A single horse carriage in Marrakech supports four to five families, including owners, drivers, and stable workers.
Rabat – The current COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all aspects of Morocco’s tourism, including the iconic horse carriages in Marrakech. With borders closed since mid-March, the country is suffering from a lack of summer vacationers.
The Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) says Morocco’s collapsing tourism threatens thousands of carriage horses and donkeys. They are among the estimated 200 million horses, donkeys, camels, and elephants worldwide providing various livelihoods for over a half-billion people, according to the Associated Press.
Prior to COVID-19, the tourism sector in Morocco represented approximately 11% of Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Marrakech is the primary destination for tourists coming to Morocco. In 2019, the city welcomed nearly three million tourists, according to the Regional Council of Tourism.
Moroccan Airports Authority (ONDA) had announced plans in January to equip Marrakech with a second airport, in addition to opening new terminals in all the major Moroccan cities’ airports by 2025.
Visitor numbers were steadily on the rise until the pandemic set in. Tripadvisor recently listed Marrakech among its top 25 destinations, describing it as a “magical place” teeming with markets, palaces, mosques, and gardens.
However, the International Monetary Fund declared Morocco’s tourism sector to be the fourth hardest-hit in the world in a report released on August 4.
While the government officials are encouraging domestic tourism, there is little to be done for international tourism while the virus continues to wreak havoc on a global scale.
Marrakech’s iconic horse carriages
Three million tourists create a large demand in all sectors of a city—food, transportation, sight-seeing, etc. There are nearly 150 horse carriages operating in Marrakech when tourism season is in full swing.
In November 2019, the Moroccan National Tourist Office (ONMT) and the Regional Tourism Council of Marrakech spearheaded efforts to modernize the profession and make the horse carriages more attractive to tourists.
Tourists could easily spot registered horse carriage drivers who now sport uniforms and straw hats emblazoned with logos.
Measures also included checking the condition of the carriages daily and ensuring that the drivers are licensed. The sector’s horses have electronic chips as well as serial numbers.
In a recent interview, Abdeljalil Belghaoute, a carriage driver, said, “A single horse carriage in Marrakech supports four to five families, including owners, drivers and stable boys.” Thousands of people in Marrakech depend on the iconic carriage horses for their livelihood.
“If you have a shop, you can close it. If you sell goods, you store them. But imagine having … horses who need to eat, drink and get medical care,” another driver, Abdenabi Nouidi, said.
In July, Nouidi and his brothers had to sell seven of their horses because they were unable to afford the associated costs of upkeep.
SPANA is an association located in a working-class neighborhood of Marrakech. It is a refuge for the city’s working animals. Since 1988, the team of vets and technicians has cared for donkeys, mules, and horses free of charge.
At the onset of COVID-19, SPANA delivered three months of feed, enough to feed nearly 600 horses, around the city.
“It became very clear to us when the lockdown was first imposed that many of Marrakech’s working animals would need our help or face a dire outcome,” said the head veterinarian at SPANA’s Marrakech center, Hassan Lamrini.
Domestic efforts to boost tourism
“Only tourism can save us from this catastrophe we’re facing,” said Belghaoute in regards to getting Marrakech, the horse carriages, and the city’s inhabitants back on their feet.
The Municipal Council of Marrakech and tourism professionals held a meeting June 11 to discuss the revival of the tourist sector in the ochre city after the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately agreed to focus on promoting domestic tourism.
The council said it was ready, in collaboration with the Council of the Marrakech-Safi Region, to set up joint programs in the tourism sector and to work with local industry professionals to promote the city to Moroccans.
“The longer this goes on, horses and families will struggle to survive,” Belghaoute said. “We’re really scared by how bad this can get.”