The transformation of Aqaba is one of the Kingdom's crowning economic achievements. At the end of the 1990s, Aqaba was a small, sleepy port city, divided between an underdeveloped tourist sector and a town with high, systemic unemployment. It was in need of new industries and new sources of jobs. Building on the experiences of growing cities like Dubai and Sharm El Sheikh, His Majesty King Abdullah II began an initiative to develop Aqaba into a world-class business hub that would provide jobs for the local communities, develop the skill set of the labour force, encourage foreign investment and become an economic driver for the entire country.
In April, 2000, King Abdullah requested an integrated master plan to turn Aqaba into a Special Economic Zone, (ASEZ) and entrusted an interim task force with laying down the legislative, executive and legal framework for the project. The master plan was finished in record time and in February 2001, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) was established.Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA)
ASEZA enjoys financial and administrative autonomy and is responsible for the management, organisation and development of the zone. Its board of commissioners holds full authority to make decisions relating to company registration, land allocation, tax collection, and residency permits. These are all handled through one investment window, providing rapid and positive responses to investors.
Since its inception, ASEZA has exceeded nearly every target set for it. In 2006 alone, the value of committed investments in ASEZ reached $7 billion – far beyond its initial objective of $6 billion in investment by 2020.
In the coming years, the development of massive mixed residential/commercial projects like the Ayla Plaza, the Saraya Aqaba project and the recently completed Tala Bay resort community will turn the city into a first-class Red Sea tourism destination and trade hub. The Ayla project adds another 17 km to the city's beautiful shoreline. New malls and shopping plazas are rehabilitating the downtown area.
The rejuvenated Aqaba will feature a world-class hotel and hospitality school to develop the tourism industry and help Jordanians access better jobs. The Arab world's first film school, the Red Sea Institute of Cinema Arts, is being created by Jordan's Royal Film Commission in partnership with one of the world's most prestigious film institutes, the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
The relocation and mechanisation of the container terminal, the redevelopment of the King Hussein International Airport and the encouragement of new industrial investments will also attract new business and provide new livelihoods for Jordanians from all over the country.
Finally, ASEZA and its partner, the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC), have initiated a number of projects aimed at improving life for the poorest in the local community. These include the “adoption” of schools and health centres to finance necessary renovations and procurements and construction of housing developments for the underprivileged families. Working hand-in-hand with the local community, ASEZA and ADC are providing a vision of future prosperity for the entire country.