By Leo Wolfson
Rabat- With Ramadan in full swing in Morocco, a common perception exists that tourist travel drops off during the month-long holiday. However, numbers from Observatory Tourism Morocco tell a different tale.
Tourist visits actually increased by approximately 5 percent in 2017 from May to June, when Ramadan occured (May 26 to June 24).
The casual observer may attribute this to the typical influx of summer travellers, but visits to Morocco also increased by 13 percent in June 2017, compared to tourist numbers from June 2016 and 2015, two months which did not coincide with Ramadan. No statistics are yet available for tourist travel to Morocco during Ramadan in 2018.
However, some business owners assert that they notice a drop off during the holiday.
Majid Elourrate owns and runs Explora Watersports, a surf shop in Essaouira. He said that although business is a little slower, there is a silver lining for those who do come. “It’s OK, a little slower, but that’s OK. Some people say they don’t like to come because it’s slow but other people say they like that.”
Due to the quieter feel at certain parts of the day, visiting Morocco during Ramadan can actually be a blessing in disguise. Streets are often less crowded, hotel and hostel rates can be lower, and lines shorter. Furthermore, witnessing a major Muslim holiday firsthand is a wonderful cultural experience.
Many tourists have the misconception that they will be unable to access certain businesses like food, shops, and lodging. Though many shops do shift hours, very few close entirely.
Although there are noticeably fewer people in the markets and medinas during the daytime, the streets come alive at night, with people crowding into the bazaars, buying and hawking goods for the breaking fast meals, known as iftar.
Many shops will stay open until sunset or will at least reopen their doors shortly after.
“Ramadan is a good month to do business in Morocco. So they shift hours and sometimes activities too. For instance a restaurant will serve Iftar at sunset and bakeries will sell Ramadan specialty sweets,” said Chakib Ghadouani, a representative of Observatory Tourism.
This year’s Ramadan comes slightly earlier in the year than it did in 2017, concluding June 16.
Through the first three months of the year, 24 percent more tourists flocked to the country than in the same time period in 2017, according to Morocco’s Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, and Handicrafts, generating an estimated MAD $15.8 billion.
Moroccan business newspaper L’Economiste reported that 1.5 million tourists visited in the first two months of 2018, a 12 percent increase from 2017. Tourist numbers increased by 8 percent in 2017, according to the Ministry of Tourism.