OXFORD BUSINESS GROUP : Although it has suffered from the slowdown in Europe – its largest market – Morocco continues to pursue its plans under Vision 2020 to attract up to 20m tourists each year, bring total bed capacity to 375,000, create 17,000 new jobs and generate $17bn in annual revenues by 2020.
Recent results are promising, with the number of visitors for the first eight months of 2013 growing 6.76% year-on-year (y-o-y), to reach around 7m, and the country is looking to capitalise on the projected rise in the number of global international travelers in 2014, which is expected to increase by 4%.
Attracting more tourists
As highlighted by the easing of demand from its biggest source markets to the north of the country, Morocco has been moving to diversify its links with other non-traditional countries in regions such as Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Gulf and Asia. The Moroccan Tourism Office (Office National Marocain du Tourisme, ONMT) is planning to set up an office in Brazil in a bid to attract 30,000 visitors each year from the South American country starting in 2014, as well as use its presence there as a base to reach out to the rest of Latin America. Air links between both countries will be strengthened, and started with the first charter flight between Sao Paolo and Casablanca on November 1 as part of an agreement signed between the ONMT and a variety of Brazilian tour operators – notably Schultz, Flot, Raidho and Flytour, among others. National carrier Royal Air Maroc plans to launch three regular weekly flights starting in early December.
The ONMT is also looking to attract tourists from non-traditional markets in Europe. The number of visitors from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, for instance, registered a y-o-y increase of 88%, 9% and 7%, respectively, in the first eight months of 2013. A recent agreement signed with Polish tour operator Itaka to boost charter flights to Agadir is expected to bring the number of tourists visiting the region of Souss to 129,000 by 2016. The Gulf is another potential source of visitors, and one that the government hopes will be increasingly important. To date, Saudi Arabia has been the largest market in the MENA region, accounting for more than 70,000 arrivals in 2012.
And while the European slowdown has highlighted the importance of bringing in a greater diversity of visitors, Morocco is still committed to attracting greater numbers of visitors from traditional European markets, which still accounts for more than 80% of tourists. It aims to double the number of British visitors by 2016 from its current 500,000 and is focusing on strengthening air links between both countries. At the World Travel Market held in London in early November, the ONMT signed a cooperation agreement with British tour operator Thomas Cook to launch flights to Agadir, in addition to its existing connections to Marrakech, Fes, Essaouira and Mazagan.
To accommodate the projected rise in arrivals, numerous plans are under way to expand hospitality infrastructure. Long-term initiatives under Vision 2020 include the government’s Plan Azur, which involves the development of six beachside resorts as part of a drive to boost sun-and-sand tourism, although the programme’s parameters were adjusted following the global financial crisis. In the more immediate future, the Ministry of Tourism is looking for investments amounting to Dh20bn (€1.7bn) in 2014 and would like to see the addition of nearly 18,000 beds next year.
The national Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development has traditionally been tasked with attracting investment into new tourism projects. However, as part of Vision 2020, sector development is being decentralised and shifted to regional authorities to increase their participation in determining tourism policy, management and devising offerings. Dedicated tourism development agencies will head each of the eight tourism regions identified under Vision 2020 and will gradually be established through 2018, absorbing existing delegations and regional councils.
This strategy is expected to boost competition from one region to another, and improve both the soft infrastructure for new investments as well as ensure that projects reflect the local competitive advantages. So far, 10 of the 16 administrative regions (as distinct from the Vision 2020 regions) have signed Regional Programme Contracts (Contrat Programme Régional, CPR) – an agreement between the Ministry of Tourism and local authorities outlining tourism development priorities. These start with the Chaouia Ouardigha region in April 2013 where 92 projects have been identified, requiring investments of up to Dh8.9bn (€772.7m). The latest CPR to be signed was for the Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz region in October 2013 where 102 projects are set to be carried out. More than 90% of the required investment of Dh20.3bn (€1.8bn) will come from the private sector. Around 36,000 beds are expected to be added by 2020, bringing the region’s total bed capacity to 96,000.