Morocco: Exploring alternatives
Looking for fresh ways to revitalise Morocco’s tourism sector, the minister of tourism has suggested several alternative measures be taken this year to boost revenues and tourist arrivals.
Both government officials and external figures have cast doubt on the likelihood of any major growth in the sector this year, due to dampened demand from European markets, along with last year’s terrorist attack in Marrakech, and the lingering effects of regional unrest.
“2012 will be a tough year but there won't be a major drop in receipts. We may close 2012 (with receipts) at the same level we had in 2011 or with a minor increase," Lahcen Haddad, the minister of tourism, told Reuters recently. He added that the state's 2012 budget was based on a 2-3% rise in receipts.
Last year, the sector saw receipts total Dh58.7bn (€5.3bn). Visitor numbers dropped by 6% after the first half of the year. At the same time, domestic tourism grew by 13% and spending per visitor rose significantly. Indeed, in spite of the decreased flows of tourists, revenues actually increased, tallying up a growth of 4% by the end of the year.
The rise and fall of Morocco’s tourism sector directly impacts the wider economy. Tourism comprises nearly 10% of GDP, employs an estimated 470,000 people, and is a vital source of foreign exchange currency. In the period from 2001 to 2010, the country succeeded in reaching 90% of government targets, accumulating revenue of €39bn, with the cities of Marrakech and Agadir becoming top destinations for European travellers.
But 2012 has begun poorly, prompting calls for radical new thinking on the part of the Ministry of Tourism. In January, the industry registered a 9% drop in visitors and a 17% decrease in reservations, according to Ministry of Tourism figures.
A third of Morocco’s tourists come from France, followed by Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK, but an increasing number of Europeans are going elsewhere for their holiday, with the biggest decrease among French and Spanish visitors. European tour operators have also claimed a 28% reduction in Morocco bookings.
The National Tourism Office (ONMT) has acknowledged that tourism agencies and other sector operators may face difficulties in the upcoming high season, and as a result, is aiming to stabilise losses while searching for new sources of revenue, particularly in new non-traditional markets such as China, Russia, Poland and the Czech and Slovak Republics, Haddad told Reuters.
"These are emerging markets where the purchase power is improving and where more and more citizens can afford to travel abroad," he said.
Domestic tourists are also still being heavily targeted. With Ramadan approaching, tour operators are beginning to shift their focus towards local tourists. Many hotels have cut their rates by as much as 50%, created diversified package deals for Moroccan families, and expanded internet communications and online booking services.
As Morocco waits for economic prosperity to return Europe, efforts to focus on other emerging economies look poised to keep the tourism sector afloat. If the sector can keep receipts steady, operators should be well placed to segue into expansion in 2013.