By Cindy Basha
Toronto – Across the globe, 2015 saw the highest number of people killed by terrorism. Morocco, luckily, has remained a very peaceful country, especially for tourists.
Despite threats of terrorism, Morocco has not had a terrorist attack since 2011. More people in the United States, France, and Indonesia have been killed in the past year from terrorist attacks than Morocco. However, Morocco does share the same region with nations that have witnessed violence during this same period, including Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon. This has many concerned that Morocco’s tourism industry will be hurt by the unrest in neighboring countries.
The effects of terrorism have a broader impact than violence. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa have witnessed the decline of their tourism industries since the Arab Spring and the growth of ISIS.
North Africa has deeply felt the economic impact of terrorism. The Egyptian government projects it will lose upwards of 70% of its tourism because of 2015’s terrorist attacks on the country. Also, Tunisia’s government predicts the tourism industry’s loss of $384,000,000 in 2015, following June’s terrorist attacks.
France has also suffered a decline in all tourism related industries since the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Ten days after the attacks, industries related to tourism saw a 26 percent decline in revenue. This has had a strong impact on France’s economy, because seven percent of the country’s GDP comes from tourism. Lebanon has been similarly impacted by a terror-induced decline in tourism.
Beirut was known as “The Paris of the Middle East” because of its popularity among tourists, however the country’s tourism industry has seen a strong decline since 2010. According the country’s ministry of tourism, the annual number of tourists had dropped by more than 800,000 between 2010 and 2014. Experts predict this number will be even lower in 2016, especially after the November 12 attacks on Beirut.
This raises concerns about Morocco’s tourism industry. Though there has been very little violence in the country, there is a danger that its location could mean a decline in the number of tourists. The country’s tourism industry has seen growth in recent years. Still, its proximity to countries attacked by ISIS may cause many to assume it is vulnerable to similar attacks. Tourism is a mainstay of Morocco’s income, with 18.7% of the country’s GDP in 2013 coming from this industry.
Morocco World News interviewed nine people from all over the world to understand if they would or wouldn’t visit Morocco given the current climate in the Middle East and North Africa.
In light of recent violence, are travellers willing to visit Morocco?
Dixon is a 30 year-old artist and Chinese traveller planning his first trip to Morocco. He admitted his family and friends were concerned for his safety, but the country’s unique culture was too fascinating for him to miss.
“I am going definitely for the culture, a combination of Berber, Muslim and French. Plus I’d particularly like to go to the Sahara. It’s so unique and I have always wanted to see it.”
Two other respondents said they would go if they had the chance, even in light of the recent violence. Jerry, a 29 year-old administrative assistant said he was not afraid of travelling to Morocco.
“It looks amazing,” Jerry said. “My friends who went had a blast and fell in love with the people.” He added, “From what they told me, they felt very safe and comfortable there. And everything was beautiful there.”
Jerry mentioned the lack of alcohol in Morocco in comparison to Canada, but said he does not see it as a crucial element of a good vacation.
“People put too much emphasis on drinking. I hear that there is so much to see [in Morocco] that you don’t need to party all the time to have fun. I’ve seen pictures of the different cities and museums and I would check it out.”
Rebekah, a 29 year-old clothing store manager, said she would go tomorrow if she could.
“If I had the cash, I would definitely go. I feel like people exaggerate this kind of stuff [terrorist attacks] because of the media. I try not to put too much weight on that.”
Sarah, a 35 year-old Italian who recently moved to Dubai, is planning a trip to Morocco.
“Morocco is on my travelling wish list. ISIS haven’t stopped me from wanting to go!”
Having studied art and filmmaking, Sarah has always loved the region’s history and architecture.
“The historical buildings, the markets and the atmosphere seem charming. I would never want to miss out on such raw beauty”.
Another person who expressed interest in seeing Morocco was Kurt, a 27 year-old filmmaker.
“It looks pretty chill. The culture and the stuff you can do. Sometimes it’s nice to chill out on a beach or in a café. ISIS wouldn’t keep me from going if things stayed the same there.”
Those Who Would Not Go
Those respondents who said they would not go had very different reasons for avoiding Morocco. AJ, a 28-year-old Masters student, stated the country’s legal system deterred him from going.
“Their law system seems a little corrupt and strange,” adding, “Their prisons seem a little ridiculous. The Lee Murray stuff from way back. I think he pulled off the biggest bank heist in the UK but he’s a Moroccan citizen so he fled there and they wouldn’t extradite him.”
Lee Murray is a dual citizen of Morocco and the United Kingdom who was charged with a major bank heist. Murray is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in a Moroccan jail.
The violence in the region was not a deterrent for AJ. Rather, he referred to the nation as being a “theocracy.”
