His Majesty King Abdullah II laid the foundation stone of a specialized Academy for training on the protection of nature and sustainable development near Ajloun Forest Reserve in 2010. HRH Crown Prince Hussein inaugurated the Academy in 2015. The academy is “the first centre in the Arab world” specialised in offering training on nature conservation.
The Academy is constructed nearby the Ajloun Forest Reserve. It will be physically linked to the Reserve and its tourism facilities to create a single integrated eco-tourism complex. This will enable the Academy to use these tourism facilities as real-life training situations.
The key facilities in the Academy are:
- Training rooms to accommodate a maximum of sixty students at any one time
- ‘Search and rescue’ facility for training in handling tourism emergencies in the field. This requires the construction of a climbing wall and a practice hall
- Medical clinic for teaching in-field first aid and survival trainings
- Small conference hall, with audio visual facilities
- Library and resource room, with computer suite and small research rooms
- Management offices and staff room
- Canteen and restaurant, plus outdoor food preparation area for practice in outdoor catering
- Hotel-style kitchen
- Storage and service rooms
- Bathrooms – and a small spa, using recycled treated water, for use by Lodge guests at an extra fee.
- Staff accommodation of high standard to attract professional instructors (family and singles)
- Trainee accommodation, designed to accommodate up to twenty students, two per room, with common room for out of hours recreation. Rooms are to be built in a ‘hotel style’ so that students can practice housekeeping duties and cleaning rotas like a real lodge.
- Access road and car parking
A preliminary estimate for the size of the Centre is 3,000 square meters. constructed to incorporate state of the art environment-friendly materials and systems, including solar power and water conservation devices, so that it can act as a model of sustainable design. Initial designs have been prepared by Ammar Khammash Associates
The type of programmes to be offered will include: training for eco, nature and adventure guides; survival skills, search and rescue skills, eco-lodge management, sustainable tourism practices, eco-business development, 4 x 4 driving, outdoor catering, menu creation, first aid and emergency treatments in remote locations, ranger training, environmental policing and inspection, customer services, developing forest tourism packages, wildlife identification, geology and landscape, nature conservation and local community development.
The Academy will develop a core curriculum of key training areas, accredited by international standards. This will be achieved through the use of consultants to prepare the programmes and to train the key staff; and also through linkages and joint programmes with other Jordanian and international institutions
(a) Development goal
To construct an international-standard academy and ‘centre of excellence’ in Ajloun for eco-tourism and environmental ranger services in order to meet the national and regional requirements of the tourism industry and environmental agencies and create significant career opportunities and socio-economic benefits the people of the Ajloun.
(b) Expected outcomes
- Minimum of 100 people trained each year to meet the market demands in eco-tourism and environment-related disciplines. It is important to stress the idea that the main training approach will be one of intensive coaching to deliver high quality candidates for the market – hence the “Centre of Excellence” label. It will not, therefore, be attempting to process large numbers of students each year.
- A range of eco-tourism experiences and facilities created in the Ajloun District to support the Academy’s training programmes. These would include hiking and biking routes throughout Ajloun and beyond, camping and cultural experiences, bird watching facilities and archaeology programmes. All of these facilities and services would be used by the trainees in the Academy to develop their knowledge and skills in relevant eco and adventure tourism operations; and, as viable commercial enterprises, they would also provide jobs and revenue for the local people.
- At least 60 jobs are created for Ajloun people directly from the operation of the Academy and support services. These jobs would include the staff of the Academy – service staff, trainers, additional staff in the Lodge, tour guides, drivers, food suppliers, etc – and also people employed in the management and servicing of the desert experiences and facilities mentioned above. (NB, the senior trainers will probably need to be recruited from outside Ajloun, at least initially, until local capacity is developed)
- A yearly programme of seminars, short courses and mini-conferences, bringing in visitors to Ajloun who will contribute to the local economy through the use of local services and amenities.
- National and international recognition for the Ajloun Academy as a centre of excellence for eco-tourism and environment related services, giving the area a much needed boost in prestige and local community morale.
(c) Employment opportunities
The Academy was conceived on the basis of a clear, perceived need for new and better trained employees in the eco / adventure tourism fields and in environmental monitoring, ranger services and policing. The evidence for this need is summarized as follows:
- Jordan’s commitment to growth in the eco-tourism / adventure sectors
In the National Tourism Strategy, 2005, eco and adventure tourism are two of priority niche markets for Jordan. It states clearly that “landscape, seascape, climate, flora and fauna and other natural attractions are a strong feature of Jordan’s boutique positioning”. On the ground, new eco-tourism facilities and resorts are planned for Dibeen, Ajloun, the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum; RSCN itself is currently working on a 5-star eco-lodge scheme for a new protected area south of Petra. These and other future ventures will undoubtedly create job opportunities for people with relevant training and experience. Furthermore, Jordan is committed to “developing a sustainable tourism economy” and recognizes the need to build expertise in the environmental planning and management of tourism sites and facilities.
- Job forecasts for the tourism industry
By the year 2010, Jordan predicts an increase of 91,700 new jobs in the tourism industry (direct and indirect) and clearly a significant proportion of these jobs will be required in the growth areas of tourism, including eco and adventure enterprises. RSCN itself has experienced difficulty finding adequately trained staff for its eco-lodges and nature guides and, while it has invested in training for local people, replacing staff that leave is a persistent problem.
- Identified capacity and HR needs in the tourism industry
Considerable research and public consultation took place for the development of the National Tourism Strategy, which included a full analysis of HR needs in the industry. This analysis made it clear that the implementation of a Human Resource plan must “not narrowly focus on today’s issues… it must also seek to address long-term development of the (tourism) industry”. Among the recommendations of the analysis were:
- “Encourage best practice on teaching and training in tourism and hospitality programmes”
- “Meet the needs for specialist training, including eco-tourism”
- “Develop career paths for key occupations in the tourism sector”
- “Support the development of student placements”
The proposed Academy in Ajloun, by concentrating on excellence and practical work experience in the Ajloun Forest Reserve, would make a significant contribution to supporting these recommendations.
- Ministry of Environment estimates of job opportunities in ranger and inspection services
The Ministry of Environment has recently partnered with the national police force and other agencies to create a national environmental policing and ranger service. It estimates 900 job opportunities within the service over the next 3 to 5 years. It also predicts a rising demand for environmental inspectors to monitor and regulate key aspects of environmental quality in support of current and proposed environmental legislation. These aspects include air and water quality and domestic and hazardous waste disposal. The Ajloun Academy would be the only facility in the country to provide quality training in these areas of work. Also, the headquarters of the Environmental Police is to be based in the City of Ajloun and the Academy will provide a training base for their officers “on the doorstep”.
- Regional demand
Jordan is seen as a leader in the region in eco and adventure tourism and RSCN is currently assisting Syria and Lebanon to develop “Dana-like” enterprises in areas of high ecological value. There is little doubt that major growth will occur in neighboring countries in these areas of specialized tourism when then the demand for Arabic speaking experts and practitioners will likewise increase. For Jordan to retain its regional lead and influence, a Centre of Excellence for Eco-tourism will bring many benefits in terms of regional job opportunities for Jordanians and the potential to offer training programmes for practitioners from the region on a fee-paying basis.