Rabat - American and other Western tourists are sometimes accused of Orientalism when they visit Morocco or other Eastern countries. But Chinese are from the Orient!
Rabat – American and other Western tourists are sometimes accused of Orientalism when they visit Morocco or other Eastern countries. But Chinese are from the Orient!
According to the UN Tourism Organization, China is now outspending the U.S in tourism. But there is nothing essentially political about it. China is already a digital and technological powerhouse. So it should not be surprising that its youth, and expanding middle class, thirsty for new experiences, especially overseas, want to revolutionize travelling, to set new rules.
As we convened last Monday after our first morning classes to talk about how our weekends had gone—nothing is more thrilling to groups of exchange students than the narration of their adventures in their host countries—an American friend, from New Mexico, explained how he’d fallen in love with Meknes over the weekend.
“It’s a small town,” he said, adding that although there was not much to visit and you could pretty much walk through the entire town in one day, “it was still a beautiful experience”. “It was beautiful, beautiful”, he stressed, before adding, in that American proclivity of repeating sentences: “I loved it! loved it!”
“What about you? How was your weekend?” We kept asking one another, like a pack of over-enthusiastic primary school students, triggered by the thought of knowing what the others’ worlds look like, what they’re doing when not at school, when not going about their “boring” home works.
“Awful. Awful. I mean Rabat is nice. I very much like it here. But the other day, I almost felt like being invaded by Chinese Tourists,” said another American friend as she explained, perhaps unaware of her somewhat hostile American reaction to China’s new-found global assertiveness, how a “flock of Chinese tourists had invaded” all the tourist places that she visited during that weekend.
“They were everywhere. Taking group pictures and acting as though they were the only ones around, as if saying ‘hey everyone, we are the new boys in town,’” she said, visibly still dismayed at “the Chinese invaders.”
And that’s where the new generation of Chinese travelers enters the picture.
In the spring festival, Chinese tourists, once a rare breathing kind at Moroccan resorts, became the prevailing group, the new dish du jour in Morocco’s never-ending thriving tourism. They filled hotels, outspent and out-shopped other nationalities. Most important of all, they sent pictures to relatives (or shared them on social media) to encourage friends and acquaintances at home to join them, perhaps next time, in the Chinese tourist fray in the Kingdom.
500,000 Chinese tourists a year not an unattainable goal
During the China-Morocco Tourism Forum held early February in Casablanca, Mohamed Sajid, Morocco’s Minister of tourism, Air Transport, and handicraft, said that the Kingdom wants to attract annually 500,000 tourists. Which, if you think about it, is not unattainable: China is unmentionably populous. Plus, people tend to travel when, as their life conditions improve, they yearn for new experiences, novel feelings. And China’s living standard has enormously improved in the past years.
The more money we make, the more we look for new ways of experiencing the world, new attachments—we take on the world, expand it. Given our digital generation, a generation that has ‘going places’ and adventures inscribed in its DNA, the tourist revolution China has recently engaged in, if you consider the country’s current global standing, is a much overdue development.
And Morocco, which decided, in June 2016, to exempt Chinese tourists from visa requirements, is already reaping huge benefits in terms of revenues and tourism-related works created, for the new Chinese global “invaders” are a generation of tourists for whom your ‘brand’ is determined by the number of places you’ve visited, the number of overseas adventures in your travel toolkit. Morocco, the number one tourism hub in Africa, naturally made the top of their list.
According to Chinese News Agency Xinhua, a flock of Chinese tourists visited Morocco during the Spring festival. In cities like Marrakech, Xinhua reported, “busses full of Chinese tourists could be found everywhere.” Two girls from Ningbo told Xinhua told the Chinese outlet that they chose Morocco as their Spring Festival travel destination to “taste the country’s unique Arabian flavor.”
They said they travelled for fifteen days around “classical destinations” like Casablanca, Marrakech, the Sahara, Fez, Chefchaouen, and Tangier. But, Xinhua adds, “in addition to the classic route that most people choose, Chinese tourists’ footprints also extend to Moroccan tourist cities such as Essaouira, Tetouan and Irfane.”
Chinese tourists have already done this in Asian countries. Now that they’re turning towards Morocco, so long as Moroccan tourism keeps meeting their expectations, Chinese tourists are set to be a game-changer: they can shift the center of gravity of Moroccan tourism, which has for decades been revolving around Americans and Europeans.
Only 5% of Chinese population are said to possess passports, a number the Chinese government has decided to increase in the coming years, especially by delivering 10 million new travel documents every year. Should that happen, and should Morocco still remain a leading touristic destination, the revolution that began this spring will be but a tiny little tree in the huge forest yet to come.