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Morocco counts on sustainable tourism


BEI

Sustainable tourism appears to be the only hope for a troubled industry.






For the last two years Morocco has stagnated and suffered from a lack of visibility as a tourist destination. This has become a worrying trend. In the first nine months of 2012, only 7.278 million tourists visited Morocco. An increase of only 0.1 per cent compared to the same period in 2011. 

 

Fouzi Zemrani, president of ZTours. Photo DR

The destination is suffering, probably more than the figures suggest. The low cost airlines have withdrawn and Royal Air Maroc has reduced the size of its fleet.

warns Fouzi Zemrani, president of Ztours, a tour operator in Marrakech.

The "seaside resort" programme, a flagship product of Vision 2010 (the tourism strategy developed for the last ten years), has been a disappointment. Except for the Mazagan Resort in El Jadida, the other resorts in the "Plan Azur" are either unfinished (Plage Blanche, Taghazout), or strongly criticized (such as Saidia in the north of Morocco). Designed to attract mass tourism, these huge resorts, essentially luxurious islands in the middle of nowhere, offer very little interaction with the local environment or population. The leisure activities proposed have proven to be lacking. 

Now the demand is for authenticity, a return to nature, and the exploration of preserved areas.

Sustainable tourism is booming in Morocco, and is the only sector of the industry that can claim to be flourishing, with double-digit growth,

explains Thierry Tarot, CEO of Terres d''Amanar, a nature park dedicated to ecotourism forty kilometres from Marrakesh.
   

Ecotourism does not mean cheap tourism

Oasis in the Ouarzazate region (photo Christelle Marot)
Oasis in the Ouarzazate region (photo Christelle Marot)
Hiking, horse-riding, paragliding, green tourism, crafts, interaction with the local population, guest houses, etc. have proved to be very popular with European tourists, particularly those from France, Germany, Great Britain and Scandinavian countries. Morocco is also seeing a growing Russian clientele, which is appreciative of both luxury and authenticity. This wealthy class of tourists will choose for example to spend the end-of-year holidays camping in the middle of the desert, in a five star setting. 

Photo Patrick Forget/sagaphoto.com
For sustainable tourism or ecotourism does not necessarily mean cheap tourism. Finding authenticity requires time, and sometimes requires travelling deep into remote areas.
"A week of hiking in Morocco is relatively expensive. It costs considerably more than the conventional resort packages offered by tour operators", notes Thierry Tarot. "But there is still a lot to do. Many sites and villages remain completely cut-off, without water or electricity. It is hard to offer a trip when the basic infrastructure is not there to enable appropriate accommodation", adds the CEO of Terres d'Amanar.  

Supported by the authorities through Vision 2020, the "sustainable tourism" niche is now receiving a great deal of attention. It gives a boost to individual regions and aims to put Morocco into the top 20 most popular tourist destinations in the world. With a programme of contracts signed with the State, eight regional centres will develop environmentally-friendly tourism, promoting Morocco's national heritage, nature sites, and offering activities focused on sports and well-being. 

"The vision is there, we are heading in the right direction", declares Fouzi Zemrani. "But its implementation requires commitment and the involvement of all stakeholders, including those at the local level. And not just following of the recommendations of a research department", adds the tour operator.



Christelle Marot, CASABLANCA


Monday, November 26th 2012



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