Interview: Lahcen Haddad
How well has the Moroccan tourism sector weathered the economic downturn in Europe?
LAHCEN HADDAD: In terms of indicators, 2013 was satisfactory, with up to Dh19bn (€1.69bn) in investment, 20,000 new jobs and an additional 13,000 trained personnel. Tourism activity maintained a good performance in spite of the turbulent global economy and an unsteady geopolitical context. For the most part, this was thanks to solid foundations alongside targeted marketing and promotional efforts. Visitor numbers peaked at 10.1m in 2013, while the figure for arrivals increased year-on-year by 7%. Overnight stays in classified tourist lodging establishments, meanwhile, jumped by 9.3%.
What can be done to further diversify the sector?
HADDAD: As tourism grows globally and becomes increasingly competitive, we are confident that Morocco’s key assets will help to maintain the country’s strong performance. The kingdom has adopted an innovative policy which is underpinned by developing projects and new integrated products in the cultural and beach holiday segments. Quality is our priority, and we aim to offer a pleasant environment and to improve the stay of visitors through top-end services, solid transport infrastructure and efficient upkeep of tourist sites.
We are aiming to reinforce Morocco’s position internationally by intensifying promotion campaigns and media exposure. At the same time, in terms of air transportation, we have a series of long-term partnerships with high-end airlines, as well as the prospect of new, low-cost airlines within target markets.
Which segments need to be improved to fully exploit the kingdom’s potential as a meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) destination?
HADDAD: Morocco has high potential as a MICE destination given its geographical location, which places it at an average of three hours flying time from much of Europe. Likewise, the Open Skies Agreement; projects to develop conference facilities in Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangiers; and the expertise developed by some operators, are also measures to take the MICE segment forward. We are aiming to consolidate the MICE industry through new infrastructure such as convention centres and exhibition areas, which will allow Morocco to host large global events. Construction of the Marrakech and Tangiers World Exhibition spaces, for instance, are flagship projects promoting both cities as business destinations. To this end, the Moroccan Convention Bureau will be a key agency for promoting the segment and enabling the kingdom to better position itself as a host destination for conferences.
What strategies have been implemented to boost foreign investment in tourism projects?
HADDAD: Our objectives include doubling the bed capacity at tourism facilities to some 200,000 by 2020, while future investments will be geared toward culture, sea and nature-related tourism, and supported by a sustainable development approach.
Morocco is focused on developing several niche areas with high added value. The Supervisory Board of the Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development (Société Marocaine d’Ingénierie Touristique, SMIT), as the body in charge of attracting tourism investments, is seeking to promote competition by facilitating access to land and implementing a raft of pre-established projects.
SMIT will work to provide investors with better access to key data sources for project development, in terms of concept, location and the nature of the land, among other things. Other focus areas include improvements to the investment charter within the Vision 2020 framework, the proposition of tax incentives for purchasing tourism residences (with a view to encouraging investment in such accommodation) and the implementation of a premium that can reach up to 10% of the investment for projects related to Vision 2020.
Further, the provision of a credit line of up to Dh24bn (€2.13bn) by national banks between 2011 and 2016 will help to accelerate the completion of projects.
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