Rome

Tourism to Jordan's Red Sea resort Aqaba on the rise

Diving high on the list of city's many activities to choose from

Tourism to Jordan's Red Sea resort Aqaba on the rise

(by Kate Carlisle) Rome, July 29 - Tourism in the burgeoning autonomous economic area know as ASEZA (Aqaba Special Economic Zone) is on the rise as developers continue to invest in infrastructure and entertainment, and visitors discover the endless beauty the area has to offer. The Red Sea resort had 481,365 visitors in 2012, up from 464,067 in 2011, the city's tourism board said, with most of the tourists who stayed in the dozens of hotels coming from Western and Eastern Europe, Jordan, the Americas and Arab countries. Jordanian architect, professor and Head Commissioner of ASEZA Kamel Mahadin said that "Aqaba emerges as a unique destination combining attributes of modernism and history and is celebrated as a mixing platform for the different flavors of the region. It stands proudly carrying its history, culture, beauty and heritage as it is surrounded by picturesque mountains and blue sea". ASEZA, a liberalized, low-tax, duty-free area that has its sights on becoming a world-class hub for business and leisure, is easily accessible to the Middle East, Asia and Europe. "Aqaba's modern infrastructure, easily accessible Airport, luxurious hotels, proximity to the city of Petra and to Wadi Rum, often called the valley of the moon are some of the reasons why Aqaba is strongly presenting itself to the world as a unique tourism destination. Another important reason is the exceptional spirit of hospitality, warmth and generosity its people have," Mahadin said. Khaled Darwish, one of the owners of Sindbad Group for marine transportation, water sports and yachting in Aqaba, noted that Aqaba is a growing destination for western European tourists especially for diving, water sports and sailing. Tourists landing in Aqaba, regardless of their age, interests or hobbies, have a broad range of activities to chose from, Darwish said. "Because of its magnificent marine life and unique weather, with north winds and warm waters above 20c most of the year, water lovers find Aqaba is a corner of paradise," says Darwish. Sea and water activities are abundant. Visitors can peer into the crystal clear waters while cruising the Aqaba Gulf in a glass-bottomed boat, sailing fans have access to yacht tours of the Red Sea, coastal and deep-sea fishing are available and speedboats have fast-lane access. Parasailing, one of the newest sporting treats in Aqaba, has taken off while windsurfing remains a popular activity. While there is no end to activities and entertainment, "diving should be high on the list," Mahadin said. "There are crash courses for shallow-water diving and 47 different companies to choose from. It is the best way to see the coral reef and 20% of diving fees goes to preserving the environment," Mahadin says. In 2012, scuba diving was a main tourism attraction in Aqaba with over 25,000 international divers exploring the wealth of coral and brilliantly coloured fish. "The Red Sea is known all over the world as one of the absolutely best places to dive, the water is pleasantly warm and the visibility is amazing, more than 30 meters of sight is not unusual. The aquatic life is diverse and numerous with sea horses, anemone fish, turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and much more," Talal N. Abumahfouz, Dive Operations Manager for Aqaba Adventure Divers Resort, said. "We apply extensive efforts for coral preservation and restriction on fishing, which helps to assure that divers will spot lots of fish, shellfish, octopus, turtles and everything you wish to see. The local dive centers are very active in cleaning up dives and often the guests participate, this shows the involvement of both the local dive industry and the guests," Abumahfouz said. Nature enthusiasts can also visit the Aqaba Bird Observatory (ABO) situated at the north-western border of the city. It lies in the Rift Valley near the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba just above sea level in a flat arid region. The ABO is located between Africa, Sinai and the Arabian Peninsula along one of the most important Eurasian - African bird migration flyways. The artificial wetland site attracts large numbers of migratory water birds, raptors and passerines especially during spring and autumn migration. The man-made site has become an extremely important sanctuary for a high diversity of migratory birds, with over 200 different species stopping en route during migration.

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