And Now For Something Completely Different: 7 Reasons To Slag Off Jordan

Horse and buggy in the Siq at Petra

Travel Bloggers In Jordan

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Disclaimer: The opinions in this piece are our own because no one thought we were important enough to be offered free trips in return for our endorsement.

There had been a little bit of criticism regarding the Jordan Tourism Board’s marketing campaign involving travel bloggers when we visited the country. The flak not so much aimed at the tourism board itself but towards the passengers on board the gravy train that had been trundling around Jordan.


Though we are a working abroad as much as a travel site and, more than most web publishers, entitled to cover subjects around the travel blogging industry I don’t want to do that here. For those that are interested I recommend reading DW1‘s amusing piece on blogger spotting tours around Jordan, his fearful follow up, Jeremy Head’s Endemic corruption or just a travel press trip? and Matthew Teller’s Power and responsibility.

Right now I want to write a different article from those that have came from the keyboards of the freebie travellers. I’m going to give Jordan a slagging.

Jerash ruins in northern Jordan

I’m doing so not because I dislike Jordan but to be contrary and because all the many nice things I could write about the country will merely join the multitude of enthusiastic posts written elsewhere.

Despite the differing opinions regarding whether press trips should be taken by travel bloggers at all, and whether the iambassador set up crossed a journalistic line, I am in no doubt the positive press the country received from those that visited at the invitation of the JTB was genuine.

For a small country Jordan does have a lot to offer. Despite the semi fraudulence of the new seven wonders list, Petra deserves its place as a genuinely world class set piece tourist attraction. And there is much, much more to the country than just Petra.

Nonetheless, here are some reasons not to like the place:

Wadi Musa

Wadi Musa is Jordan’s gringo central and while rip offs are tame compared to other countries, they do exist. Prices are much higher than elsewhere in the country and there is a tendency to try it on by inflating them higher through less legitimate means. We had a few arguments after dinner when agreements and special offers that swayed us to visit a particular place over another were reneged on upon presentation of the bill. Whenever we crossed paths with these people again the aftermath was generally heavy sarcasm on each side rather than the downright hostility that may have resulted in other countries.

The entrance fee to Petra

Petra is expensive. Prices to enter the site had recently been put up despite objections by some local tourist agencies. They know people are still going to go though we did meet one fella in Dahab who said he’d visit Petra virtually on the net.

Petra is expensive

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Trying it on

This happens everywhere there are tourists and Jordan is no different. What is different is how shockingly bad Jordanians are at scams, cons and overcharging. With more practice they may get the hang of it but I doubt they’ll ever be as competent as their neighbours in Egypt. In every instance the overcharging was small.

With a few exceptions, even the taxi drivers struggled to really screw tourists. We let a lot of things slide that we may have clamped down harder in other countries because it was rather like watching a new born calf trying to stand for the first time and we thought: ‘bless’.

Booze is expensive and often difficult to find

If your experience of travelling in the Muslim world is confined to the Red Sea resorts and Turkey then the price of alcohol in Jordan will come as a shock. A bottle of the mediocre local brew (I have forgotten the name – I only had one), is around £5. Wine? Forget about it. Jordan was a largely dry month that made the already good wines in Lebanon all the more welcome.

Getting around

The Amman city fathers were shifting the transportation system around when we were there making getting around the city a little confusing at times. Ultimately this will sort itself out but our first two hours in the city were spent wandering around the streets near the bus station wondering why none of the roads seemed to match our map. The reason: we had arrived at a different bus station to the one we expected.

The bus network is also backpacker unfriendly. Luggage space on the intercity buses is pitiful. We crossed almost the whole of the country peering over the luggage on our knees and were sometimes expected to pay double.

Transport in Jordan isn't always backpacker friendly, including Amman

Lèse majesté laws

I would not be so discourteous to insult the head of the state I’m currently visiting but a sign of a healthy democracy is that its citizens can do so without fear of reprisal.

King Abdullah II has responded quickly and cleverly to the protests that have spread across the Middle East. One story we heard was that during a protest demonstration the King sent water to the protesters. Other Middle Eastern leaders have done the same but this water was distributed by the cup rather than by the cannon. I do not know if this is true but is typical of the respect mostly shown to the monarchy.

The protests we saw in Amman were small and most political complaints we heard were made against the King’s appointed ministers, not the King himself. Nonetheless lèse majesté laws remain on the statute books to intimidate the not quite free press.


