Hundreds of thousands in Morocco are eagerly awaiting the return of tourism, but experiences from Egypt show that lifting border restrictions is not enough.
Rabat – Morocco plans to restart its tourism sector by allowing tourists back into the country. On September 11, Air Arabia Maroc announced that some tourists would be allowed back into the country despite the extension of the state of health emergency. However, Morocco’s reopening of borders will likely not be enough to revive its tourism industry in the short term, with experiences from Egypt revealing a tough road ahead.
Many who are employed in Morocco’s tourism sector cheered when, on September 6, Royal Air Maroc announced that certain tourists can once again enter Morocco. Visa-exempt foreigners are able enter Morocco from September 10 onwards, if they have a confirmed hotel reservation. The move prompted Brussels Airport to promote travel to Morocco using the slogan “Morocco may seem far away, but it is near in our thoughts.”
Royal Air Maroc’s announcement came into question as Morocco’s government extended its national state of health emergency until October 10 after COVID-19 figures failed to decrease. The announcement from Air Arabia Maroc, however, confirmed that tourists are indeed allowed to enter Morocco.
Hundreds of thousands of Moroccans work in the tourism sector and have struggled after international travel ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were happy to see the re-opening of air travel as Morocco’s legendary hospitality sector aches for visitors.
Morocco’s government is being careful while it is equally eager to restart the vital industry. The sector experienced a drop of $1.2 billion in revenue in the first half of 2020. The government is eager to recover lost tax revenue, help workers who are struggling, and restore Morocco’s status as a top destination for global tourism.
However, even Morocco’s natural splendor, world-renowned hospitality, and famous cuisine might not be enough to draw tourists in the midst of a global pandemic. A case study in opening borders during the crisis comes from Egypt, which began welcoming tourists in July.
Egypt has a similar attraction to foreign tourists as Morocco does. Historic sites and idyllic beaches draw millions each year. Since reopening its industry in July, however, few visitors have made their way to Egypt.
The Egyptian government announced on September 8 that it had welcomed 100,000 tourists since July. Although that sounds like good news, this is only a fraction of the over one million visitors that would have typically visited.
In 2019, Egypt received 13.6 million tourists and will see the current numbers as only marginally helpful. Furthermore, visitors this summer came primarily from less-wealthy countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary, and Serbia.
More worrying, however, is the damage that Egypt’s early reopening could do to its reputation. The government announced that “most” tourists had not contracted COVID-19 during their stay, but refused to release specific numbers.
It appears that opening borders alone will do little to ease the economic suffering of those who work in Morocco’s tourism industry. While some tourists may undoubtedly visit Morocco, the country faces the genuine risk of a scandal that could damage its reputation as a safe destination.
Morocco’s hardfought reputation could suffer if a significant number of tourists return from the country with COVID-19 infections. Furthermore, tourists could see their vacations limited by new lockdowns and measures that contradict Morocco’s otherwise open and welcoming nature.
Instead it appears that the only solution to reboot tourism in Morocco will require the participation of all Moroccans. Morocco’s tourism industry will only recover through a national spirit of solidarity in fighting COVID-19.