Jordan was not necessarily on my list to travel to this year. But, after a rather convincing conversation with UN World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Taleb Rifai during the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Americas Summit held in Cancun, Mexico, this past May, I visited Jordan again, for the third time since 2008.
The primary purpose of my trip to Jordan this year was to cover Jordan Tourism Board’s “Seizing Tourism Market Opportunities in Times of Rapid Change” event held at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention in the Dead Sea, Jordan. The conference was successful in showcasing Jordan as a destination that should be considered in terms of hosting significant global travel and tourism events. With the support of the UNWTO and WTTC, Jordan did exactly what it sought out to accomplish. The audience was comprised of international delegates, and the topics were relevant.
However, this trip to Jordan was one that I was keen to take on because I wanted to visit a place I had been introduced to the year before – Feynan Eco-Lodge. The lodge had left an indelible impression on me because of many reasons. The most significant being that it very well executed the concept of ecotourism at a time when many struggle with even putting their finger on the subject. Feynan Eco-Lodge, simply put, is kind to the environment, which is what ecotourism is really all about.
The lodge’s solar power panels not only serve the lodge, but the community that it belongs to. It stands sovereign in terms of energy use, but only because it uses so little. The bathrooms are the only area that are equipped with a light bulb, making it safe to shower at night. Other than that, the hotel uses natural lighting during the day and operates entirely on candlelight at night.
After having seen my fair share of hotels throughout my career, getting acquainted with Feynan Eco-Lodge injected a breath of fresh air that evidently made it impossible for me to forget. So, I knew I was going back almost immediately. I just did not expect that it would happen so soon. When final arrangements were made for me to attend Jordan Tourism Board’s global conference at the Dead Sea, I had asked if I could stay a couple of days at Feynan Eco-Lodge. My request was granted, so I devised a plan to maximize the opportunity. It is rare for me to personalize a trip, but this time I did.
After chatting with Feynan Eco-Lodge’s General Manager, Nabil Tarazi, during the “Seizing Tourism Market Opportunities in Times of Rapid Change” event, I learned about the changes since my initial visit. Most significant was the installation of more solar panels for faster distribution of hot water faster to the rooms. This, according to Mr. Tarazi, was an expensive undertaking, as those solar panels are quite pricey. I also learned more about the lodge’s history and how Mr. Tarazi became involved with the project, which in itself is a story that deserves to be told in another article.
The location of the Feynan Eco-Lodge is so remote, the drive from Amman could easily turn into a four- to five-hour drive, then another 45 or so minutes from the lodge’s reception area to the actual lodge via a 4×4 vehicle. But, this was all the more reason why I wanted to visit – to be completely off the grid. No cellphones and no emails. Just me, nature, and Feynan Eco-Lodge. This is the part when the trip became more personal for me.
I have not had the easiest past two years since I became the victim of a violent crime in San Diego in 2010. One of the things that has helped in keeping me sane has been yoga. I knew I was going to Feynan Eco-Lodge with a very clear purpose – to have at least two yoga sessions during my two-day stay. The rooftop at Feynan Eco-Lodge is an ideal place to practice yoga when temperature permits. It has enough space for at least 7 to 10 people, but the setting is really the biggest selling point. It is quite something to be getting into yoga postures with the allure of Feynan Eco-Lodge’s surroundings in the backdrop. For me, it really felt like I was “one with nature.” I am quite certain that others will soon discover Feynan Eco-Lodge as a perfect setting for yoga sessions and that the lodge itself will soon offer it as part of its activities.
Last year, I noted how the lodge could be an excellent place to stargaze. Thanks to the intuitiveness of the lodge’s management, this is now offered as a nightly activity. Last June, my curious eyes got to stare at constellations, stars, galaxies, and planets. All of which I have done before except one thing – getting to see the rings of Saturn. There I was looking at Saturn through a high-tech telescope and being guided by the lodge’s resident “astronomer.” The experience was astounding, to say the least.
Without question, the lodge excels in offering activities that are centered on nature. From sunrise to sunset and way into the night, there are activities, such hikes and even interactions with the Bedouin community that are simply not offered elsewhere. I got to experience all of the above during my first visit, but even more intensely this past June.
The staff at the lodge are masters of hospitality. They really made me feel like I was visiting friends and family. This was evident from the time I was greeted at the reception to the time I left. There is a certain art to the way Bedouins at Feynan Eco-Lodge practice hospitality. Sipping tea wasn’t merely about ingesting a hot beverage, it was an opportunity to shoot the breeze. Those little conversations were impactful because they provided an opportunity for a cultural exchange of some kind. I learned more about my hosts, and in turn, they learned more about me.
This, for me, is the real essence of tourism. It’s not just about hotels, rooms, and attractions; tourism provides the perfect opportunity for tourists and their hosts alike to learn something from each other. I may have been at the lodge for very selfish reasons, but the greatest reward was being reminded of nature’s healing power, which was made even more remarkable under the stewardship of genuine Bedouin hospitality.