Visitor numbers from the West have dropped due to the situation in Iraq and Syria. However Jordan has seen a rise in tourists from within the region itself, and Queen Alia Airport willl have capacity for 12 million passengers following a $100 million expansion
As the first and last thing a visitor generally sees, an airport can be considered a country’s calling card. Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) has been greeting people to Jordan since 1983, when arrivals, departures and transit passengers in the kingdom had spiked to more than 2 million per year. Originally designed to handle 3.5 million passengers a year, by 2012 an average of 6.2 million were annually passing through the airport. Recently, QAIA made the headlines by registering over 700,000 passengers in August 2014 alone. Airport International Group (AIG), the company that was handed the task of managing QAIA under a public-private partnership with the Jordanian government, announced year-end figures of 7,089,008 passengers during 2014, a 9% year-on-year increase. Aircraft movements also jumped by 7.6% to 73,125 during the calendar year.
The figures are particularly eye-catching given the socio-political situation in the region as a whole, as AIG CEO Kjeld Binger explains.
“What we are witnessing today is that incoming tourism is decreasing from the Western part of the world, specifically from the U.S. and from Europe,” he says. “This is due, I believe, to some kind of misperception of what is going on. The news headlines talk non-stop about Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. and because Jordan is geographically located in the middle, potential visitors decide not to come here. Nevertheless we have seen a huge influx of tourists from the region. And despite the crisis in Syria and Iraq, we have noticed a massive increase in visitors from the region. In other words, the difficult political situation has provoked negative as well as positive impact.”
Due to the rise in passenger traffic into the kingdom, AIG was also charged with constructing a brand new passenger terminal at QAIA. After an investment of $800 million, King Abdullah II officially transferred flight traffic from the old terminal to the new in March 2013. Designed by world-renowned architects Foster & Partners, the new terminal is among the most technologically advanced in the world and has increased QAIA’s capacity to 9 million passengers per year.
In line with the airport’s commitment to environmental standards, ISO-certified QAIA became the second airport in the Middle East to earn the Airport Carbon Accreditation, a voluntary program administered by WSP Environment & Energy that requires applicant airports to meet ISO14064: Greenhouse Gas Accounting.
A second phase of expansion, slated for completion in 2017 and at a cost of more than $100 million, will take the airport’s capacity to some 12 million passengers annually, with plans to handle approximately 16 million by 2032.
“Since we have reached our last agreement with the Jordanian government for the expansion of the airport and future construction plans, we have also slightly altered our investment profile,” says AIG’s CEO.
“From an investment in the region of $900 million we were originally counting on, we have now changed our estimates, putting the total investment in the range of $1.2 billion. We are a little bit more optimistic than we were earlier on, when we were talking about a capacity of approximately 12 million passengers after 25 years; we have revised this to 16 million passengers. By that time we will be well beyond $1 billion in direct revenue but, of course, during that period of time we will have contributed to national GDP with another $2-$3 billion through investments and daily operations. QAIA is thus a huge contributor to the everyday economy of Jordan.”
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Jordan’s tourism sector contributed 5,3% to GDP, including investments and induced income, with 67,000 jobs directly generated. Transportation as a whole is growing at an annual rate of 6% and currently accounts for one-tenth of annual GDP.
Aviation is one of the pillars of the tourism sector and AIG has been selected by Airports Council International to host the 10th Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly in Jordan between April 27 and 29, 2015. It is an event that gathers more than 500 key aviation industry stakeholders, including executives, government entities, specialists and service providers from across the world to discuss various topics pertaining to sustainable airport development – a key element of AIG’s joint strategy with the Jordanian government.
“We believe that we have to invest in the future,” says Mr. Binger. “This is why we have changed our investment model. We truly believe that we need to show that this is not a hit and run; this is an attempt to create something sustainable, something that lasts beyond our time.
“Sustainability is playing a huge role in the way we go about our business. This is true both for AIG and the government, which is an extremely important factor because without this partnership it could not work.”