As Morocco’s logistical and economic hub, Casablanca has traditionally been the bedrock of business tourism in the country. Now, owing to increased air connectivity and the expansion of conference and entertainment venues, the city is drawing growing interest from operators promoting it as an emerging destination for both leisure and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
In 2014 authorities set up the Regional Contract Programme (Contrat Programme Régional, CPR) for Greater Casablanca, a development plan based on public-private partnerships aimed at fostering a conducive environment for the growth of tourism in Casablanca. Expected to be 71% financed by the private sector, the $1bn programme comprises 46 projects focused on three priority areas: consolidating business tourism via new niche markets such as golf and wellness, implementing a city break offering focused on culture and leisure, and boosting Casablanca’s MICE offering.
In 2014 tourism generated $7bn in the greater Casablanca area – up 0.6% on 2013 – 60% of which was provided by business tourism. Nearly one in four visitors was a business traveller in 2014, with 40% of these from France, 21% from the Gulf, 9% from Spain and 6% from North America.
In recent years, growth in business tourism has been supported by the development of several economic clusters, including Casa Nearshore for ICT, Midpark for aeronautics and Casablanca Finance City for capital markets. These developments have sustained demand for increases in hotel capacity. According to Souleymane Khol, vice-president for sales, marketing, distribution and revenue management (Africa and Indian Ocean) at AccorHotels, “The hotels located in the vicinity of Casa Nearshore have been among Morocco’s best performers, with average occupancy rates above 80%, proving that there is still room for growth in terms of business hotels in Casablanca.”
Building on Casablanca’s thriving business tourism sector, and in light of the city’s relative poverty of large-scale event facilities, authorities have been looking to convert Casablanca into a MICE destination. A new 3500-seat congress centre on Casablanca’s new marina is currently under construction, as well as an 1800-seat event room as part of Casablanca’s first opera house, the CasArts Theatre Complex. Both facilities are expected to be completed in 2017. Additionally, authorities are planning to construct a new exhibition centre in the new city of Zenata, though a timeline has yet to be announced.
“The development of these large-scale facilities will definitely put Casablanca on the radar for international MICE agencies and have a knock-on effect on corporate tourism,” Marie-Pierre Brancaleoni, marketing director at the Four Seasons Casablanca, told OBG. “Casablanca’s potential for MICE is huge, as the city offers all the advantages sought by corporate events organisers, including a large choice of accommodation options, easy air connections, a diversified catering offer, good safety standards and a dense network of golf courses in the vicinity”.
Following the establishment of the CPR, authorities have started to rehabilitate Casablanca’s urban environment through restoration programmes in the old medina, a new train station at Casa Port and a renewed focus on the city’s ArtDeco heritage. As well as the imminent completion of the CasArts opera-theatre and six new museums, Casablanca has also raised its profile as a shopping destination with the completion of several largescale shopping alleys, notably Morocco Mall and Anfa Place. Elsewhere, the $600m Wessal Casablanca Port project is expected to affect major changes to Casablanca’s seafront. “With all these urban developments, Casablanca is following in Barcelona’s footsteps and has the opportunity to become a fullyfledged tourism destination,” Brancaleoni concluded.