MY EXTRAORDINARY JORDAN JOURNEY: SUPPORTING LOCAL WOMEN WITH OUR NEW TREADRIGHT HERITAGE PROJECT – PART 1
Happy International Women’s Day. On this important day, I would like to highlight the transformative power of tourism and announcing our newest TreadRight Heritage Initiative Project, which provides economic empowerment to local women and helping to build a sustainable future.
I have just returned from this extraordinary journey and I was honored to visit this special country as a participant in the “Tourism Cares with Jordan” delegation. It consisted of Tourism Cares’ members, Jordan Tourism Board team members, local and North American industry leaders, local dignitaries (including my dear friend Dr. Taleb Rifai, former Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and a very proud Jordanian) and members of the travel industry media. The purpose of this trip was to bring focus and attention to Jordan’s beauty, touristic appeal and diversity, and to highlight the power of travel in supporting local communities. We were participating in volunteer projects while highlighting some of the remarkable social enterprises emerging there.
This country has such a rich heritage of history and vibrant culture and we all wanted to learn more about it. The superb Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) helped conceive and arrange this unforgettable journey for us with the Board of Tourism Cares. JTB is led by Managing Director Dr. Abed Al Razzaq Arabiyat, H.E. Lina Annab, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (one of the most hands-on, involved and humble tourism ministers I’ve ever met and had the pleasure to work with) and the very talented, long-standing, brilliant Malia Asfour, Director of JTB for North America. (JTB was launched in 1998 as an independent, private-public sector partnership committed to utilize marketing strategies to brand position and promote Jordan’s unique tourism.)
Some of the key objectives when I embarked on this expedition:
- To be introduced to the great work Jordanians are doing to integrate communities and the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) throughout the tourism value chain.
- To listen, smell, taste and feel first-hand what it is like to travel responsibly and ensure community hosts benefit from the presence of visitors, hence seeing the best of Jordan through a social impact lens.
- To engage the local government and us in CSR and sustainable tourism discussions during a day of panel discussions at the Dead Sea.
- To explore Jordanian social enterprises for tourism, which offer authentic traveler experiences, while supporting a social change effort.
- In doing so, we’d learn that today Jordan is a stand-alone destination. There is so much more to see and do in Jordan besides just coming to see their five UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Petra, and encourage more international visitors from North America to spend more than a couple of days in Jordan (rather than just combining a visit to Egypt and/or Israel with a stop-over in Jordan).
- To volunteer and give back with a major volunteering project, and looking at other support opportunities for the local communities. (I had to leave one day early so I could not participate in this event.)
This small country on the edge of the Asian continent, is situated by the Red Sea and bordering a number of countries in the region – in the north by Syria, to the east by Iraq, and by Saudi Arabia to the east and south. To the west is Israel and the West Bank, and its only outlet to the sea, the Gulf of Aqaba, is to the south. It also has the Dead Sea divided between itself and Israel. It is steeped in history, going back many centuries, with a very peaceful, hospitable, and welcoming people.
I flew from Los Angeles through Frankfurt and arrived at night after a 20 hour flight. We were warmly welcomed at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman by JTB and taken to the Amman Marriott Hotel, one of the fantastic sponsors of this trip. We also use their properties in Jordan for our immersive Insight Vacations premium escorted journeys to Jordan – Insight has been bringing international travelers here for over 40 years. (I also learnt that the local-owning family of their four Marriott properties in Jordan had recently completed an $18 million investment to provide a completely off-the-grid solar panel powered system to provide all these hotels’ electricity needs.)
In order to see more of the country and engage its diversity of compelling tourism and social experiences, we were divided into three groups, which were themed around:
- Social Impact – going deeper into cultural organizations and enterprises which focused on improving locals’ livelihoods.
- Environment & Community – exploring the intersections of the land, tourism and social development
- Heritage – looking closely at a few of Jordan’s World Heritage Sites and their relevance and potential for today.
I first joined the Social Impact group and later the Environment and Community group. Leaving Amman on day one, we drove 30 km to the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative, which was founded by the Noor Al-Hussein Foundation in 1993, and aims to make the women in the area financially independent and to raise their standard of living by increasing their income and preserving local heritage. (Unemployment in Jordan for women is around 33% in urban areas and is even higher in rural areas.) As the cooperative is managed and run by members of the community, it has created a number of job opportunities for women of all ages.
When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and served some local coffee flavored with cardamom and then sweet mint tea. We listened to their stories, translated by the very passionate, innovative, young Muna Haddad (founder of Baraka) and then our group was split up to learn about their weaving, pottery and papermaking, and some local cuisine. I spent a few hours with five local women helping make lunch which included a delicious flat bread covered with a spreadable paste of local seasoning Z’aatar, olive oil and sesame seeds, a chicken dish with local spices, a yummy sauce of sautéed tomatoes and onion, local green beans and a fascinating dish of a locally grown, finally chopped green vegetable (like a dandelion/spinach combination) with onion. In observing and listening, I was very taken by the sense of liberation, empowerment, positive spirit and enthusiasm these shy, proud women had of their establishment, which had been expanded with funding from the local Swiss and German embassies.
I immediately decided that this was an opportunity for our non-profit foundation, TreadRight, to assist these women, by providing a grant to the Iraq al Amir Cooperative, as one of our Heritage Initiative Projects (which supports local artisans, especially women who are typically disadvantaged for various longstanding reasons, in their communities). Thus, Treadright will donate $15,000 USD immediately, through Tourism Cares, which will be matched by our local partner UTA, to help complete a build-out of their gift shop, provide merchandising expertise and to expand their food services.
Concurrently, our teams are working to incorporate this local social enterprise experience into our trips to Jordan next year, for our TTC brands including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection . These new visits in turn will generate additional income for these women, since we will pay them to bring our guests here for a meal, and our travelers will also have the opportunity to buy some of the beautiful hand-made shawls and scarves, pottery, gift cards and food items. My family will also donate additional funds, through Tourism Cares, to help these women replace their oven in which they bake their delicious Z’aatar bread and purchase some new cooking utensils.
All the best, and happy trails,