Okay, I’m being really picky here, but to a Londoner welcoming strangers in the street, let alone tourists just ain’t natural. Hopefully, all the people that said ‘welcome’ to us and offered their help and guidance went home to the wife and kids and complained heartedly about ‘bloody tourists’.

Jordan is too welcoming. Guys, try harder scamming those tourists




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This piece was first published in the old version of our blog which included the following comments:

We said: “Travel bloggers can be prickly buggers at times. And people can be very proud and protective of their country. The mild, often occasionally tongue in cheek, criticisms listed above are the written equivalent of being savaged by a bronchial marmot and there is no intention to cause anyone offence. Just in case I stepped on a few toes I thought I would answer the following questions in advance:

Who paid for our trip?
We went to Jordan last year and paid for it with our own money. Though we traded advertising with small hotels none of this was through Visit Jordan.

So, sour grapes then?
Well, no. We loved Jordan and could easily post a much longer list of the things we enjoyed. Petra is magnificent. The people really are spookily friendly – all the more so away from the tourist trail – and the food is well worth exploring. With EasyJet now flying from the UK to Amman I can imagine visiting again to catch some of the many things we missed.

Do we have a gripe with any of the travel bloggers who went to Jordan for free?
No, good luck to them. One of the complaints levelled at those bloggers that took the JTB’s dime is that they ‘swan around like wide-eyed first-timers.’ I do not see what’s wrong with writing with the enthusiasm of a new visitor who is yet to take travelling for a living for granted.

Do we have an issue with Visit Jordan’s marketing strategy?
No. On the contrary, I think it is imaginative and in our interests that it succeeds. Hopefully other tourist boards will follow Jordan’s example. I am of the opinion that backpackers are travel’s stormtroopers. They go in in the first wave paving the way for more mass market tourism later on. Considering the neighbourhood Jordan is in attracting the young social media savvy travellers who are more likely to be reached online than through print or television advertising is a clever first step to attracting more visitors to the country.

Would you take a free trip if it was offered to you?
Sure, why not? However I think our chances are pretty much nada.

If after all that you still have the hump: tough.”

Andrea said: “I do find the whole press trip/free accommodation/paid-for press issue a very interesting one. While I realize it happens all the time with mainstream media, bloggers often tout themselves as being more honest and realistic when writing about destinations and experiences. My father pointed out after reading our Jordan posts (our first full press trip) that we couldn’t really be objective when on a press trip. Is this true? Are all paid-for posts inherently biased? As much as I would love to see every travel blogger get as many paid trips as they want/need to keep their nomadic dreams alive, I think it would be a disaster for the medium. I don’t and won’t always seek out free accommodation and trips for us going forward because I prefer to have and write about the experience we have as a “regular” tourist to a place. Sometimes the free trips/accomodation are really great and help us minimize costs, but I definitely don’t want our entire blog to become full of advertorial content.”

– we replied: “Thanks Andrea, I moved a lot of my first draft of this post to the comments to keep the article travel rather than blogging focused but I was hoping someone who had been on one would come over and give their opinion on the subject of press trips.

I don’t think there is any conscious bias but perhaps it is only natural to want to be nice to those that have been nice to us. We haven’t experienced the overall package of a free press trip but we have traded banner and text link advertising with tour companies and hotels. As a mutual exchange of goods and services the things we received were not technically free but mentally it felt like it was.

For the most part the advertising has been separate from the editorial content in a way that should be obvious to everybody. Where the organisation has been mentioned closer to editorial content we have done so more as a thank you or an acknowledgement with no opinion offered.

It is all a moral minefield that I hope we’re negotiating correctly. I think you feel much the same way and as long as we are taking time to consider the balance between what is good for us and what is good for our readers we are doing okay.

Where I have felt a little swayed is when writing a review of some of the accommodation we have stayed at. For the most part the reviews have been easy to write because we were both very happy with the rooms and hotels we stayed in.

On one occasion though we had a problem with an owner’s wife. The hotel itself was a joy and is probably one of the most interesting and fun places we have stayed in but this woman was a cow to Deirdre. I was prepared to mention this in the review but Deirdre stopped me doing so by pointing out that it was the advertising exchange we had agreed with her husband (I think there had been arguments between them over this) that had caused the friction in the first place. The problem was unique to us and would not be relevant to anyone who read the review and chose to stay there.

Did I make the right decision?”

