Morocco hoped to welcome 500,000 Chinese tourists by 2020, but the number of Chinese tourists in Morocco is steadily declining.
Rabat – The proliferation of illegal tourist guides as well as the lack of strict implementation of existing regulations are driving down the number of Chinese tourists coming to Morocco, clouding the future of a trend that was recently touted as the most promising of Morocco’s tourism industry.
In September of this year, Morocco’s tourism ministry signed a “co-marketing partnership” with Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency. The partnership aims to promote Chinese tourism in Morocco.
Later commenting on that agreement, Morocco’s Head of Government, Saad Eddine El Othmani expressed confidence at the prospect of Morocco’s China-focused tourism.
“We are waiting for more Chinese tourists to visit Morocco in the future,” El Othmani said.
“The tourism cooperation between the two countries is of great significance and will enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and lay a foundation for further strengthening bilateral relations,.” he continued.
Morocco attracted 200,000 Chinese tourists in 2018 alone, a steep increase from the 100,000 Chinese tourists who visited the country in the previous year. The 100% increase surged optimism among Moroccan authorities, leading to expectations that the country could attract as many as 500,000 Chinese tourists by 2020.
In recent months, however, there has been a steady decrease in the number of Chinese tourists to Morocco. From 200,000 in 2018, the number has plummeted down to 190,000 this year, making the projection of welcoming “500,000 Chinese tourists by 2020” projections an unattainable target.
Speaking to Moroccan news outlet Media24, Hayat Jabrane, owner of a tourism agency that caters especially to Chinese tourists, pointed accusatory fingers at the relaxed implementation of tourism regulation. This, she argued, has allowed for the rapid—and concerning—proliferation of illegal travel agencies.
“If in 2019 we’ve received fewer Chinese tourists than in 2018, it is because the informal market has been having the upper hand on specialized, authorized tourism agencies,” she explained.
She said that the unauthorized agencies are mostly run by Chinese nationals with scant knowledge of Moroccan history and culture. In addition to not having the legal documents to work as tourism guides, she explained, they do not have the minimum cultural knowledge and professional training to operate in the industry.
“These people who know nothing of Morocco or its history come here for three months to guide groups of Chinese tourists who then go back home unsatisfied and sometimes even disgusted with the kingdom,” Jabrane said.
“How can these fake guides do the work properly when they have no knowledge whatsoever of Moroccan history, of Morocco’s cultural heritage, and even of local [touristic] products?”
“And so, what is initially sold to [Chinese] tourists as guided visits end up being scams,” Jabrane continued.
“As Chinese tourists are mostly interested in cultural tourism, they leave Morocco unsatisfied and frustrated. And once in China, they will surely discourage their entourage [from traveling to Morocco].”
But Jabrane was not irreversibly pessimistic about the future of Chinese tourism to Morocco. She insisted, however, that for the country to hit its target number of Chinese tourists, Morocco needs to effectively implement the industry’s existing regulations.
She also expressed hope that the newly appointed (and lauded) tourism minister, will “have sufficient time to tackle this issue.”
Part of the solution, she argued, lies in being strict with controls and other regulations.
“When a bus with 40 Chinese tourists arrives at the Hassan II Mosque,” she explained, “the tourism police should ask the group’s guide to show his or her credentials, including the name of the travel agency he or she works for, work permit, etc.”
“Knowing the fake tourist guides usually have a three-month visa, people with no valid credentials should be arrested and prevented from ruining the tourism industry.”
There is, however, the fact that the number of professional, licensed guides who speak Mandarin is very low, even insignificant in Morocco.
For all the waves of Chinese tourists who visited Morocco in recent years, the kingdom still only has 40 licensed, trained guides who can sufficiently serve this demographic. Jabrane says that number is “very insufficient” to meet the demands of “hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists.”
On that front, she argued that Moroccan authorities have a responsibility to invest in language and cultural training, if the country is to remain a competitive and coveted destination for the wave of middle-class Chinese tourists eager to discover different cultures.