Immersed in a severe crisis, without visibility on the date of reopening of the borders, the tourism professionals of Morocco count on nationals to mitigate their losses linked to the pandemic, in a country still paralyzed by traffic restrictions.
Tourism activity suddenly stopped in mid-March with the suspension of flights without notice followed by the closing of the kingdom’s borders, which last year attracted a record 13 million visitors.
During the first four months of the year, the number of tourists decreased by 45% and the number of overnight stays by around 43% compared to the same period last year, specified at the beginning of the week the Minister of Tourism Nadia Fettah.
And the summer promises to be very complicated, as the border closures hamper the arrival of foreign visitors.
“I think it’s dead for 2020,” said David Azuelos, who runs seven guesthouses in Rabat and laid off all workers because he was “out of a penny.”
To save the summer season, the authorities launched a communication campaign “to let Moroccans know about the richness and diversity of their country”, while promising “incentive offers” and “preferential prices”, as underlined the minister.
In Marrakech, a jewel of Moroccan tourism, “professionals are working on adapted offers, by proposing new thematic itineraries,” said Hamid Bentahar, regional tourism manager.
“This is not an alternative but a strategic choice: the Moroccan clientele represents 35 to 40% of tourism income in Marrakech,” he continues.
The Moroccan Tourist Office (ONMT) also wants to “invite citizens to travel to their country as soon as the state of health emergency is lifted”.
But, to the chagrin of tourism professionals, the state of health emergency that ran until June 10 has been extended by a month and the country’s major cities remain subject to strict confinement until further notice.
“This is a big blow to the morale of the hoteliers who expected to welcome Moroccan customers for mid-June,” said an operator, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A key sector of the Moroccan economy, tourism represents around 10% of the kingdom’s wealth. Along with exports and financial transfers from Moroccans living abroad, it is one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange.
In recent years, the sector has benefited from the launch of dozens of new air routes. The downside is that more Moroccans are traveling abroad, where they spent around two billion euros last year.
“They find more freedom there, can drink on the terrace and the offer is more attractive for families,” said the operator.
Messages on social networks also describe as a brake the marriage certificate required for couples in hotels, in a country where “sex outside marriage” remains punishable by prison.
The Costa del Sol in Spain, Istanbul and Paris are among the leading destinations for Moroccans. In addition to the quest for freedom, the offer is generally cheaper in the seaside resorts of the south of neighboring Spain.
In 2018, for the first time, there were more Moroccan tourists in Spain (900,000) than Spaniards in Morocco. But for now, it is still impossible to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.