Eco emphasis: Promoting sustainable development in less-visited areas

One of the focal points of Morocco’s ambitious Vision 2020 programme is sustainable tourism. The country has no shortage of natural features to leverage as tourism attractions, and it also boasts 10 national parks and 160 sites of biological and ecological importance. The ecotourism segment, however, remains at a nascent stage and represents only a small part of the overall tourism industry. The drive for ecotourism aims not only to improve niche-specific attractions and boost spending, but also to bring tourists to more remote and less-visited areas, allowing rural regions to benefit from the inflow of visitors and encouraging a rise in employment and revenues outside of the major destinations.

FIRST STEPS: The push to expand sustainable tourism comes in spite of limited public financial support. Ecotourism accounts for a small percentage of the Vision 2020 budget, for example, at around 3%. The government has allocated Dh756.2m (€67.5m) for the launch of 19 projects, which include green resorts, an ecological lodge network, tours in remote areas, as well as efforts to promote local products and handicrafts. However, only 1% of the final investment for the projects will come from the public sector, with the private sector expected to provide the remainder.

Ecotourism received a significant boost in 2001 when King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection (FM6E). The foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and a partner of the UN environmental protection agency, seeks to raise awareness and coordinate efforts regarding sustainable development across many sectors of society, including the tourism sector, where it works alongside the Moroccan National Tourism Office.

GREEN CERTIFICATIONS: One of the central pillars of the state’s efforts to boost ecotourism is related to certification by providing visitors with visible indicators of the comparative ecological sensitivity of a destination or facility. The voluntary green key label, which is supported by the UN Environmental Programme and the UN World Tourism Organisation, is awarded to tourism establishments that meet 92 environmental criteria in areas such as raising awareness of ecological issues among hotel staff, increasing the use of sustainable technology and methods of operation, and reducing resource and energy use. By 2012 a total of 57 hotels had joined the green key labelling system in Morocco. “It’s a win-win scenario. Increasingly customers are looking for environmentally sound choices and those in the industry also want to take part while reducing costs at the same time. This issue is being taken seriously, especially by the international brand names, which even have entire sustainable development departments within each hotel,” Hassan Joundy, general manager of the JM Suites Hotel in Casablanca, told OBG.

ECO ZONES: Under the Vision 2020 plan, the government has divided the kingdom into eight territorial zones under three categories: nature, seaside and culture. Ecotourism projects will be built in each region with a specific revenue target after a 10-year period ending in 2020. To help several of these regions bolster their ecotourism offer, public-private partnerships (PPPs) under regional contract-programmes ( contrat-programme regional, CPR) were signed with four regions to build eco-establishments and nature-oriented projects. The region of Laâyoune-Boujdour-Saguia El Hamra, located in the Western Sahara in the south, will receive Dh3.4bn (€303.3m) to develop 21 public-private projects, of which nine will be oriented towards sustainable development. In 2013 Tadla Azilal, a region known for its beautiful landscapes in the M’Goun nature reserve close to Marrakech, signed a CPR with the government, with Dh1.9bn (€168.7m) worth of capital coming from mixed sources and covering 58 projects.

The Souss-Massa-Drâa region, which runs from Agadir to the border with Algeria, is expecting to receive some Dh27.5bn (€2.4bn) for 56 future projects to bolster its seaside and ecotourism industry. The Guelmim Es Smar region also signed a CPR for a total investment of Dh24.2bn (€2.1bn), Dh1.2m (€106,560) of which will go to 28 local sustainable development projects.

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The Report: Morocco 2014

Tourism chapter from The Report: Morocco 2014

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