Morocco welcomed approximately 3m tourists in the first four months of 2017, up by 10% on the same period last year, according to figures released by the General Directorate for National Security (la Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale, DGSN). In April alone, both international arrivals and the number of expatriates visiting home increased, up 18% and 9.5%, respectively, year-on-year (y-o-y). Overall, visitor numbers for the month were up 14.7% y-o-y.
The sector performed strongly across nearly all segments, with only cruise-ship arrivals slipping in the first quarter of 2017. Data from the National Ports Agency put the number of passengers disembarking at Morocco’s ports in the first three months of the year at 66,390 down 17% y-o-y.
The generally positive performance comes at a time when security concerns and political instability continue to take their toll on several of the MENA region’s other traditionally popular destinations.
According to Mohamed Sajid, the Moroccan minister of tourism, the industry is on track to expand by 5.5% y-o-y in 2017, with overall visitor numbers reaching 10.9m. Revenue, meanwhile, is forecast to reach $6.5bn (€5.8bn), up from $6.4bn (€5.7bn) in 2016.
All eyes on China
A move to tap the Chinese market by relaxing entry requirements for visitors has made a significant contribution to growth.
Morocco took the step of exempting Chinese nationals from its visa requirements at the beginning of June 2016, with the result that arrivals from China for the year increased three-fold on volumes in 2015. Growth is expected to continue through 2017, with 100,000 Chinese tourists forecast to visit Morocco throughout the year, up from 42,000 in 2016.
Improved air connectivity between the two nations is expected to further strengthen links. At present, there are no direct air connections between the two countries. However, the Moroccan National Tourist Office (Office National Marocain du Tourisme, ONMT) has established partnerships with three key international airlines – Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines and Air France – with a view to increasing the number of regular flights connecting Chinese cities with Morocco’s prime tourist destinations.
In another ONMT initiative, a delegation from China visited Morocco in June to evaluate the country’s tourism potential. Representatives from travel agencies based in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and the media visited several of Morocco’s best known cities, including Marrakech, Tangiers, Casablanca, Rabat and Fez .
Positive developments all round
Visitor numbers from other markets also increased, according to the DGSN. Arrivals from the US rose 43% y-o-y in the first four months of 2017, with increases also recorded in the number of visitors from Spain (26%), Germany (22%), Belgium (21%) and Italy (16%).
A stable and secure political environment, combined with incentives and infrastructural development, has helped Morocco to create an attractive investment climate, resulting in a raft of new hotel projects.
Radisson Blue opened its first Morocco hotel in mid-2016, while Fairmont signed an agreement with New Mauritius Hotels in March to refurbish and rebrand its existing property under the firm’s banner. Both hotels are located in the city of Marrakesh. June saw the launch of the Hilton Tanger City Center Hotel and Residences, marking Hilton Hotels & Resorts’ first property in Morocco.
The arrival of key industry players in Morocco is expected to help maintain growth momentum. Meanwhile, cities across the country have been moving in parallel to heighten their appeal. The prefecture of Meknès announced plans in June to develop 18 new tourism units, in a venture worth Dh750m (€68.1m) that will provide 1804 beds and create 500 new jobs. In a separate development, the city of Essaouira will embark on the second stage of its urban rehabilitation programme, aimed at promoting the locality’s tourism potential
© Oxford Business Group 2017