Rabat – From an international landscape tainted by conflicts and terrorism to a global economic slump, 2016 has been a difficult year for tourism.
Despite such unfortunate circumstances, the last few months of 2016 have allowed the Moroccan tourism sector to bring in record-breaking revenue, and to avoid the decline in traditional markets, thanks to an overall international trust in the Morocco as a destination.
The Moroccan tourism industry has been able to resist many challenges in an extremely difficult international environment. In short, this was the message shared by the Moroccan National Office of Tourism (ONMT) and the National Confederation of Tourism (CNT) during a press briefing held last December in Casablanca, which presented the 2016 annual report of the sector and discussed 2017 prospects.
According to Abderrafie Zouiten, Director of the ONMT, tourism receipts in foreign currency recorded a “historic peak” in 2016, with a rise of 4.1 percent, reaching a revenue of 59.4 billion dirhams by the end of November 2016.
“This revenue puts the tourism sector in first place in terms of contributing to the country’s foreign exchange reserves,” said Zouiten. As for arrivals, “we should finish the year at more 1.5 percent” growth.
In an interview with Medias24, Said Mouhid, president of the National Tourism Observatory (ONT) and director of the Regional Council of Tourism (CRT) of Casablanca, announced that the last week of the holiday season experienced a very satisfactory rate of hotel bookings, with 70 to 90 percent of Marrakech establishments having been booked.
The city had seen an exceptional month this last November, with a 33 percent increase in hotel bookings thanks to the COP22 Climate Change Conference.
Mouhid further explained how this trend reflects the appeal of the kingdom in general, but above all, the trend shows that tourists are more and more reassured by the security that prevails in the country. He then went on to pay a tribute to the “formidable” work carried out by the security forces that make Morocco a haven of peace and an exception in the Arab-Muslim world.
Boom in Chinese and Russian tourist numbers
If such a resilient touristic performance was made possible, it was mainly through the adoption of a strategy that aimed to diversify targeted markets, officials said. Moroccan tourism officials focused mainly on attracting Russian and Chinese visitors., By the end of November 2016, results of these efforts were showing. Arrivals from China have increased six fold since the decision to remove the visa for Chinese tourists, while Russian tourist numbers increased by 300% in Agadir.
“The decision of King Mohammed VI to remove Chinese visa has given [Chinese tourists] a clear incentive, even if there is still no direct flight between China and Morocco and even if it is a country that is far away,” stated Abderrafie Zouiten.
“Before the removal of the visa, we received about 800 to 1,000 Chinese tourists each month. Today, we are at 6,000 or even 7,000 Chinese visitors per month,” Zouiten added.
According to the ONMT director, the German market has also seen a very interesting growth since November, with the introduction of a new tour operator, FTI Voyages, and a new partnership with the Atlas Hospitality group.
New air bases in 2017
The ONMT has also indicated that it is investing in several projects in 2017. The office wants to reinforce air accessibility to different Moroccan regions at competitive and affordable prices to encourage travelers.
New air bases should be installed gradually in Morocco. Two of them will be operational as early as April 2017 in Fez and Agadir, and others will follow in cities like Tangier and Marrakech. However, the names of the concerned airlines were not specified by the ONMT.
According to Zouiten, “several companies have programmed Morocco as a destination, including the return of Air France on the Paris CDG – Marrakech route […] This is also the case for other low-cost airlines such as Air Arabia, EasyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air, which recently launched a Warsaw-Agadir line, all equivalent to nearly 500,000 visitors in 2017.”
In 2017, the ONMT also intends to “continue and strengthen” its digital communication by introducing a new online via “Visitmorocco.com,” which will be accessible in eleven languages starting January 2017. The office also took the initiative to invite several bloggers from different countries to discover Morocco, in hopes of the country building a good reputation on social media.
Another new market the ONMT and the CNT are currently working on is the promotion of tourism in rural and remote areas of Morocco, which are appealing to more and more tourists around the world.
2016, a resilient year for Moroccan tourism
Even with the enormous under-exploited potentialities of the sector, tourism in Morocco has a very promising future. Despite the fact that numbers are still not meeting the ministry’s ambitions, new markets like Germany, England, Belgium, Italy and Holland have the strong potential to make up for the decline of the French market.
“We can be satisfied in knowing that we achieved a historic record of tourism receipts in 2016. At the end of November, we were already at a revenue of 59.5 billion dirhams […] This increase in revenue is a testimony of the quality of our tourism and foreshadows a beautiful 2017,” concludes the director of Casablanca’s CNT.
Edited by Ghita Benslimane