Captivating Morocco has embraced a combination of subtle yet impactful changes that have caused a ripple effect on its flourishing tourism industry. Aleksandra Wood uncovers the latest developments that are steadily transforming the beloved destination’s offering.
Morocco, the fifth largest economy of the African continent, graced by lengthy coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, is home to charming exoticism and incomparable culture.
Its mountainous scenery and vast stretches of desert have been home to a wide variety of cultures, such as the Arabs, indigenous Berbers, sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans.
The country is a coveted tourism hotspot, with Marrakech effortlessly maintaining its position as a ‘bucket list’ destination, ideal for those wishing to traverse through an endless succession of historic attractions or bask in the wonders of year-round sunshine.
General manager, Kasbah Tamadot (Virgin Limited Edition’s Moroccan retreat), Vincent Padioleau illustrated: “The different regions of the country offer a variety of options for tourists. For example, visitors can enjoy the rich culture and history of Marrakech and Casablanca, or explore the famed blue city of Chefchaouen. The Atlas Mountains and the surrounding areas attract adventurous travellers looking to hike in the region, as well as those who would like to experience true Berber culture that can only be found in Morocco.”
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
And although the destination’s offerings remain plentiful in sectors such as retreat, wellbeing, golf, honeymoon, leisure and MICE tourism, its cultivated industry has begun a ‘gentle’ evolution to ameliorate its offering, while still preserving the essence of its beloved heritage.
It is perceived that even the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can lead to great winds of change, which can relate to The Moroccan Government’s recent decision to launch a visa-free programme for Chinese visitors.
This has caused a ripple effect on the country’s tourism industry, with Chinese visitors skyrocketing by a tremendous 315 per cent, and ultimately resulting in an impressive 10.4 per cent year-on-year rise between the months of January and October 2017.
Speaking of this incredible phenomenon was a spokesperson from the Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca: “China has made its way from the bottom 20 to a top five feeder market in less than a year’s time. Our hotel has deployed a specific strategy to capitalise on this new market, including hiring Chinese staff, investing in sales and marketing, targeting high-end leisure travellers during the peak travel periods and working closely with our sales office in Beijing.”
But the Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca is not the only hospitality player determined to bank on this fruitful market.
Padioleau of Kasbah Tamadot told TTG: “Recently, we have been welcoming ‘newer’ markets to Kasbah Tamadot, such as China. Since the visa restrictions have changed for Chinese tourists travelling to Morocco, interest has certainly grown in the area, and this is a continued focus for our sales and marketing team.”
The visa-free programme has not only remarkably affected the hospitality industry, but is also well on its way to revolutionise Morocco’s infrastructure.
Due to the ever-rising number of Chinese visitors, the two countries have joined forces for a $10 billion project to develop an industrial city near Tangier, Morocco’s fifth largest city, which is set to host some 300,000 locals.
Both Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, have been directly involved in the monumental venture, which will comprise of both industrial sites and apartment towers.
Adding to this, the country also plans to open Africa’s premier high-speed rail line between Tangier and Kenitra this year, which is anticipated to reduce the travel time from Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, to Tangier from nearly five hours to approximately two hours.
And complementing the new mega developments in Morocco, are other game-changing projects. Marrakech’s Menara Airport recently unveiled a brand-new ecological terminal, with bioclimatic architecture, innovative internal temperature regulators to minimise consumption and a rainwater harvesting facility to further tackle water consumption. The ground-breaking terminal has already been accredited by the Airport Carbon Accreditation – a programme established by Airports Council International (ACI).
And in keeping with the ‘green’ movement, the ecotourism trend has taken the hospitality industry by storm, with entities increasing efforts to deliver the very finest sustainable services for environmentally conscious travellers.
One such entity is the five-star resort Amanjena in Marrakech, as affirmed by its general manager, Nicolas Ilickovic: “[Amanjena] was constructed in 2000 in accord with eco-sensitive architecture, using local materials and executed by skills of our local artisans. The hotel exhibits the best local art, textiles and handicrafts. We use new trends for waste recycling, pollution reduction, as well as heat recovery systems. Since environmental protection must extend into all levels of the community, the hotel offers staff training on sustainable tourism and ecological responsibility.”
Also taking the eco-tourism trend very seriously is La Sultana Marrakech, with general manager, Xavier Soundrom revealing: “Eco-tourism is compulsory in high-end tourism and has to be integrated into the hotel strategy. La Sultana Marrakech has been awarded the ‘Green Key’ eco-label and is committed to implementing a programme focused on responsible management on a full scale. The programme aims to reduce the environmental footprint of its operations by conserving resources and adopting the best practices.”
Finally, Morocco’s tourism industry is anticipating an inflow of fashion and art enthusiasts, following the launch of the iconic Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech last year. The cultural attraction features a dazzling collection made up of 5,000 articles of clothing and 15,000 haute couture accessories.
A combination of mighty upgrades and gentle shifts has made for a momentous year for the Moroccan tourism industry, and according to Amanjena’s Ilickovic, there is certainly more to come: “Thanks to the efforts by both the public and private sectors, the industry’s long-term outlook remains robust; the future for tourism in Morocco is auspicious. Efforts to develop the industry under the Vision 2020 Programme generated worldwide recognition and tourism is expected to continue to grow over the forecast period.”