A group of The Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association (JITOA) members participated in a Familiarization (FAM) trip to Um-Al Rassas Ruins located south of Madaba governorate, on Saturday 19th June 2010, to learn about the recent developments carried out by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities and funded by the European Union, that was established to promote and protect the cultural heritage of the site.
JITOA organized this trip in coordination with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to involve its members of tour operators and tour guides and keep them up to date on the recent site developments and to highlight the importance of marketing and promoting this cultural heritage site in their tourist programs.
The trip included a visit to the Women of Mleih Association, one of the local associations in the municipality of Al-Lib and Mleih, which is specialized in producing local dairy products. The aim of this visit revolves in showcasing the opportunity of involving this association within the activities of the Jordan Voluntourism Project organized by JITOA and to give participants the chance to experience and practice one of the potential activities that could be presented to interested volun-tourists, in order to be developed and included in the programs and itineraries.
Participants enjoyed learning the production stages of the associations various dairy products, such as milk and buttermilk, yogurt, butter, cheese, Jameed (it is hard dry fresh yogurt made from sheeps’ milk) and other products. They also volunteered and got involved in the making process of jameed. This is part of the second stage of the Voluntourism project, that aims at developing Voluntourism opportunities to benefit the Jordanian local communities through special volunteering activities. The Women of Mleih Association benefit seven local families and is one of the potential NGOs that will be included in the second phase of the Voluntourism project activities and workshops.
Mr. Raad Al Hammouri local tour guide commented “we should work together on developing such unique tourism activities and try to create new themes and get out of the traditional tourist visits and activities, and thus help diversify the tourism seasons and extending visitors stay, not to mention the valuable opportunities of supporting local associations through tourism and the importance of increasing awareness among local communities on the services they can offer and the direct benefit they can gain.”
Participants visited the newly built Um-Al Rassas Visitor Center, which includes the visitor’s showroom where they display presentations about the site churches. The center includes traditional jewelry shops, the management office, as well as a post office and other arenas and facilities. Also there is a special office for tourist police, in addition to availability of parking lots for tourist buses, provided with all the needed supplies. The facility also includes shelter with ramps suspended over the mosaic floors of the St. Stephen’s Church complex, footpaths and signage to guide visitors.
The center soon will be opening officially, after the opening there will be tourist entrance tickets that will be announced on the opening by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Mr. Imad Al-Rawahneh, the Director of Um-Al Rassas Visitors Center stressed on the need to include this site in tourist programs offered by inbound tour operators, either as a separate destination, or combined with visits to other sites in the southern region, The King’s Road; such as Madaba, Mount Nebo, Petra, and Karak. He added that this will help in increasing visitors flow and offering a variety of activities for tourists. Mr. Al-Rawahneh remarked “the site currently is completely ready to receive and host visitors, we are really pleased with JITOA’s visit and we are positive about the effective support of tour operators by taking part in promoting the site through their programs”
Um-Al Rassas is one of the kingdom’s archeological riches 30 km south-east of Madaba on the edge of the steppe and the town halfway between Dhiban on the Kings’ Highway and the Desert Road. It is known of its cultural significance and is characterized by the presence of the oldest original map of the Holy Land in the city of Madaba, including the mosaic of religious and touristic sites that is still unknown to many. The site contains the ruins of the Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic period (from the end of the third century AD to IX) and the fortified camp of the Roman army. Two square towers used by early Christian monks seeking solitude. Due to its archaeological and cultural significance, UNESCO named Um Al Rassas the Kingdom’s third World Heritage Site in 2004.
Mr. Muhamad Al Shorafa, Operations Manager of one of inbound tour operators, commented “The Visitors Center contains many services and excellent facilities that will definitely have positive impact in promoting Um Al Rassas as a significant tourist attraction”
JITOA members participated in this trip was; Plaza Tours, Maltrans, Travel One, International Trader UTA, Abercrombie & Kent, Petra Tours, Atlas Travel & Tourist Agency, Tour Guide Raad Hammouri and JITOA team.