If you are curious about staying in an “eco-lodge,” consider checking into the Feynan Ecolodge in Jordan. You will not be disappointed!
I first heard about Feynan at the Ecotourism and Sustainable Travel Conference in Monterey, California (ESTC) a few years ago. One of the consultants who worked at the hotel, Muna Haddad, gave a presentation about the project and I was hooked – at that moment I just knew that I needed to experience a candlelit caravansarai – an evening under the stars drinking tea and listening to local stories in the desert. Through the Jordanian Tourism Board (JTB) I arranged for a ten-day journey in the Kingdom of Jordan as part of a press trip with a group of bloggers and journalists and jumped into my next adventure.
Feynan Ecolodge is a class-act example of what sustainable accommodations should strive to be like
Nestled in the Dana Valley in Jordan, Feynan Ecolodge is a class-act example of what sustainable accommodations should strive to be like. The hotel is effective because it has managed to overcome some of the difficulties that plague other similar projects: financial, social, and environmental.
Mr. Nabil Tarazi, an engineer, was inspired to create his own hotel company after traveling for a year and experiencing the travel industry first-hand. He started EcoHotels, and this public-private enterprise administers Feynan Ecolodge. Mr. Tarazi and his group of hotels work with the Jordanian Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that administers the country’s biospheres and nature reserves.
Feynan was originally built by the RSCN but it was renovated with eco-friendly upgrades when it came under the ownership of EcoHotels. There are 26 guest rooms – none with electricity. However, the washrooms and conference centre do have electricity, in case you wanted to plan a business meeting there. To further minimize its footprint while at the same time promoting the local economy, the hotel has stopped using plastic bottles and instead uses locally crafted clay jugs. The jugs hold water while providing an aesthetic unique to the hotel.
What little energy required by the facility for the few light bulbs in the restrooms and conference centre and for heating the water is garnered from a group of solar panels. It should be noted that no wood is burned on-site; rather, they use jift – a natural by-product made from olives – to generate heat when it is needed. The hotel produces significantly less waste than other hotels due to its rigorous composting and recycling programs. Just when I thought the environmental footprint could not get any lower, I discovered that the hotel serves only vegetarian food, thus doing its part to reduce greenhouse gases even further.
Partnerships are very important in an industry like this. When industrial development and copper mining threatened some parts of the Dana Valley, it was the partnership with the RSCN that protected the area from further mining. The Ecolodge is fully staffed by members of the local Bedouin community, and an additional pool of 45 drivers is used on a contract basis for transporting guests to and from the hotel. Feynan purchases olive-based soaps and candles made by local women’s cooperatives, thus bringing a gender-inclusive dynamic to the overall project. As if the hotel was not already involved as a partner with the community, they once again showed their commitment to locals by supporting the construction of a school in the area.
The Bedouin Experience
Feynan also promotes a unique opportunity for its guests: the “Bedouin Experience.” Participants have the chance to experience a brief immersion in the Bedouin culture: traditional coffee preparation, charcoal eye-shadow techniques, cultural etiquette tips, and cultural sayings. My favourite saying was: guests are like fish – always welcome but start to stink after three days! This was a truly unique and enjoyable experience that I will always treasure.
Our guide, Solomon, led us on breathtaking sunrise hikes, introduced us to his family, and entertained us with his wit, charm, and storytelling. He is one of the few guides I have ever met who was able to bridge all cultures and make everyone feel at home.
With all great things, however, there are always things to improve upon. Mr. Nabil informed me that the hotel’s temperature control methods need some work and hotel staff members need to improve their level of English fluency. The temperature problem can probably be fixed easily enough, but the challenge with improving English may be a longer process – and it can improve if the staff members can take lessons but are also are exposed to more English-speaking people. With the new school built, perhaps the younger folks can pick up the language and there will be a new generation of locals ready to develop the tourist industry further.
The Feynan Ecolodge is a terrific eco-friendly project that successfully incorporates social and financial benefits to the local community. It employs members from about 80 families and over half of the revenue earned stays within the communities. The food was delicious, the rooms were comfortable and relaxing, and the tourist programs were interesting and memorable.
The Dana Biosphere Reserve is an area I would like to explore more fully, and I could certainly use a few more of those early morning hikes. Perhaps I would stay an extra day or two to see how some of those olive products are made, and I would certainly take some time to relax in my candlelit room, to soak up the fresh air and sounds of local life around me. In other words, I would definitely go back!
Edited by Joe van Troost
Title Photo: Feynan Ecolodge ©Feynan Ecolodge Photo by Brian Scannell