Hot Holiday Deals in the Holy Land

If the prices still seem high, you can defray costs by couch-surfing with a Bedouin. Cave-dwelling locals in Petra, the majestic red-rose city among the new Seven Wonders of the World, have taken in guests through couchsurfing.org, a global network for free home stays.

"People are all different from each other, and I want to meet different people," Hamad Ammarin, who's hosted 22 visitors in his cave so far, told the Jordan Times.

Suri Fein-Fisher did not couch-surf, but she did bring her family on vacation to Petra in March. She says the trip was worth the extra spending in a downturn.

"I figured we'd better do it early in the recession, as opposed to really waiting for a big hit. It's been totally worth it. If we don't build memories, then all the money we save isn't worth anything," she said, adding that she considered a visit to Petra an extension of a family trip to Israel.

Jordan Keen to Attract Tourists

Jordan relies on tourism as its top source of domestic income and largest private sector employer, heavily promoting its resort destinations on the global stage. The country is relatively expensive for the Middle East, although Jordan's Ministry of Tourism and the semi-private sector Jordan Tourism Board are positioning the country as a niche destination for high-end and faith-based travelers.

When the economic downturn struck, the government flexed its muscle to help keep the sector afloat. With visitors from the U.S. and Europe down 20 percent in the first quarter, Jordan launched a tourism stimulus package curbing sales tax and easing visa requirements for travelers from Asia.

"I'm not scared [of declining traffic]. I think people will be very selective when they select their destination, and I think Jordan is high on that list," said Maha Al Khatib, Jordan's Minister of Tourism.

What government agencies do fear is the Dead Sea's disappearance. In the last 50 years the Dead Sea has split into two separate lakes, losing 33 percent of its surface area, an estimated three feet per year. Among other factors, global warming is accelerating the Dead Sea's evaporation. Jordan and Israel are working on a joint plan to pipe in water from the Red Sea, through the proposed "Red-Dead Canal." Some geologists worry that it would change the Dead Sea's unique composition of salts and minerals.

"Theoretically, enough Red Sea water flowing into the Dead Sea could restore most of its water level over time," said a 2008 assessment of the project by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, "[although] some scientists believe that mixing water from the two seas would lead to algae blooms, causing the Dead Sea to both change color from turquoise to brown and lose its famous buoyancy."

It's all the more reason to visit the Dead Sea now, while you can do it on (relatively) the cheap.

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