By Souhail Karam
By Souhail Karam
RABAT Oct 15 (Reuters)
Morocco, looking to boost tourism and without the financial clout to buy aircraft that can bring holidaymakers from around the world, may sell a stake in Royal Air Maroc to a major Gulf Arab airline.
A government source said a proposal for a partnership with flag carrier RAM will be made during a tour by King Mohammed to Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that starts on Tuesday.
“We will listen to their (Gulf airlines) ideas about how they see this partnership … For our part, we may propose the sale of up to a 44 percent stake in RAM to the selected partner,” the source told Reuters on Monday .
“The idea is to capitalise on the solid presence of major Gulf airlines, especially in China, India, Latin America … markets where a huge, growing number can afford to travel every year.” Morocco aims to treble tourism receipts by 2020.
About 70 percent of tourists visiting Morocco come from euro zone countries, with the rest mostly from Gulf Arab countries. It aims to attract 20 million tourists by 2020, a little over double the current figure.
Tourism accounts for 10 percent of the country’s $93 billion gross domestic product and is the country’s second biggest direct employer after agriculture.
Tourism receipts absorb a big chunk of the country’s growing trade deficit, which helps keep the current account deficit within reasonable limits.
Morocco, which has been thinking about selling down its stake in RAM for over 20 years, led major efforts to restructure the group last year in a move tourism operators said was a sign the state was preparing for a sale.
RAM took 1.6 billion dirhams ($187 million) from the state last year to shore up finances hit by growing competition, lower sales and higher fuel prices. The capital injection corresponded to the 44 percent stake the government may sell.
The airline later slashed its workforce 30 percent to around 3,900 to improve efficiency.
In April, tourism minister Lahcen Haddad told Reuters that RAM cannot meet Morocco’s tourism ambitions alone.
With a relatively modest fleet of around 40 medium and long-haul aircraft, Royal Air Maroc has sought to develop Casablanca as a regional hub connecting mostly poorly-served west African capitals to Europe and North America.
“The issue of air transportation has never been out of the agenda. Morocco is not well-served by airlines. The tourists will not be coming on camels’ back,” said a local tourism industry operator, who noted the number of flights to Morocco fell 12 percent during the first quarter of the year.
“Not a single country can manage to develop tourism without a solid airline … Morocco has all it takes to develop tourism but it has yet to win the battle of air transportation,” the operator said, noting also that “high airport tariffs” are a deterrent to airlines serving Morocco. ($1 = 8.5701 Moroccan dirhams)