Ryanair to double routes into Jordan next year
Irish budget airline, which began flying to the country in February 2018, will add four new routes for the winter season in Europe, CEO says
Ryanair aims to double the number of routes and passengers it flies to Jordan next year following rapid growth since launching flights to the country last year, the head of Europe's biggest budget airline said.
The Irish airline, which began flying to Jordan in February 2018, currently operates 14 routes to the capital Amman and the Red Sea port city of Aqaba, and will add four new routes for the winter season in Europe.
The carrier's Jordan Winter 2019 schedule has four new routes to Amman from Malta, Memmingen and Thessaloniki, and to Aqaba from Milan Bergamo. Ryanair will operate 18 routes in total (connecting 12 countries), which will deliver a total of over 500,000 customers annually at Amman and Aqaba airports, according to its website.
"We could double the number of routes to 40 routes connecting other cities in Germany, Poland, Italy, Greece and others to Jordan," chief executive Michael O'Leary said in Amman, urging the government to waive a $56 visa at the airport to help boost passenger numbers.
Jordan's minister of tourism and antiquities, Majd Mohammad Shweikeh, said: “Jordan has witnessed a tremendous positive shift in the tourism sector in 2018, and in 2019, the momentum is still as steadfast as it was last year.
"The launch of the world renowned low-cost airline Ryanair has had a cascading positive effect on the sector’s dynamics. It has resulted in an increase in tourists as a new segment of tourists -from Eastern Europe in particular – who have never been to Jordan before."
Mr O'Leary said Ryanair in total expected to carry almost 150 million passengers this year, the vast majority on routes in the European Union, although it also flies to some non-EU countries, including Israel and Morocco.
Jordan has courted Ryanair, which flew 300,000 passengers in the first year of its launch, a key factor behind the 13 per cent rise in tourism receipts last year to a record $5.2 billion.
The recovery in tourism has been a major economic boost to the cash-strapped country that has been forced to adopt IMF-guided austerity measures, sparking major protests last year.
Jordan's open skies agreement with the EU in 2010 that abolished all restrictions gave the country an edge over other Middle Eastern countries that have sought to protect their national carriers.
"Jordan is Ryanair's by far fastest [growing] winter sun destination. It's growing faster than Morocco, Canary Islands, Southern Italy and Greece. You have an enormous potential here for inbound tourism," Mr O'Leary said.
Morocco is Ryanair's biggest market in the Middle East, with 2.5 million passengers annually, followed by Israel which gets 1.3 million to Tel Aviv airport alone.
In European tourists' minds, Jordan and Israel are less of a security concern than other destinations in the Middle East, such as Tunisia and Egypt, Mr O'Leary said.
"Jordan is very much ahead of Middle Eastern destinations ... In European minds there are no security or safety issues visiting Jordan and Israel," he said.
Jordan is in the process of pushing to attract more international carriers to serve Amman amid efforts to boost tourism inflow to the country. In November, The National reported Airports International Group, the developer and operator of Queen Alia International Airport, seeks to tap into friends and family bookings by people from the Middle East living in those markets.
The hub is estimated to handle 8.2 million passengers in 2018 up by 4 per cent year-on-year from 2017.
"Targeting Middle Eastern diaspora going home via Jordan could be a feasible option," Deema Anani, chief commercial and customer officer of the airport, told The National at the time.
She said the Amman hub, which has 76 non-stop destinations, planned to add four new routes this year to cities in western Europe and North Africa.
Attracting low-cost airlines to Jordan will benefit its tourism sector, which will stimulate economic growth, earn foreign currency and ease the pressure on the country's current account deficit estimated at 10 per cent of the GDP in 2018, according to a November 2 note by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The sector would help create jobs at a time when unemployment levels have reached 18.7 per cent.
"The introduction of low-cost carrier flights to Jordan will give a major boost not only to the tourism industry, but also allied sectors such as transportation, restaurants and hotels," according to the EIU at the time.
"Jordan's tourism sector has suffered badly from the effects of regional instability, although tourist arrivals picked up strongly in the first nine months of 2018."
Updated: April 29, 2019 04:05 PM