The summer period, normally the busiest of the year, seems to be a quiet one for Moroccan tourism this year. Experts in the field agree that the world economic crisis, reduced purchasing power among Moroccan expatriates, the flu pandemic, and the start of Ramadan at the end of August, will have contributed to a significant drop in the country’s tourist activities.
The number of tourists crossing the border into Morocco had increased by 10% between January 1st and May 31st, reaching 2,751,000 visitors. Yet, the number of overnight stays in official accommodation fell by 3% overall compared with the same period last year. If local tourists are excluded, the number of overnight stays drops by 5%.
Morale is low among most operators in the sector, and nearly all are reducing their forecasts for this year.
Driss El Mouwaffak, who manages a hotel in Marrakesh, told Magharebia that there is real cause for concern. “In addition to the tail-off seen in our business over some months, the summer period on which we’ve really been counting looks like it might not put us back on course.”
El Mouwaffak said that bookings in his 4-star hotel are no higher for August than they were in the same period last year.
A source close to the National Tourism Federation, who chose not to disclose his identity, acknowledged that a drop was expected for August, for a number of reasons.
Moroccans and Moroccan expatriates, who usually make up a significant proportion of the guests in the summer, will likely prefer to stay closer to home with the start of Ramadan, he explained. Furthermore, the financial crisis has significantly eroded the spending power of Moroccan expatriates who are visiting the country, he added.
Jean Jacques Boucher, the managing director of FRAM Maroc – an Internet travel service – noted that among French tourists, who head the list of visitors to Morocco, bookings are down 30% compared with the summer of 2008. A July 7th study by Cabinet Protourisme, a French consulting group specialising in tourism, showed that 85% of French people taking holiday this year were planning to stay in France.
With France being the top target for Morocco’s tourism market, this attitude is bound to have negative effects on the tourism sector in the country.
Yet, only a few weeks ago, Minister of Tourism Mohamed Boussaïdat stated that “the tourism sector is not suffering from the crisis,” at the June 8th meeting of the Strategic Monitoring Committee, in charge of minimising the effects of the world economic crisis on the Moroccan economy.
Today, professionals are ignoring his comments. At a meeting of the National Tourism Federation (FNT) on Tuesday (July 14th) in Casablanca, players in the sector agreed on the need to close ranks during these lean times.
“2009 remains a difficult year for tourism across the country,” stated FNT Chair Othman Cherif Alami.
In the face of such a worrying situation, those working in the sector are pinning their hopes on the Cap 2009 emergency plan, launched in December 2008.
The government injected additional funds of 300 million dirhams to promote Morocco as a tourist destination and to preserve market shares in the priority markets of France, Spain, UK, Italy, Germany, etc. The plan also aims to maintain the numbers of tourists coming into the country.
Strengthening institutional communication, promoting the new “Azur” resorts (Saâdia, Mazagan) to countries sending tourists, consolidating the growing trend in air travel, and putting in place a specific relaunch plan for Marrakesh, the country’s top tourist destination, which accounted for 35% of overnight stays in 2008, are also part of the Cap 2009 goals.