What impact is increasing visitor numbers having on Wadi Rum’s environment and Bedouin tribes?
Both good and bad. Visitors have brought money, perspective, cultural interchange, aspiration – but they have also brought environmental degradation, social distortion and cultural commoditisation. The local culture is now warped and packaged to suit the demands of tourism.
Do you think the situation is improving?
Not really. The problem lies in the management of the area, and the lack of a strategic vision – increasingly clear as the pressure from tourist numbers grows. Unregulated campsites are proliferating, litter is increasing, environmental degradation is continuing – yet the tourism offer remains static.
There is little or no innovation in what visitors can do because, in effect, all the local one-man tourism businesses have been left to fend for themselves without decent overarching support. Wadi Rum’s management structures are failing both the people and, as a consequence, the visitors.
What will be the impact of Wadi Rum being granted World Heritage status?
I fear that Unesco status could actually make things worse. It could give a seal of international approval to a tourism situation in Rum that is unsustainable. I simply don’t think Rum – or Jordan as a whole – is ready.
Petra aside, the country’s two other Unesco World Heritage sites – Quseir Amra (listed in 1985) and Umm Ar-Rasas (2004) – remain marginal, largely unknown and unvisited. Both still require significant archaeological and infrastructural intervention, not to mention interpretive context, to turn them into world-class sites of interest. It is difficult to discern the benefit to either site of Unesco status.
Moreover, both are in areas of little or no surrounding population, with tourism far down the list of priorities. By contrast, Rum is already firmly on the tourist map. Unesco status will draw yet more people to Rum. But, without a decent management strategy in place, more people means a worse experience.
Matthew Teller is author of the Rough Guide to Jordan