Tourism shows no decline in Morocco, opportunities growing! – Jean R. Abinader

CNN recently named Morocco a top motorcycling destination.

CNN recently named Morocco a top motorcycling destination.

* Morocco offers visitors a remarkable range of opportunities for fun, excitement, visual and culinary treats, and great hospitality.  The most challenging question is:  “Where to begin?” *

MATIC, by Jean R. AbiNader (Washington, DC, August 22, 2013) – In the past two weeks, the Morocco on the Move website has featured no less than nine major stories on topics related to the tourism industry in the kingdom. The news is overwhelmingly positive and is another indicator that Morocco is doing something right when it comes to attracting and satisfying demanding specialty travelers looking for something in addition to Morocco’s extraordinary geography, cuisine, and hospitality.

Jean AbiNader is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center.

Jean AbiNader, Executive Director. Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center.

There was even a story last year that tourism companies and officials from Kenya had come to Morocco to study how it has developed destination sites for international and domestic visitors.

In looking at how Morocco is doing, it’s instructive to look at the diverse offerings available in Morocco that greatly expand the definitions of “cultural” and “eco” tourism. Take the music and film scene, for example. Morocco hosts the Fez Sacred Music Festival, Gnawa celebrations in Essaouira and other sites, as well as the Tangier Jazz Festival and others. The Marrakech International Film Festival is approaching its 12th edition in December 2013, and Dakhla had its fourth international film festival this past spring.

Morocco’s tourism strategy

How is Morocco able to avoid the decline in visitors that has affected other Maghreb countries? Aside from aggressive marketing campaigns, one helpful factor is the increase in flights into Morocco from Europe and other destinations. Although budget flights from Europe have increased 25 percent this year, Driss Behima, chairman and CEO of Royal Air Maroc, says that there are major tourism destinations such as Quarzazate, Errachidia, Laayoune, Dakhla, and Essaouira with little or no air service, providing ample opportunities for growth. The year-on-year increase in commercial passengers was 3.55 percent for April, and overnight stays grew by 11 percent in Marrakech and 12 percent in Agadir during this time. Although convenient flights from the US are still limited, there continues to be hope for another connection in 2014. Linked to this growing airline network and the sea cruise tourism coming across from Gibraltar and Spain is the increase in mid-range and four and five star hotels to cater to diverse and demanding palates and needs of visitors.

Another factor is that Morocco is getting better at developing and promoting its myriad destinations and attractions for specialty travelers, including tours that combine cooking classes with site visits, and, for more traditional sports, an amazing number of golf courses.

The splendor of Kasbah du Toubkal -- High in Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

The splendor of Kasbah du Toubkal — an eco-destination high in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.

For those who like to travel the high road, Morocco has moved strongly into polo, attracting visitors to strategically placed locations with breathtaking backdrops, such as the Atlas Mountains near Marrakech.

Another key factor in this growth is the willingness of international and local investors to develop projects that have strong commercial appeal, such as the polo field located within a classic residential and hotel complex, mirroring similar upscale projects in Europe. The heightened role of the private sector, benefiting from Morocco’s Plan Azul and other incentives for tourism development, is drawing quite serious international investments.

My favorite recent tourism news covers two fantastic opportunities: motorcycle riding across Morocco and kiteboarding in Dakhla.

Morocco topped CNN's recent list of 10 of the world's best motorcycle rides.

Morocco was first on CNN’s recent list of 10 of the world’s best motorcycle rides.

In the latest listing of world’s best motorcycle rides, Morocco tops the list according to CNN.

What’s interesting is that this is not limited to hyper-adrenaline enthusiasts.

It has also drawn in the over-60 crowd that is determined to check off another item on their bucket list (things one wants to do before they can’t manage it).

Salma Firiti of Morocco, in Women's 2013 Kiteboarding Freestyle competition, in Dakhla, a hidden gem gaining international acclaim.

Salma Firiti of Morocco, in Women’s 2013 Kiteboarding Freestyle competition, in Dakhla, a hidden gem gaining international acclaim.

Dakhla is fast becoming the jewel of eco and sport tourism in Morocco due to its fabulous beaches, prevailing winds, and still unspoiled terrain.

For years, it has been a hidden gem of kiteboarding and now is drawing international attention and competitions.

What is especially grand about being a tourist in Morocco is that the opportunities for fun, excitement, visual and culinary treats, and hospitality all combine to provide a great experience for the visitor. There are challenges, however, because there is so much to see and so many opportunities to experience a country that has hundreds of years of heritage interlaced with contemporary attractions.

So the nagging question is “Where to begin?”

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