Olive Tourism in Jordan

A local tourism company is promoting visits to olive farms in Umm Qais, northern Jordan.

The Malkawi family
By Teresa Bergen
Dec. 12, 2017 11:54 UTC
The Malkawi family

Visitors to the town of Umm Qais in north­ern Jordan used to stay only a cou­ple of hours to view the Roman ruins of Gadara. But now, thanks to a sus­tain­able tourism pro­gram focused on cul­ture and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, vis­i­tors often stay two or three days, accord­ing to Muna Haddad of Baraka Destinations, a tourism com­pany in Amman. The autumn olive har­vest fea­tures in the tourism offer­ings.

Tourists, expats, and even local Jordanians are inter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in an olive har­vest.- Muna Haddad, Baraka Destinations

Baraka Destinations started its pilot project in sus­tain­able tourism devel­op­ment at Umm Qais in 2015. After meet­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers, they decided to develop agri­tourism and eco­tourism. There are so many sites we go to that we’re so dis­tant from,” Haddad said of Jordan’s focus on arche­ol­ogy. We’re try­ing to con­nect tourists to peo­ple, to the liv­ing his­tory.”

Since the open­ing of Beit al Baraka in April 2017, the bed and break­fast in Umm Qais has wel­comed more than 1,000 guests. From the B&B, Baraka offers a menu of cul­tural and out­doors activ­i­ties, includ­ing bee­keep­ing, hik­ing, bik­ing, bas­ket mak­ing, cook­ing classes and, dur­ing har­vest sea­son, a visit to an olive orchard. Forty fam­i­lies in Umm Qais and nearby Pella have started micro-busi­nesses under the tourism com­pa­ny’s guid­ance.

Umm Qais is in the Irbid gov­er­norate, inside Jordan’s fer­tile cres­cent. According to an August, 2017 report from Jordan’s Department of Statistics, Irbid is the country’s largest pro­ducer of olives. In 2015, 2,383,686 trees pro­duced 71,853 tons of olives and 11,611 tons of olive oil. This makes it Jordan’s most impor­tant olive-grow­ing region, and a nat­ural for food tourism.

According to Haddad, fam­i­lies around Umm Qais typ­i­cally own 100 to 500 trees. A few fam­i­lies still fol­low the tra­di­tion of spend­ing the day har­vest­ing their trees together, stop­ping for a pic­nic lunch. But many now employ work­ers. Haddad esti­mates that it takes six work­ers 25 days to har­vest 500 trees. They can pay for press­ing their olives at the local olive press with money or oil.

The Jordan Valley

Tourists who visit Umm Qais dur­ing the autumn olive har­vest can arrange to pic­nic in an olive orchard. Visitors then pick olives and learn to sort out the leaves and twigs. Most only par­tic­i­pate briefly, choos­ing instead to watch the pro­fes­sion­als do the hard work. Afterwards, they visit an olive press to see oil being made.

Tourists, expats, and even local Jordanians are inter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing in an olive har­vest,” Haddad said. It’s unfor­tu­nate that the har­vest is such a small win­dow as we have peo­ple inquir­ing about avail­abil­ity after the sea­son has ended.”

Since Baraka Destinations started offer­ing cook­ing classes in April 2017, more than 200 Umm Qais vis­i­tors have cooked Jordanian dishes in a local woman’s kitchen. During har­vest sea­son, cook­ing stu­dents learn to make pick­led olive salad and a fen­nel and anise-spiced bread heavy with olive oil.

Umm Qais

USAID has long sup­ported Jordan’s tourism, and is cur­rently run­ning a $36 mil­lion, five-year pro­gram called Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism (BEST). BEST aims to increase tourism receipts by 15 per­cent, boost the num­ber of women in the tourism work­force, bring more peo­ple to Jordan’s sec­ondary sites, cre­ate more tourism jobs and increase both inter­na­tional and domes­tic tourism in Jordan.

In February of 2017, USAID announced a part­ner­ship with TripAdvisor to develop sus­tain­able tourism and develop Jordan’s dig­i­tal pres­ence. With the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of expe­ri­en­tial tourism, activ­i­ties like pick­ing olives, weav­ing bas­kets and tak­ing cook­ing classes promise to intrigue tourists vis­it­ing Jordan.


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