With the number of COVID-19 cases increasing at an alarming rate, Moroccans are turning to the mountains for peaceful summer vacations.
Each summer, hordes of tourists flee bustling cities to spend their hard-earned vacation in one of Morocco’s many geographic wonders, such as the beaches, the mountains, or the Saharan dunes.
This year, despite the current crisis, or even because of it, Moroccans continue the search for the perfect vacation spot.
COVID-19 has had an impact, however, on where Moroccans choose to spend their time. Looking to put some distance between themselves and the packed beaches that could spread COVID-19 quickly, many have headed Morocco’s Atlas mountains for a more tranquil vacation.
Abd al-Rahman Moumni is a tourist guide in the Zaghaira region, located near the city of Ouazzane.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, national forests and parks such as Zaghaira Park, located on the banks of Lake Azghaira, are the perfect destination for travelers seeking a more serene vacation in the mountains, Moumni said in an interview with Morocco’s state media.
Wide-open green spaces leave plenty of room for families to remain socially-distanced and help contain the quickly-spreading virus.
Tourism in the midst of COVID-19
Prior to COVID-19, the tourism sector in Morocco represented 11% of Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Though the government took swift action at preventing the spread of COVID-19 early on, tourism has taken a plunge. In a report on August 4, the International Monetary Fund declared Morocco’s tourism sector to be the fourth hardest-hit in the world.
Getting tourism back on its feet will be a crucial step in reviving Morocco’s economy. However, recommencing the tourism industry will be a gradual effort, in Morocco and around the world.
“The ministry has developed an integrated and participatory plan to combat the repercussions of the novel coronavirus, to revive the sector and promote the positioning of the Kingdom in the post-COVID-19 world,” Minister of Tourism Nadia Fettah El Alaoui said before the House of Representatives on June 8.
Only July 16 Moroccan Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani issued a proclamation requiring members of the government and public sector officials to take their leave inside the country during 2020, in an effort to encourage domestic tourism.
El Othmani raised concern that the complete halt of the tourism sector “has negatively affected businesses in the field of tourism-related activities, on the sustainability of their jobs.”
Morocco gradually lifted restrictions in June but kept a number of preventive and health measures in order to avoid a new rise in cases, such as limiting traffic between cities and mandating masks.
Eight cities closed unexpectedly the week before Eid al Adha to limit movement and the potential spread of the virus amid a surge in cases. However, that has not kept people from traveling.
With many borders around the globe remaining closed, officials continue to encourage Moroccans to travel domestically to help boost the economy.
Beaches remain crowded, with hardly a mask in sight. Morocco has also seen a surge in road accidents since confinement measures lifted.
Moumni asserts that COVID-19 and the closure of borders has drastically affected tourism in the mountains, but that it “did not prevent decent services to visitors coming to the park.” He says that when it comes to this year’s vacation, people across Morocco “are looking for the strategic location and proximity to the fresh water flowing from the Rif Mountains.”
Bouazza Kharati, President of the National University for Consumer Protection, agrees, telling Morocco’s state media that “mountain tourism should be framed and included within the agendas of the Ministry of Tourism, which does not seem to be interested in this topic.”
Holidays in the majestic mountains of Morocco have a draw because they provide a vacation that is inexpensive, convenient, and away from all the noise. Everyone’s pockets are a little tighter this summer.
“Moroccan tourists have been afflicted by the flames of prices in the tourist resorts in the north, which prompted them to search for new destinations away from the crowded beaches,” Kharati said, stressing that “the risk of virus transmission in mountain resorts is small, and thus the demand for their services is high.”