“There are an infinite amount of reasons to not go to an Islamic theocracy,” according to the Canadian student. He elaborated on why he thought Morocco’s “Islamic theocracy” was worse than other countries in the region like Saudi Arabia.
“In Saudi Arabia you can still get drunk” according to AJ.
But, Saudi Arabia’s liquor laws are much more strict than Morocco’s. Morocco World News reported on a British traveller Karl Andree who was arrested and sentenced to 360 lashes for bringing alcohol in the country. In Morocco, alcohol is sold in bars, hotels, and restaurants.
Interestingly enough, he said he has always wanted to go to China. Even though the country a Communist dictatorship, AJ felt the nightlife and the availability of alcohol were worth seeing.
The other individual who said he would never consider a trip to Morocco was Jonathan, a 24-year-media freelance filmmaker. He feels the entire region was too vulnerable to ISIS attacks.
“(North Africa) does cause some concern. I don’t know whether ISIS would care to bother with Morocco but if they wanted to it is pretty accessible to them.”
He elaborated on this point, highlighting a vacation is not worth the risk of getting hurt.
“If my friends were going, I would totally refuse to go. Any day, anything could happen. No one can predict this violence in the Middle East. I feel much safer going to Europe or East Asia.”
However, Paris, Madrid, and Bali, which are not in the Middle East, have been victims of several terrorist attacks over the past several years.
The General Risks of Traveling
Media coverage of unrest in the Middle East makes it is easy to forget the violent crimes committed against travellers in other places. Verity, a 26 year-old engineer, highlighted how tourists are targeted for crime everywhere.
“The recent threats and attacks in France and similar countries show that there is chance that something bad could happen wherever you travel or even if you stay home. I don’t think that’s a good reason to not try to see the world.”
Randy, a 30-year-old customer service analyst, mentioned the attacks can occur regularly in other vacation hotspots like Mexico.
“Any spot in the world can [have] the same risk. [In] Mexico, not only do we have radicals but also [drug] cartels.”
And he is correct. The Central American country has numerous cases of kidnapping and violence. Recently, two Australian surfers were shot and their van was subsequently torched whilst travelling in Mexico. In 2015, the Canadian and American governments issued travel warnings for citizens going to Mexico, due to the ongoing drug wars. Yet, its tourism sector did not suffer the same decline as Egypt or Lebanon.
The Perceived Risk for Women
Despite stereotypes about women’s rights in Muslim countries, many women are still willing to travel to Morocco. Rebekah did not think her risk of sexual harassment would be higher than any other place. She pointed out that even in Canada, women are still at risk of this.
“Men can do terrible things to women anywhere,” she said.
Sarah expressed a similar sentiment. Having lived in many cities around the world, she knows that any city can be dangerous.
“As a woman, anywhere I go, I am careful. You shouldn’t just assume that all people in one region are bad.”
Kurt mentioned when he travels with his girlfriend, even in Canada, she is cautious.
“You can’t let your guard down anywhere. Even when we travel to [Toronto], she’s careful. It’s tough to be a woman anywhere.”
Travelling as an Act of Defiance to ISIS
It may seem odd, but taking a vacation could be an act of defiance. Randy highlighted that travelling to Morocco, in his opinion, combats terrorism.
“ISIS activities do not scare me because that is exactly what ISIS wants to do, put fear in the minds of Westerners.
“I wasn’t born to live in fear by a group of radicals. My goal has always been to travel the world and I wouldn’t allow ISIS to stray me from my goals.”
Kurt was adamant he would never let any form of terrorism deter him from doing something he has wanted to do.
“People freak out about that stuff so much. But those guys [terrorists] want that. I can’t let it get to me or let it make me racist or bitter.”
Others had also questioned if ISIS would benefit from the decline of the tourism industry in Muslim countries. Rebekah felt that it could be portrayed as a form of Islamophobia.
“ISIS could frame our actions, or lack thereof, as a type of anti-Muslim sentiment. For example, if people stop travelling to Muslim countries altogether, then they could say ‘Hey, look at how much we have suffered because they hate us and won’t come here’. I bet a lot of people in that region rely of money from travellers.”
Most respondents were optimistic and open-minded. And even those who would not travel to Morocco were by no means generalizing the people of the region.
Travellers have explored Morocco, captivated by its culture, food, and scenery for centuries. ISIS and other terrorists claiming to fight in the name of Islam are shaping the way many view the Middle East and North Africa.
Terrorism is not only about violence, but also about controlling the actions and thoughts of others. It is important that we do not let hate and terror change the way we view others. This is especially true with ISIS, as they hurt Islamic countries more than the rest of the world.
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