Jordan Valley – Jordan hopes that Pope Francis’ visit to Amman will attract more tourists in the future, after it suffered a decline in tourism following regional unrest since 2011.
“It is a historic moment…we hope it will encourage Christian tourists from all over the world to visit Jordan,” said Nedal Qatameen, Jordan’s tourism minister.
Jordan relies on tourism to bolster its economy but in 2013, the country’s tourism ministry reported a 14 percent drop in the number of tourists from the previous year.
Every year, some 90,000 tourists visit the Baptism site, according to Mohammad Moumani, Jordan’s Media minister. The site is believed to be where Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan River. Extending over 6km in the Jordan Valley, it is also home to ancient Christian pilgrimage sites and churches.
“But we hope numbers will double after the pope’s visit. It is an opportunity for the world to learn about the historic religious sites in Jordan,” Moumani told Al Jazeera.
Christian leaders and Jordanian officials believe a stable Jordan remains a symbol for interfaith co-existence in the turbulent region.
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but Christianity as an ideology was declared here in the Baptism site. Christianity was born here,” said Father Nabil Haddad, head of the Board of Trustees of the baptism site.
Since 2003, several churches have been built on the site to accommodate Christian tourists from all sects, according to Rustom Mkhjian, who is the assistant commission director at the site.
The pope will meet King Abdullah II, hold a mass prayer in Amman with approximately 25,000 people, and then head to the Baptism site where he will meet with Syrian refugees, elderly, and people with disabilities.