Famous for its roman columns and basalt stone amphitheater, mesmerizing sunsets and unique views of the Golan Heights and Lake Tiberius, Umm Qais is one of Jordan’s less popular attractions. Situated on the northern borders with Syria and Palestine, the location offers a beautiful viewpoint into the surrounding lands of our neighboring countries. It has been the home of Yarmouk Reserve, one of the Royal Society of The Conservation of Nature’s protected areas, since 2010 with 59 plant species including Deciduous Oak, which is the national tree of Jordan. Whether in the summer heat or the cold winter, Umm Qais offers magnificent scenery year round: the different hues of the falling autumn leaves, the green of the spring, the dry yellow summer and magnificent winter skies. The drive up north is approximately two hours from the capital and one hour from Irbid. As a readily accessible getaway from daily life, Umm Qais is one of my favorite destinations around Jordan where you can enjoy lunch at the Romero Rest House and a stroll around the ancient city with family or friends.
The passion of the Jordanian entrepreneur Muna Haddad towards sustainability in the tourism sector led to the establishment of a consulting company that aimed to support governments and local communities in understanding and implementing sustainable tourism. Since its inception, Baraka Consulting provides consulting services to local and international governments, NGOs and private sector in creating sustainable tourism master plans and trainings. They focuses on the essential role of the local communities in economic development while minimizing the environmental effect of the more conventional tourism practices. After a productive three years working for the Jordan Tourism Board Muna took a one year break from her job to travel across Asia to study the impact of tourism on local communities. “The continuous focus of governments on the main tourism destinations has led to a significant cultural erosion. It marginalized essential secondary tourism sites as well as the people living in those areas,” says Muna. “Our goal with Baraka Destinations is to revive tourism in those areas by partnering with the local communities, and together, build an experience that showcases their hometown.” Baraka’s 3P’s model focuses on the involvement of the People and their contribution in designing and operating the model, the environmental aspect of the model and how it influences the Planet and ensuring the flow of Profit to support the individuals and the families taking part in the model.
With their guesthouse, Beit Al Baraka (Arabic for House of Blessings), this is Baraka Destinations’ first attempt to bring their models to life in Jordan. “We wanted to give a soul to the project. We created a getaway in which we collaborated with the local people to tell the story of the area and allowed them to showcase their lifestyle through the project.” The success of the first project opened the door for another in Pella, an ancient city that is regarded as the most historically significant site in Jordan. “Folding the story of each location into each model requires in-depth research while paying additional attention to every detail to curate experiences that are true to the area. In both locations, we wanted our guests to feel part of the experience and to live as a local,” Muna explains. Beit Al Baraka has collaborated with seven family-run businesses to give the guests an opportunity to connect with the people of the area while learning the history and the culture of Umm Qais. Galsoum Kitchen and Yousef’s Honey are excellent examples of how the model works. Um Suleiman from Galsoum serves home cooked , farm-to-table breakfast, lunch and dinner for the guests staying at Beit Al Baraka and offers cooking classes focusing on the traditional dishes that the area is famous for. “The supply chain for Galsoum Kitchen has a positive return on the people of Umm Qais. The ingredients used to prepare the guests’ meals are all sourced from local farmers that benefit from our sustainability model,” Muna adds. “Yousef’s Honey is the only honey harvesting experience offered in Jordan. Not only do we want people to collect their own honey, but also to learn more about the environmental aspect of bees and how they impact human life. After the honey is harvested, people are able to explore the different ways that the remaining honeycomb can be used in the production of medicines, royal jelly and candles.”
The experiential travel that Baraka Destination build their models on are an eye opener to how civilization is transforming our lives. “The modern urban life with its fast pace away from the countryside, has reduced the exposure of the younger generations to the natural environment. Through our models, we are encouraging those generations to relive such experiences, ones that their parents have been through during their childhood.” The enthusiasm that Muna and her team witnessed for such transformational travel encouraged them explore other experiences such as basket weaving and seasonal forging along with camping, hiking and cycling activities.
With Jordan’s diverse landscapes and the availability of secondary tourism sites, with its rich culture and a growing demand on local travel, Baraka Destinations is aiming to adapt their models to suit different locations around the country and to add more to their experiential getaways. “We want to celebrate the diversity of the identities of each area we are willing to locate our cluster of community based tourism experiences at,” Muna says. “It is a process of incorporating the history, the culture and the people to customize the experience while meeting the sustainability models and ensuring the return on the local community. A call for a conscious and responsible tourism that brings people together.”
* All pictures are courtesy of Baraka Destinations