But Jordan is not only Amman, since the country also hosts Petra, a World Heritage Site since 1985, which dates back to 9,000 BC. Petra receives about 1 mln tourists annually. The city was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom during the 4th century BC and its prominence peaked in the 1st century AD with a population of about 20,000.
Another famous tourist spot is the “Dead Sea” which Jordan shares with Israel and the “West Bank”. The shore of the lake is well known for the lowest elevation on land in the world, at 430.5 meters below sea level. The Dead Sea is also famous for its high salt content (342 grams/liter), making swimming similar to floating. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea is receding at an alarming rate: today the water surface is 605 km2, having shrunk from 1,050 km2 in 1930. Arab Potash, one of the largest listed companies on the ASE, is the exclusive producer of potash (mainly used as fertilizer) in Jordan. The company also extracts bromine (inflammable and used in mobile phones) and sodium chloride (many uses: from oil extraction, medicine, dyeing to de-icing roads) from the lake. A new important source of income is also the famous black mud and salt which are becoming increasingly popular especially among women as body and skin care products, with Israeli company Ahava having helped to build up its international reputation.
Tourism is one of Jordan’s most important industries with 8 mln arrivals in 2010. However, this number declined sharply due to regional turbulence and the previous presence of ISIS at Jordan’s border. Jordan also hosts about 100,000 archaeological and tourist sites and the country has become a medical tourism destination, attracting patients primarily from the Middle East. Jordan is also trying to establish itself as a major aviation hub with its “open-sky” policy with the result that today Ryanair flies from various European cities to Amman. Last but not least, the night life in Jordan: there are many nightclubs and discotheques and alcohol is more or less freely available (there are many micro-breweries in Amman) and the relatively easy access to the Red Sea, with its amazing diving and underwater world, should attract tourists from Europe.
Despite being surrounded by countries with huge oil reserves like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Jordan does not currently pump any distillates, with the exception of a small gas field near the Iraqi border. However, the country has the 5th largest oil-shale reserves in the world in the central and northwestern regions but at the current oil price and due to technical difficulties, extraction has been postponed. Jordan receives about 330 days of sunshine a year and wind speeds can reach over 7 meters/second in the mountain areas of the country which has led various listed investment companies and foreign investors to start investing into the promising sector of alternative power generation.
During my stay I met with various listed companies from the industrial, investment, property and banking sectors. There are currently 20 banks allowed to operate in Jordan and I met with two of them, but not the two largest banks which have a combined market share of 40%. Jordanian banks have generally suffered from the economic slowdown and non-performing loans are about 7.5% to 8% of outstanding loans. This figure is very high compared with other countries but the reason for this is that the loans are never written off from the balance sheets (necessary provisions are made though) in Jordan. Despite the tough business climate, all the Jordanian banks have been profitable in each of the past 10 years. Most of the banks are foreign owned - mainly by investors from “GCC-countries” (Gulf Cooperation Council). Despite the fact that the Jordanian Dinar is pegged to the USD at 0.7, the banks are not allowed to make loans in USD to individuals and companies only if their income is also in USD. Both banks I met have expanded into neighboring countries and one of them started (unfortunately) a subsidiary in Syria 10 years ago and subsequently that investment had to be written off for the time being. Both banks are now looking to start branches in Iraq where they see huge potential, especially in the SME sector and in the credit card segment.
When I arrived in Amman for my four day visit I was greeted by blue sky, but it was already quite windy. That changed the next day in the afternoon when the wind became even stronger and clouds started to appear. During the entirety of the third day it rained heavily and the weather forecast was for a storm coupled with snow (Amman’s elevation is from 700 to 1,100 meters) on the day of my departure.