Responsible tourism in
Petra & Wadi Rum

Preserving Petra – a site which has been standing proud for over two millennia – should be the primary concern of all travellers and by paying attention to some fairly obvious guidelines you’ll be helping to maintain the site for future generations. The erosive nature of sandstone means that Petra is constantly under threat from the weather – and that’s before the 600,000 annual tourists have arrived. Wind and rain compound the fragility of the site and the constant strain added by footfall accelerates the natural erosion process. Responsible tourism in Petra follows a few simple rules –be sure you preserve what you have come to enjoy for future generations.

Erosion in Petra

Aside from the impact of people walking around Petra the temptation to touch ancient walls and lean on surfaces further diminishes what has stood for over 2,000 years. Dr Tom Paradise from the University of Arkansas has worked at Petra for a quarter of a century and monitored tourist impact levels on two areas in particular: the Khazneh and Theatre. He found that over the course of a ten year period the Khazneh had been reduced by 40mm due to touching and rubbing by visiting tourists. He also discovered that the Theatre’s stone masonry markings that were 15-20 percent visible in 1990 had been worn away to less than 5-10 percent visible in 2005.

What you can do
It’s these sorts of findings that need to be taken into consideration when visiting Petra and although it’s nigh on impossible not to touch something of the sandstone site, taking care not to go out of your way to do so is definitely best practice – and there is never any justification for climbing on the monuments.

Another area where tourists really should think before they act is when clambering aboard a donkey to climb up the sandstone steps to the Monastery. Think: If your regular walking boots are going to cause some damage then imagine the impact of a donkey’s hooves! The Petra National Trust are trying to find a way to regulate donkey use on sandstone; however, as this is a major source of income for locals, finding alternative uses for donkeys is an ongoing agenda item. Protecting the welfare of animals in Petra is just as important as looking after the structure itself with other core issues, such as: child welfare and human rights, fundamental to the work being undertaken by the Care for Petra campaign. This short Care for Petra video is a great resource for responsible travellers visiting Petra.

P.S. Walking sticks are also known to damage Petra’s sandstone paths and carving graffiti into the walls is just wrong on so many levels.

Be an ethical shopper

The more tourists that visit Petra the more locals will want to – and should be able to – benefit from their presence. However, visitors have a duty to ensure they are not encouraging the destruction of Petra through the purchase of irresponsible souvenirs, no matter how pretty – or innocent – they may look.

The traders around Petra – in common with vendors around the world – operate on a supply and demand basis. Unfortunately, many tourists demand authentic artefacts – which can only be acquired by looting them from Petra’s tombs. The traders only gain from this looting if they have a steady market – so by refusing to fund this activity, you are removing the incentive for them to do it. On top of this, buying and selling these looted treasures is illegal – and there will be repercussions. In the same way: it may seem like you are supporting a needy child by purchasing trinkets from them, but the more tourists that purchase items from children then the more children will be sent out to work instead of going to school.

Although sand bottles may look beautiful and have obviously been skillfully created, the more sand that’s taken from Petra’s natural landscape the less stable the landscape becomes.

Responsible tourism tips

The points below have all been set out by the Petra National Trust to help the preservation of Petra and lessen the impact of tourism on the area. If you’re visiting and want to help then please pay attention and travel responsibly to keep Petra safe for future generations.

    Writing, sitting, leaning, rubbing and climbing on Petra’s sandstone structures will damage them so don’t do it. Using modern walking sticks with points and clambering over original Nabataean steps and carvings on a donkey will destroy sandstone surfaces. Picking wild plants and flowers isn’t really acceptable anywhere and especially not in Petra. Please don’t take photos of local people without their permission. Ask first and offer a tip for their trouble. Schools have been built in villages such as Umm Sihon and the town of Wadi Musa to accommodate the 200 families that were relocated from Petra. Despite of this, several children can be found flogging wares for their parents rather than getting an education. Talk to your guide and find out the best way to provide stationery equipment for these kids rather than perpetuating child labour. Buying rock fragments, however colourful, will encourage traders to chip off some more and in so doing ruin the site for future visitors. Buying authentic antiquities, such as coins or pottery, is illegal. You might be asked by a trader if you’re interested in ‘real ancient coins’ and refusing or reporting to authorities should be the only course of action. Littering is also a major problem in Petra with untold plastic bags swirling around the ancient tombs never biodegrading and causing problems for wildlife. There are rubbish bins provided throughout Petra and using them, taking away your own rubbish and providing your own bag for souvenirs and food is the only way to lessen your impact.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kyle Taylor] [Erosion in Petra: Pir6mon] [Be an ethical shopper: pxhere]