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Unrest scares tourists away from Jordan, Egypt

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Current protests in the Middle East are scaring off tourists. That’s bad news for countries like Egypt and Jordan where tourism is an economic lifeline.

This week, Marketplace’s Alisa Roth is in Jordan looking at the economic problems this key U.S. ally is facing. She reports that tourism revenues there have slumped in recent months.

ALISA ROTH: On a hill overlooking downtown Amman, a group of around 40 tourists from Poland are snapping pictures of the impressive view — the remains of a Roman temple and an almost-intact amphitheater.

Just like in Egypt, Jordan’s archaeological sites are a big draw for visitors from all over the world. This group’s tour was supposed to make stops in Jordan, Israel and Egypt. But the Egypt part got canceled because of the political turmoil. Two members of the group decided to bail.

Marek Kuharski is an English teacher in Krakow. He never considered canceling.

MAREK KUHARSKI: No, I’m not afraid of terrorist attacks, nothing like that. Neither are my friends. You know, well, as you can see, we are just visiting the places, and we are not afraid.

Not everybody’s so intrepid. Seif Saudi arranges visits to Jordan for groups and individuals.

SEIF SAUDI: The Europeans, the Americans, we’ve had lots of clients cancel, lots of clients are asking us all the time what’s going on.

Right now, Saudi’s spending a lot of time doing crisis management — trying to convince people that not every country in the Middle East is the same. And that in spite of a few protests, Jordan is still a perfectly safe. But a lot of people aren’t buying that.

SAUDI: People might cancel because they think “Oh it’s the Middle East, it’s one country.” But it’s not. I mean the distance between us and Yemen is more than the distance between Jordan and Italy. So it’s in a different part of the world.

Those mileage calculations may be a little off. But Saudi’s complaint that tourists’ ignorance is costing Jordan, is right on. He says if the cancellations keep coming, his business will be down 40 percent, which is similar to losses in other parts of Jordan’s tourism industry.

And even if calm returns to the region soon, the tourists might not.

In Amman, Jordan, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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