourist’-day again and I really loved it!
During the course we discussed the concept ‘tourist identities’.1 Cohen wrote about this concept and made the distinction between ‘tourists’ and ‘travellers’.  According to him, travelling involves adventure, authentic experiences and discovery. Tourism is, by contrast, characterized by comfort, ease and contrived tourist sites. The definitions raised the feeling that travelling is good and being a tourist is bad. This sounds a bit strange to me because I really enjoyed my tourist experience so far and I definitely do not feel bad about being a tourist.  Cohen argued moreover that tourist experiences can be ‘meaningless’ and based on ‘false consciousness’.1 I read this sentence twice because I could not believe what I read. In my opinion, the 
differences between tourist and traveller in definition may look large and clear but the essence is identical: to me, the goal of travelling is to learn about yourself and about the world, and anyone can do that, even tourists!   
1 McCabe, S. (2005) ‘Who is a tourist?’: a critical review. SAGE PUBLICATIONS
Baptism Site

The Jordan River, where Jezus was baptised

Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea

Covering with mud

Shocking to see how quickly the Dead Sea level receded, the water level was here in 2000

Swimming pool in our resort

US (controlling) aid

We started this day with a visit to the USAID. This American organization helps Jordan with improving their tourism sector. They help for example with renovating historical sites and by opening visitor centres. But why should the USA put money and effort in Jordan, you are probably wondering right now.  The answer according to our speaker was: “we do this because we are American and we are nice”. I couldn’t believe what I heard because that, to me, was not the real reason. The USA wants to have influences in Jordan because it is a westernized country in the Middle East. Jordan’s economy depends on tourism and therefore the USA and other countries, including the Netherlands, put money into Jordan’s tourism industry, they commodify it. I don’t know if this is good for Jordan because the government is now depending on financial support from the outside, but they need their money and help to develop tourism.
Commodification refers to using a place’s culture and sites to make a large enough profit to support part of the area’s economy.  Different views into consideration show that this concept has positive and negative consequences for both tourists and locals. Taylor for example thinks that commodification destroys the local culture and its authenticity, leading to so-called ‘endangered cultures’.1 Cole, on the other hand, argued that it can actually help and empower the locals.2  The issue with commodification and also a lot of other concepts is to find the balance in order to benefit both locals and tourists. USaid tries to do this by a lot of talks with locals.
After our visit to the USAID, we went to Um Ar-Rassas, Madaba and Mount Nebo. Especially in Um Ar-Rassas the visitor centre financed by the USAID felt, to me, as a extra service to tourists and it definitely does not destroy the authenticity. So here they found a good balance!
1 Taylor, JP. (2001) Authenticity and Sincerity in Tourism. Annals of Tourism Research. 28(1), 7-26.
2 Cole, S. (2007) Beyond authenticity and commodification. Annals of Tourism Research 34(4), 943-960.

Building where USaid is located, for safety reasons it looks from outside like a car dealer

Um Ar-Rassas

Arabic barbie for sale in Madaba

Greek orthodox church in Madaba

Mount Nebo, the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land

View from Mount Nebo

Where are the other tourist?

It is our first day in Jordan and although I was really looking forward to this day, I was also a bit nervous. ‘Is it safe in Jordan?’ is the question many asked me and because I had no clear answer, my feelings were a bit mixed. Our day started at the Embassy of the Netherlands and they told us that the Jordanian government undertook a lot of action to ensure the safety in their country and that we were safe here. It gave me a better feeling but I wanted to see and feel it myself. After our visit to the Embassy we had an beautiful city tour in Amman along a Mosque, the theatre and Citadel. After that, we went to Jerash, the best remained Roman city after Rome. Everything was so beautiful and felt so good that I, after this day, could already say to everyone who asked about the safety: I feel very safe here!
But I missed one thing during this first day: other tourists. We were alone at almost every site and although it is not high season I was expecting more tourists. Omar, our tour guide, told us that since the ongoing turmoil in 2010 the tourism industry has decreased with 40 percent each year. This is of course terrible for a country depending on tourism.  Alvarez and colleagues investigated the influence of the media and political issues in the perceptions of Turkey as a tourism destination. Television and the written press were determined as the most significant sources of information, other than word of mouth and experience.1 I think this is also the case in Jordan. Television and also information on the side of the Dutch authorities advise against visiting Jordan and because of that they search for other destinations. Needless or rather necessary? Maybe too early, after only one day, to draw a conclusion on that now, so to be continued!

1 Alvarez, MD. Korzay, M. (2008) Influence of politics and media in the perceptions of Turkey as a tourism destination. Tourism Review 63(2), 38-46

Our group in front of the Dutch Embassy with Maartje Peters

Inside King Abdullah I Mosque

Theatre in Amman with my roommates

Citadel Amman