(MENAFN - Jordan Times) This week, the British airline easyJet named one of their aircraft "Petra 200", commemorating the time 200 years ago when the first Western tourist, Burckhart, visited Petra. easyJet gave very few of its 204 planes names, so this was a rare event.
It was also an event of great significance. easyJet is the biggest airline in the UK, one of the top four in Europe and carried over 55 million passengers last year. Its airliners operate out of 11 bases in the UK and 12 in Europe, and the company was voted the best low-cost carrier in Europe. So its commitment to a partnership with Jordan is a vote of confidence in Jordanian tourism.
Tourism has been a mainstay of the Jordanian economy in recent years, contributing 13 per cent of GDP. But as with any economic activity, the competition from other places has become fierce.
These days, many British people want a low-cost holiday in the sun. Others want to experience different cultures, taste different food and see history and landscape. Many people have switched away from the old-style package holiday and want to design and book their break online. So countries that earn a living from tourism have to adapt to survive and compete to thrive.
Understanding your markets is crucial, especially when you are trying to attract visitors from many different places and cultures. And pitching your attractions to those markets means playing to your strengths.
Those of us who are lucky enough to live here know that Jordan has many attractions. Indeed, that Jordan is more than Petra.
Friends and relatives who visit do, of course, enjoy Petra, but they also relish the variety of historical sites, the beauty of the landscape and the hospitality of the people. Making the effort to explore beyond the guidebook pays dividends.
One of the activities my family and I enjoy most is exploring the wadis in the rift valley leading down to the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba. A good day can be spent on a vigorous and strenuous walk up a valley full of oleanders and waterfalls, overlooked by high cliffs and with stunning views down to the Dead Sea and over to Palestine.
Another great experience we enjoyed this week was skydiving in Wadi Rum. I didn't think I would ever have the courage to jump out of an aeroplane at 13,000 feet, but I did it. And feeling the early morning air rush past while falling at high speed towards the mountains and sand-filled valleys of Wadi Rum was an exhilarating experience that would be hard to equal anywhere.
Even in Amman, where the guidebooks tend to steer you away from anywhere other than the Citadel and the Roman theatre, it is rewarding to explore the back streets of the downtown area where the pace of life might have changed, but the shopkeepers, markets and family life offer a flavour of Jordanian life.
Tourism has to be about more than simple travel, ticking off places you have been to and having your photo taken in front of a famous site.
Our personal experience illustrates how much Jordan has to offer. Promoting those delights, making them affordable and competitive and making it easy for visitors to enjoy them is a formidable task for the tourism authorities and industry.
With partners like easyJet, they can target their priorities, boost the economy and help more people rediscover Jordan.
The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.