Morocco – like Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt – has suffered a dip in tourism figures after terror attacks. Visitor numbers are still dropping, even five years after the last attack in the North African country.
It is promoting itself as a destination with sun, sand and sea. Using traditional Gnawa music, a rich Moroccan repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms,it underlines the cultural heritage of the country. Morocco has lots of untouched nature and many different landscapes. The country has a lot to offer – and yet in the tourist regions fear is growing that visitor numbers have been on a steady decline. Morocco is looking for a new strategy to attract more tourists to the country.
Fear keeps the visitors away
In a palm grove in the Drâa Valley in south-western Morocco, Mathilde Richard has created an attractive hotel that complies with sustainable tourism standards. This is a beautiful but structurally weak area. The travel business here was just getting started and now people fear it could take a battering: “the locals here are worried that the Europeans are scared,” she tells us, “and yet I think that Morocco is safer than France.”
This claim is correct if you look at the number of terror attacks. And yet it is the French in particular, who are steering clear of Morocco. As tourism minister Lahcen Haddad explains: “since July 2014 – with the emergence of the ‘Islamic State,’ the attacks in France, Tunisia and Algeria – we have seen a discernible decline in our most important markets, of which France is our most important market.”
Haddad of course adds that: “Morocco is a safe country.” Despite this, last year, for the first time, the number of tourists headed to the kingdom dipped. It was a mere decline of two percent, but nevertheless a worrying figure.
Currently 10 instead of 20 million visitors
Morocco had actually planed to be attracting 20 million visitors by the year 2020. Currently that number stands just at the halfway mark of 10 million. Tourism was expected to provide around a million jobs by the end of the decade. Currently it has created employment for half a million people.
Big plans are being put on hold: six huge hotel complexes on the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast were planned with investments of roughly 9 billion euros ($10 billion). Foreign investors were initially interested but then bailed, one after the other. Too few tourists, too many problems that couldn’t be resolved.
Nobody seems to know how to unravel this Gordian knot of perceived insecurities and jittery investors. A spokesperson for the national tourist office says: “by 2020, we expected 20 million visitors to come… Unfortunately, in a global scenario with terrorism, it is normal for tourist numbers to decline.”
Minister Haddad is looking for salvation in new markets, for instance China, South Asia and Africa: “We have seen some 300,000 West Africans come to Morocco each year. From Brazil there were roughly 100,000 people and 200,000 from Russia. These are important markets in threshold countries that we want to diversify.”
Yet this will not be enough to make the ambitious government plans for the tourism sector in Morocco a reality. The first step, according to local media reports, has been to commission a survey which is to establish where the snags are in the ambitious Moroccan tourism plans – and, of course, how these can be overcome.
Jens Borchers/scb (Deutschlandfunk)