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Though Jordan has always attracted pilgrims and tourists, it has never attracted the millions who travel through neighboring Israel, Palestine and Egypt. But in recent years, Jordan has experienced growth in its tourism industry.

“The trend has changed, nicely, in the past few years, with Jordan being on the map,” says Hanna Sawalha, owner of Nebo Tours, a local tour company.

“People are coming back to do their pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” Mr. Sawalha says, stressing that they want to spend time in Jordan.

Mr. Sawalha, as do others connected to Jordan’s growing religious tourism industry, recognizes that holy sites are but one — albeit central — facet of the business.

“Jordan, when you sell it, you’re selling a country,” he explains. And with such a variety of attractions and experiences, from biblical sites to posh resorts, Jordan is not a hard sell.

“Petra was splendid,” says Angela Fraschini, one of the pilgrims with Father Corti. The group arrived at the baptismal park in the afternoon after spending a morning at a spa on the shores of the Dead Sea. The previous day, the pilgrims visited Petra, the ancient Nabatean city that offers some of the region’s most spectacular views and monuments, before spending the night in Amman, the kingdom’s capital.

A professor of economics at the University of Eastern Piedmont, in Alessandria, Italy, Ms. Fraschini says her diocese makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land every year, and she goes whenever she can. On previous trips, which have all mixed leisure and sightseeing with faith, she has visited holy sites in Israel, Palestine, Syria and Turkey.

Many tourists visit Jordan on all–inclusive package tours — anywhere from 600,000 to 700,000 a year, says Mr. Sawalha. However, most of these tours rush through Jordan, stopping at only a couple major attractions before moving on to Israel or Egypt.

Typically, groups visit Mount Nebo and Petra and little else. Some longer tours include the ancient cities of the Decapolis, such as Jerash and Umm Qais, which boast both biblical significance and magnificent archaeological ruins.

“Now the Baptism site is slowly being added,” says Mr. Sawalha. “Next year, almost everyone who’s coming has added it, because the pope’s visit really cemented the fact that this is the baptism site.”

Time and money, explains Fadi Abu Jaber, director of the religious tours division of Hashweh Corporation, a large Jordanian travel agency, shorten most pilgrims’ stays in Jordan. “When people are coming a long way, it isn’t feasible to see just one country,” he says. Few pilgrims from overseas, he believes, are willing to visit the Holy Land without spending time in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, where Jesus was born, lived and died.

Both Mr. Sawalha and Mr. Abu Jaber say they would like to see visitors spend more time in Jordan and visit more of its diverse attractions.

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Tags: Jordan Christian-Muslim relations Pilgrimage/pilgrims Tourism