BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN RECLAIMS SPOT ON HOLY LAND PILGRIM MAP
Jordan attracts 24% more U.S. visitors to Baptism Site in First Quarter 2010;
Tour Companies Say Numbers Mark Turning Point in Faith-Based Travel to Jordan
McLEAN, Va. (April 27, 2010) – The rustic, eco-protected settlement on the eastern banks of the Jordan River known as “Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan” – where the Bible says Jesus came to be baptized by his cousin John – is fast becoming a must-see destination for faith-based travelers and general tourists alike to the Holy Land. In 2010, 24% more American tourists visited the baptism site during January-March than during the same period last year, and travel suppliers are reporting increased interest and demand for the site from Christian travel planners and consumers.
“We have worked hand in hand with our suppliers to promote this unique location and educate religious travel planners about how to build it into all of their Holy Land travel programs,” said Malia Asfour, director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. “Now that the site is fully open and travelers have easy access, it is only natural that this authentic location is once again returning to its place of prominence on the Holy Land map.”
Asfour views faith-based travel as one of the primary niches for Jordan tourism. She has been working since 1997 to promote the destination of Jordan to the North American travel market, and decided early on that Jordan needed a re-branding in the religious sector in order to educate and re-introduce the kingdom’s biblical sites and experiences to prospective travelers. With Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan at number one on the list of must-see biblical locations in Jordan, the rising tide of visitors to the site should lift faith-based travel to other parts of Jordan.
“It’s a case of what was old is new again,” said Christine Moore, founder of Epiphany Media, who has spent a decade representing the Jordan Tourism Board to the religious community in North America. “More Americans are simply returning to the original pilgrim route taken by the early Christians, who would visit the place of baptism between their journeys to Mount Nebo and Jerusalem. Today, faith-based travelers can have the same authentic experience that the original pilgrims had, and also enjoy adventures and experiences at Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea and so many other locations in Jordan.”
The authenticity, simplicity and eco-protected nature of the site means it is here to stay on the pilgrim map. And more and more faith-based travel suppliers are recognizing that the practice of taking Christian groups to other locations on the Jordan River does not hold the same meaning for their clients as visiting the special area where John the Baptist lived, preached and baptized his cousin.
Nick Mancino, president of Group IST, who operates Regina Tours for the Catholic market and Journeys Unlimited for the Protestant market, said he has experienced increased demand across the board for the Baptism Site. And Rick Ricart, president of Imagine Tours & Travel, whose father promoted Jordan as a religious travel destination as far back as the 1970’s, said he has had one of his busiest seasons ever for travel to Jordan. Ricart said the baptism site is becoming more popular among his clients, as word has spread about its excavations and accessibility.
“I used to feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness myself when trying to promote the baptism site or other holy places in Jordan,” said Ricart. “But we have prepared the way, and now more travel leaders are aware of the opportunities in Jordan, and want to give their groups a chance to experience Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan and other special places, as well as sample some of that famous Jordanian hospitality.”
An area of 350,000 square miles of land has been set aside for the pilgrim village just outside the baptism site reserve, which has strict environmental protection bylaws.
Many Christian denominations have begun building new churches and facilities/guest houses nearby in a “pilgrim village” to facilitate modern pilgrims to what has been called the “Birthplace of Christianity.” Churches and facilities in existence or in the works include these traditions: Greek Orthodox; Anglican; Baptist; Catholic; Coptic and Russian Orthodox.
In March, 2009, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) officials, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed of Jordan joined officials from around the world to dedicate a new Baptism Center. “I think believers from many parts of the world who want to make a pilgrimage to the area where Jesus was baptized will certainly want to make their own pilgrimage here,” said BWA President David Coffey.
In May, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstones of two new Catholic churches being built with these words: “Let us rejoice in the knowledge that the two buildings, one Latin, the other Greek Melkite, will serve to build up, each according to the traditions of its own community, the one family of God.”
Rupert Murdoch’s youngest daughters were baptized at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan in March, 2010, but you don’t have to be famous to hold a ceremony at the baptism site – park officials welcome all church groups and other visitors interested in holding special ceremonies, such as baptisms or communion, and these are easily arranged through tour operators.
Park Oversight and Planning
The Baptism Site is a legally protected National Jordanian Park run by an independent board of trustees – the Baptism Site Commission – appointed personally by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan, who considers its maintenance an honor and a sacred trust for future generations of Jordanians and Christian pilgrims from all over the world. For more information, please visit https://nymail.imgworld.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=77137301287a4bdb8b5b0bccde5fcedd&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.baptismsite.com.
While several hundred thousand people visit the park each year, Baptism Site Commission officials expect to receive more than a million visitors a year once all churches and guest facilities are complete.
The baptism site is close to Amman and the Dead Sea resort and hotel area, which is served by several 4- and 5-star hotels. Planning is underway to build 3-star hotels on the northeastern shores of the Dead Sea.
Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan is part of the wilderness area associated with John the Baptist and also contains the traditional spot where the Bible says Elijah the prophet ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.
While Jordan is home to hundreds of biblical locations, some of the most pivotal biblical events occurred at these sites:
Mount Nebo, where Moses saw the land he would never enter and, according to the Bible, is buried nearby in an unknown location;
Mukawir, a mountaintop fortress not far from the Dead Sea where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded;
Tel Mar Elias, the birthplace of the prophet Elijah (also known as Elijah the Tishbite), located among the ancient Hills of Gilead;
Umm Qais, a Roman provincial town overlooking the Sea of Galilee where the miracle of the Gadarene swine took place;
Jabbok River, where Jacob wrested with “the Angel,” and his name was changed to Israel, meaning “He who wrestles with God.”
The Jordan Tourism Board North America is an independent, public-private partnership that works to brand, position and promote Jordan as a tourism destination. For more information, please visit our website at https://nymail.imgworld.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=77137301287a4bdb8b5b0bccde5fcedd&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.visitjordan.com.
Christine M. Moore
P.O. Box 1382
Frisco, TX 75034
Google Voice: 830-4INFO-76 (830-446-3676)