Tourism has an important economic role in Jordan, contributing to about 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Despite its significant economic potential, however, many Jordanians harbor doubts about tourism’s value and reputation. These stigmas are culturally- and gender-based, hinging on unfamiliarity with the sector and historically weak standards for hospitality training. Without domestic support, the tourism workforce has limited potential.
Improving domestic support of tourism in Jordan involves a fundamental shift in attitudes, which isn’t a quick or easy transition to make. The USAID Economic Growth through Sustainable Tourism program focused in part on tackling these challenges, and the current Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism project carries on its core activities. Tailoring approaches for different participants in the tourism “ecosystem” — including industry partners, educational institutions, as well as young Jordanians and their families — has created a holistic approach to countering these cultural and gender-based stigmas.
The first step was for program staff to become more aware of the stigmas’ causes. Interacting with local populations shed light on the stigmas, related to prejudices against vocational training and reservations about young women entering the workforce.
“Tourism is Jordan’s largest industry, and it’s also the largest industry in the world,” explains Ibrahim Osta, chief of party of Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism. “But there’s a general tendency in Jordan for young folks to seek college degrees instead of vocational training, because the latter doesn’t carry with it the same level of social prestige.”
“Another big stigma is with female employment in tourism,” Mr. Osta said. “There was resistance from families because some thought that having girls working in lodging facilities compromised them.”
After identifying these causes, the next step was to tackle the part of the tourism sector where perceptions could be altered: training institutions. This meant strengthening vocational training centers (VTCs). Program staff modernized VTCs in the cities of Salt, Tafileh, Abu Nusseir, Ajloun, and Marka by physically upgrading the facilities and updating the curricula and teacher manuals with industry best practices.