Dayna said: “I like the way Andrea put it. While we are probably a way off from having many sponsored blog posts ourselves, I have wondered about the integrity of the actual experiences, ONLY because I would surely have an incredible, amazing visit someplace if all of my activities were sponsored, and if all of the hotels I stayed at knew that I was to write a post about my experience there. I liked your blog as an opposing perspective to everything I’ve been reading lately; even if you truly enjoyed your visit, you shed some light on a few negative aspects I would’ve had no clue about. I also noticed differences in the way various bloggers handled the Jordan trip… some I was happy to comment on and support because I could tell I was getting an honest opinion. Others just gushed endlessly and weren’t so interesting to read.

I do hope some of my favorite and well-established travel blogs will do as Andrea plans to, which is to avoid being chock full of only advertorial content. Thanks for a different perspective. =)”

– we replied: “I think it is only a matter of time before you and Kurt are being courted by TBs and, like Andrea and John, it will be good to see some new faces getting the invites.

I don’t see that by taking a press trip by itself means that all content arising from it should be considered advertorial. Though to TBs the country or region they are charged with promoting is their product I cannot consider a whole town or nation to be something packaged and sold. As long as the proper disclaimers are made, the writing is honest and the reader is put before the writer I see few problems.

The one problem I do have with press trips is when the experience of a region had by bloggers or journalists is too far removed from what our readerships would be experiences travelling on their own funds. For instance we loved Egypt and are happy to say so frequently but I can also throw in stories about picking a fight with three middle aged men over 50 pence’s worth of misunderstanding or deciding which was more likely to kill me: eating an undoubtedly food poisonous bifsteak or, if I refused, the chef who made it. Travelling around in a guided cocoon I doubt I would have these moments and in some ways these silly little experiences and the laughs we had afterwards made Egypt for us.

Perhaps if we take too many free trips we will become a little bit like rappers. They make their name through relateable music and gradually progress to songs bragging about their bank balance.”

Suzy said: “It’s funny, I was beginning to think everyone decided to head to Jordan randomly, but then I would reach the disclaimer part of all of these posts. I have only been on one press trip, more by accident when another blogger couldn’t go, and I didn’t write about aspects to the trip I didn’t find interesting to my readers or satisfactory. That’s probably why I have only been on one ha! I do think bloggers should limit these trips to a certain extent. I have noticed more and more blogs that are merely press trip blogs where they go from one place to the next. While I do think bloggers should take opportunities when given them, I do think you have to hold back from the freebie band wagon to a certain level. I don’t think the average tourist can really relate/find helpful blogs that are all about freebies because many can’t afford or facilitate those experiences. Sure then can be fun to read about, but not 24/7 on a blog.”

– we replied: “We seem to be the only travel blog publishers that did go to Jordan without any prodding from the JTB. It sounds like you did things the right way on your press trip by being selective about what is of interest to your readers.”

Elizabeth Bird said: “I agree with Suzy about the fact that reading about press trips is just not that interesting to me. Although they don’t really bother me, I don’t relate to the advice or experiences they relate.

Some of the most interesting travel writing deals with creating a budget and sticking to it as well as the issues one has as a solo independant traveler. Thats what makes the travel blogger a unique perspective. If I wanted to see a press trip I would watch Anthony Bourdain.”

– we replied: “I tend to read destination articles when I have an interest in the place (been there, planning on going there soon or have a strong interest for other reasons) but otherwise prefer posts on the philosophies and practicalities of travel or one off andecdotes. Suzy’s The Homebody Traveler and your The Writing on the Ceiling are good examples of what I like to read.

Like you I don’t have any problem with press trips per se, and I’m sure we will accept some in the future. We will however be following the advice of some the bloggers with journalism backgrounds in making sure we have time by ourselves to find our own unique experiences, for good or ill.”

William said: “With myself being someone who just loves to travel, this really opened my eyes to other travel blogs and why they are posting about the areas they are in. Very interesting for sure.

I do prefer more personal travel related posts though, I think you get more out of them, at least i do.”

– we replied: “I’m glad people are blogging from Jordan and encouraging more travellers to go there. To me it doesn’t matter who footed the bill as long as the articles are interesting: sometimes they are, sometimes not.”

Robert said: “And at that point TWT, I totally agree. It doesn’t really matter who pays the tab as long as the writer will be objective enough to recommend what he sees as useful destination info and by the same breadth be able to point out any shortcomings. That way a blogger will not go hunting for every other press trip on offer. Objectivity.”