Blessed with a rich cultural heritage and a stunningly diverse natural landscape, Morocco has long enjoyed star status as a leading tourism destination. And today, new trends are being embraced to further this country’s appeal. Emily Millett writes.
The rising star of the region, Morocco has long enjoyed a lucrative status as North Africa’s most popular and stable tourism destination. Attracting a wide range of feeder markets from around the world, the standout hotspot is a clean winner for culture vultures, backpackers, adventure travellers, couples, families, foodies and more – and there are statistics to prove it.
“The tourism sector in Morocco experienced significant growth at the beginning of 2018,” director of sales and marketing, Mövenpick Hotel Casablanca, Tarik Kerdoudi told TTG. “According to data from the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, the number of visitors that entered the country in February went up 10.6 per cent, with overnight stays in hotels increasing to 18.8 per cent.”
According to Kerdoudi, the sector has seen increasingly positive results since November 2017, with unique attributes such as the old imperial cities with their history and character; gorgeous beaches along the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coastlines; easy access to the stunning Sahara Desert; and mixed cultural influences helping to keep the country in the spotlight.
General manager, La Sultana Marrakech, Xavier Soundrom explained that good weather throughout the year, diversity and quality of historical sites, and the unique opportunity to see the mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and the desert all in the same country, are great reasons for visiting Morocco. Meanwhile, co-owner, Palais Amani, Jemima Mann-Baha adds the beauty and diversity of its scenery, as well as the architecture and rich culture to this list, adding: “The Moroccan tourism market is very heteroclite and has adapted to all budgets.”
EXPERIENCING THE EXCLUSIVE
And while Palais Amani may target travellers on the higher budget end of the spectrum, the hotel is keen to respond to current market trends, with highly focused experiential travel offerings.
“Today’s traveller is mostly interested in experimental travels and is keen to explore authentic cultures and lifestyles,” Mann-Baha told TTG. “Palais Amani is one of the most dynamic hotels in Fez and we have mainly focused on experiential travel through activities that offer an authentic experience to our customers.”
The property currently offers traditional hammam experiences as well as fine dining experiences, at its restaurant, Eden At Palais Amani. And for 2019, two new packages are set to be introduced in a bid to showcase the very best of Fez, both inside and outside the medina. These include a new hiking experience in the Zalagh Mountains to experience Berber life and explore the surrounding landscapes on a leisurely hike, with views of the ancient city of Fez in the distance. The second new experience is Mastering the Art of Moroccan Cuisine at The Fez Cooking School – a new purpose-built cookery school on Palais Amani’s roof terrace, with wonderful views over the medina. This package includes workshops with a guided souk visit to gather ingredients, street food tasting, a visit to a communal oven, a tajine masterclass and a unique performance of the Moroccan tea ceremony.
“Morocco on the whole is very aware of its rich heritage and has made it accessible and available for travellers,” said Mann- Baha.
Elsewhere, Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech has designed multiple experiences and activities inside and outside the resort, in a bid to offer guests the best of Marrakech in an exclusive and private way.
“Cultural, adventure and exotic experiences are influencing the trends in consumer behaviour to Marrakech,” said marketing and communications manager, Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech, Hala Benlahssen. “Marrakech is very rich and diversified in terms of activities, thanks to its cultural and natural richness. The city has so much to offer, but our guests are seeking exclusivity in their experiences.”
In response to this demand, the hotel has introduced a selection of exclusive experiences for guests, such as an Atlas Mountains Bike & Hike experience, allowing visitors to discover the beauty of the Atlas Mountains and Berber villages, including cycling and trekking and a Beldi lunch in a traditional Berber village. Additional new experiences include the Agafay Desert Safari package, with a Jeep trip to the Agafay desert for a couple or a family group, as well as a Moroccan Lunch Package in a private luxury tent in the desert. According to Benlahssen, guests can also fly in a private helicopter to see the beautiful surrounding mountains, the desert and the sea, all in the same day, or enjoy in-villa spa experiences, private parties with a DJ and chef, private Moroccan dinners or a Beldi breakfast inside their villas.
“Today, guests are seeking these kinds of experiences in order to enhance their journey in Marrakech,” Benlahssen told TTG. “They want to be surprised and experience something different from what they have already seen in other destinations.”
The demand for experience-driven travel is now a well-established trend within the tourism industry, however, this coming year is set to give rise to a rebirth of the importance of F&B within the hospitality sector. And Morocco – with its rich culinary heritage – is all geared up to embrace this new trend.
In 2019, Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech has plans to introduce a special pop-up dining experience from January until May, as Benlahssen explained: “We will collaborate with multiple Michelin star chefs throughout the year, mostly from the Mandarin Oriental Group.”
The experience will use 3D visual technology to take diners on a culinary journey across countries visited by Marco Polo.
At La Sultana Marrakech, the F&B offering has recently been enhanced, with the addition of a second restaurant located on the rooftop of the hotel.
Speaking to TTG about the new dining outlet, Soundrom said: “The restaurant features a traditional Moroccan and jungle design with green tiles and a lush garden. Our philosophy in terms of food is to showcase only the best ingredients and Moroccan produce with ‘100 per cent botanical’ options and local and ethically-sourced meat and fish.”
The cuisine is inspired by a network of small local producers and incorporates wholesome, fresh vegetables, purchased locally or handpicked from La Sultana Oualidia’s organic garden.
“This philosophy is part of our sustainable engagements for 2019. For instance, we have replaced plastic straws with reusable inox straws to cut on waste,” Soundrom added.
The hotel is also seeing social media maintain its status as a leading trend influencing the way people travel. In response, additional focus has been given to the design of the property, in a bid to ensure guests get the ‘Instagrammable’ moments they so desire.
“Social media has been the main trend influencing travel for a couple of years now,” Soundrom told TTG. “Today, with upgraded phone technology making it possible to take beautiful pictures so easily, every traveller is an ambassador helping us to share our design, services and experiences. We respond to this trend by helping our guests to create their own journey in Morocco, and continuously working on the interior design that they will encounter during their stay.”
According to Kerdoudi, customers want innovation and excitement when it comes to technology in travel, and Mövenpick Hotel Casablanca is set to welcome a number of tech innovations this coming year.
“We will leverage technology for hotel marketing, taking into consideration the importance of the mobile experience,” said Kerdoudi. “Fewer people are booking through desktop today, so we will keep this in mind when optimising our website and will make sure technology supports the guest experience.”
Morocco’s plethora of varied offerings mean that the destination is fed by a rich diversity of feeder markets from all four corners of the world.
Speaking to TTG about the markets currently seeing the most growth, Soundrom said: “We identify two key growing tourism feeders. The first group is made up of countries where Morocco has been popular for many years, such as the European markets, who visit for short stays or hobbies such as golf, surfing, biking or hiking. The second group is made up of countries where Morocco is a new destination, such as the US or Australia. These travellers visit for a couple of weeks to see all of the main sites, including the desert and Marrakech.”
According to Kerdoudi, visitor numbers are on the increase from both the traditional markets, as well as these new emerging markets.
“The number of visitors increased by six per cent from France, 22 per cent from Spain, 19 per cent from Germany and seven per cent from the UK. Among emerging markets, there was an increase of 92 per cent in the number of visitors from China, 82 per cent from Russia, 62 per cent from Japan, 32 per cent from the US, 20 per cent from Canada and 17 per cent from other African countries,” said Kerdoudi.