Never far from the tourism spotlight, the Kingdom of Morocco has stepped up its game in recent years, improving its offering and increasing its appeal, with development fuelled by the ambitious objectives of a 10-year tourism strategy. By Emily Millett
Despite having long enjoyed its position as a popular tourism hub and gateway to Africa, Morocco is currently experiencing something of a tourism boom, catalysed by the Ministry of Tourism’s Vision 2020 Tourism Strategy. Introduced in 2010 to ensure that tourism remains one of the driving forces of economic, social and cultural development in Morocco, the goal of Vision 2020 was to double the size of both the tourism sector and the accommodation capacity, and make Morocco one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world by 2020 – all while setting a good example of sustainable development.
According to tourism insiders in the Kingdom, the efforts of the 10-year plan are evident in an evolved and clearly thriving market. Over the past decade, Morocco has seen a constant influx in visitor arrivals, which increased to 12.28 million in 2018, up from 11.35 million in 2017. And by the end of July 2019, arrivals had reached nearly 7.544 million, representing an increase of 8.2 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.
“Morocco has seen a large increase in visitors in the last decade, as well as a larger variety of feeder markets,” duty manager, La Sultana Oualidia, Nabil Elbahri told TTG. “Tourism in Morocco used to be mainly European, but it has developed to include India, China and South America.”
Diversification is key to Vision 2020, as the plan’s key areas of focus – domestic and eco-tourism; heritage and coastal resort tourism; sports and adventure tourism; business travel and wellness tourism – helped the market to enhance its offering and broaden its horizons.
Evidence of Morocco’s push towards realising the goals of its multi-faceted Vision 2020 can be found in the destination’s ever-increasing portfolio of new hotels and resorts. With a view to increasing capacity by an additional 200,000 beds under Vision 2020, the destination has welcomed a slew of new properties from big-name international hotel chains such as Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
The group recently expanded its presence in Morocco with the opening of Hilton Tangier Al Houara Resort & Spa, Hilton’s third property in the country, which offers 304 rooms in a beachfront location and a range of facilities, including two golf courses and a golf academy. Business facilities include 4,500m² of flexible event space, as well as 15 flexible meeting rooms and two pillarless ballrooms.
Since 2015, Casablanca has been ranked as Africa’s top financial hub by the Global Financial Centres Index, and as such, Radisson Blu opened its first hotel in the city in November 2019, marking Radisson Hotel Group’s second hotel in Morocco. Radisson Blu Hotel, Casablanca City Center offers 120 guestrooms and an array of F&B options, as well as a rooftop pool, a ballroom and meeting spaces.
Meanwhile, December 2019 saw the opening of The Oberoi, Marrakech, located 25 minutes from Djema el-Fna square and the ancient walled city. The resort comprises 84 rooms, 76 of which have private pools and gardens, as well as three restaurants, an Oberoi Spa, a children’s activity centre, a 300m² function room and smaller meeting rooms.
And the infrastructural developments extend to Morocco’s aviation sector, with new or improved airports and an expanding flight network. Qatar Airways launched flights to Rabat, Morocco in 2019, serving the Moroccan capital three times weekly with a Boeing 787. In addition, Qatar Airways recently announce a joint business agreement with Royal Air Maroc to expand the number of services available to meet increased consumer demand for flights to Morocco.
Morocco has a renewed focus on delivering cultural authenticity and showing off its rich heritage, and therefore, new and existing hotels and tourism providers around the country have been working to curate genuine and unique Moroccan experiences for visitors to enjoy.
At La Sultana Hotels, the focus is on delivering unique culinary experiences, with La Sultana Marrakech recently opening the new The Odette Rooftop Bar. Located on the outdoor terrace, the venue overlooks the UNESCO listed Medina and serves mezze-like dishes and signature drinks flavoured with Moroccan spices.
“For 2020, we have planned to focus on F&B through La Table du Souk for lunch or La Table de La Sultana and The Odette Bar in the evening,” front desk manager, La Sultana Marrakech, Saida Loutou told TTG. “We also plan to incorporate even more local produce and Slow Food from every region of the country to really make a stay at our property a full and authentic journey through Morocco.”
La Sultana Oualidia also recently unveiled a new programme of experiences for guests, developed around themes such as Culture, Epicurean, Adrenaline, Relaxing or Discovery, with plans to further expand on the Gourmet/Epicurean theme in 2020, according to Elbahri.
“This year, we plan to offer unique culinary evenings with special local dishes made into a feast. Our guests are well travelled and ask for something different to a normal menu, so we strive to offer additional ‘feast experiences’ such as an open fire barbecue,” Elbahri said.
Another major culinary trend that is helping to enhance the element of local authenticity, is the use of local and sustainably sourced produce. La Sultana Marrakech is currently working on an initiative to offer ethically sourced fish from the waters surrounding Morocco, as well as to employ transparency in the disclosure of all food providers on all menus. La Sultana Oualidia is responding to this trend by growing its own organic vegetables, in a bid to cut back on environmentally damaging transportation and provide guests with the best quality and local variety.
Selman Marrakech is also focusing on culinary experiences this year, with the recent launch of its new ‘Secret Table’ gastronomic experience, which takes place in the heart of the property’s Arabian thoroughbred stables.
Commenting on the motivation for developing this initiative, general manager, Selman Marrakech, Ennadifi Kamil told TTG: “Tourism in Morocco is heavily influenced by the travellers who nowadays are looking for unique and unforgettable experiences. In response, the industry is constantly creating new ways to satisfy their increasingly challenging expectations.”
According to Kamil, Morocco has shifted its reputation as a mass tourism destination: “The tourism industry in Morocco has changed in the past decade by finding ways to combine both authenticity and modernity, and have a set of products that could satisfy different types of travellers. “This is why Selman Marrakech’s DNA consists of authentic luxury, where not only its USPs are truly unique – such as the Arabian horse stables in the heart of the hotel – but it is also owned by a Moroccan family to whom the ‘Moroccan feel’ was mandatory to the Selman experience,” he added.
EMBRACING MICE POTENTIAL
The MICE sector has also been another area of substantial growth in Morocco, with the country on its way to becoming a major hub for international conferences in Africa.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference was recently hosted in Marrakech and saw 20,000 participants descend on the city. Adding to this, the burgeoning sector received a further boost at the end of 2019, as the Kingdom was officially chosen as the host of the 24th General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), to be held in 2021.
Having reached the goals of its Vision 2020 tourism strategy, Morocco now finds itself in an advantageous position as one of the top tourism destinations in the world for 2020.