‘On the world tourism map’: A look inside the Ryanair-Jordan Deal

February 26, 2018

By Grady McGregor

In a potential boon for Jordan’s recovering tourism industry, the budget airline carrier Ryanair recently announced the opening of 14 new flight routes from European cities to airports in Amman and Aqaba.

According to a Ryanair press release, the first route will open this March from Paphos (Cyprus) to Amman. Nine additional routes will then open to Amman in October from airports in Italy, Belgium, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary and Lithuania. Four additional routes from cities in Greece, Germany, Italy and Bulgaria will open in the winter of 2018.

The new flights will bring in an additional 500,000 travellers to Jordan each year and create roughly 340 jobs for Jordanian citizens, Ryanair’s Chief Commercial Officer David O’Brien said at a press conference in early February. “These routes will introduce new business and leisure travellers from eleven European countries to one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world,” O’Brien said.

Lina Annab, Jordan’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said that she believes that the new routes will be a significant development for Jordan’s tourism industry. “Ryanair’s decision to fly to Jordan sends a loud and clear message about the diversity and the untapped potential of Jordan’s tourism product,” Annab said.

Jordan’s Tourism Industry

Tourism is one of Jordan’s largest and most influential industries, accounting for nearly 20% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and making up the country’s second largest private employer, according to the UNDP. The industry peaked in the 2000’s but dipped to a low point in 2011 as instability in the region dissuaded many travellers from coming to Jordan. However, after a difficult few years tourism seems to be once again on the rise. In 2017, Jordan received more tourists than in any year since 2011, and roughly 15% more than in 2016.

Mahmoud Freihat, Area Marketing Manager for the Jordan Tourism Board, said to 7iber that the Ryanair deal is a result of over three years of dealings and negotiations between Jordan and Ryanair.

“Jordan showing its resilience and stability was a key factor in having Ryanair come over,” Freirat said. “The message of Ryanair bringing fourteen routes to Jordan is a huge plus for us in terms of (challenging) preconceptions about Jordan.”

While the exact terms of the deal have not been released, Freihat said that it is “basically a barter agreement” in which Jordan agrees to commit a certain amount of marketing dollars to the flights in exchange for Ryanair opening the flight routes.

Muna Haddad, Managing Director of the sustainable tourism development company Baraka, said that she is optimistic that the Ryanair deal will aid tourism in Jordan but is concerned that a recent proposal to cut funds for the JTB could be “devastating” to the industry.

“You can’t open new markets and not have the budget to market there,” Haddad said to 7iber. “It’s completely counterproductive, you take so many steps forward and the momentum has to continue. This (proposed cut) is very worrisome.”

Freihat said that the proposed recent JTB cuts will not impact the Ryanair deal because the money required for the deal has already been earmarked by the government.

Haddad however believes that the Ryanair deal has the potential to help further diversity a growing and changing industry.  

“This (deal) came together at the right time” Haddad said. “Jordan has finally broken away from the mold and is exploring new realms (of travel).”

Freihat agreed that the Ryanair deal has the potential to help transform and modernize Jordan’s tourism industry.

“Our bread and butter in Jordan has always been pensioners coming into to see Petra,” Freihat said. “This (deal) will open the gates for adventure tourism, wellness tourism, medical tourism, religious tourism, all kinds of things.”

What else is Ryanair bringing?

Ryanair began in the 1980’s as a small Irish airline company covering only a few routes, but has grown into the second largest airline company in Europe today through offering dirt-cheap fares. In order to achieve these fares, the company has long acted as a renegade in the industry, employing extreme cost-cutting measures, putting out controversial advertising campaigns and squeezing the most possible out of their workforce.

No longer just a scrappy budget airline, Ryanair is now increasingly reckoning with what it means to be an industry behemoth and the last few months have been an especially turbulent time for the company.

In September of last year, Ryanair cancelled thousands of flights due to problems with their pilots. Tensions over working conditions between Ryanair and their pilots culminated late last year in a threatened strike over the busy Christmas flying season. The strike concluded in Ryanair management recognizing a pilot union and collective bargaining rights for the first time in the history of the company.

Current negotiations between the airline and the pilots however apparently aren’t going well, and employees from many of the countries that Ryanair operates in are beginning to fight for their own collective bargaining rights with the company.

In an email to 7iber, Ryanair Sales and Marketing executive Lisa-Maria Rumpf denied that labor issues or flight cancellations will be an issue in opening the new flight routes to Jordan later this year.

“Ryanair hasn’t experienced any recent labour disputes,” Rumpf said. “We are currently negotiating union recognition agreements in a number of our larger markets. Ryanair’s new routes from Jordan will operate as planned.”

Freihat said that he is aware of Ryanair’s recent internal issues, but is confident that assurances provided within the deal will ensure that it will go through.

“Even though they’ve had bad press, Ryanair’s standing as Europe’s biggest and favorite airline can’t get overlooked,” Freihat said. “Having Ryanair fly to Jordan will put Jordan on the world tourism map, we are going to become hopefully one of the top (travel) destinations in the world.”