Faced with a downturn in visitors from traditional source markets located in Europe, in 2015 the Moroccan government adopted a series of measures aimed at diversifying its source markets, which included the creation of air connections to new destinations and the rollout of targeted travel promotion initiatives.

EMERGING MARKETS: Non-traditional source markets represented an important source of growth for tourism, as measured by the origin of arrivals registered at the border. Indeed, over the first 11 months of 2017, China was the source market with the most significant growth, registering a rate of 173% in this period, according to the Moroccan Tourism Observatory. Brazil stood in second place with a growth rate of 57%, followed by Japan (39%), the US (30%) and South Korea (28%).

The rising popularity of Morocco as a holiday destination in the Chinese market is also reflected in the fact that it was awarded the title of “Best Potential Destination in 2016” by Chinese newspaper the Global Times. Additionally, China represents an especially valuable market, as a tourist from China spends an average of Dh867 (€80.30) per night, compared to the mean tourist spend of Dh695.4 (€64.40) per night, according to a 2017 report by the Moroccan Tourism Observatory.

Government efforts to strengthen ties with China and diversify the market include a memorandum of understanding on the growing economic partnership between the two nations that was signed in May 2016, and the decision to exempt Chinese nationals from visa requirements, which came into effect in June 2016. “In addition to visa exemptions for Chinese nationals, the launch of Tangiers Tech City and the fact that Chinese multinational ICT company Huawei pooled its Mauritania and Algiers operations into Casablanca contributed to the expectation of more than 100,000 Chinese nationals arrivals in 2017,” Laurent Ebzant, general manager at Hyatt Regency Casablanca, told OBG.

Furthermore, China – as well as other non-traditional source markets such as Brazil – has been the target of numerous Moroccan travel promotions, and new airline routes have opened since 2015, though as of early 2018 direct flights remain to be seen. “Asian source market growth is greatly aided by the fact that the Middle East has seen a number of air hubs develop, thereby making it easier for North African countries to establish air connections and tap into the potential of Asian source markets,” Marie-Pierre Brancaleoni, marketing director at the Four Seasons Casablanca, told OBG.

A FOOTHOLD IN AFRICA: With Morocco consistently working on Africa and South-South cooperation, as illustrated by the nation’s return to the African Union in 2017, African countries are starting to emerge as a new source market. For example, in 2016 the African region ranked ninth in terms of Morocco’s top source markets, as measured by the number of overnight stays in classified accommodation establishments, which increased by 25% year-on-year.

In an effort to make the most of Africa’s growth potential, the Moroccan National Tourism Office (Office National Marocain du Tourisme, ONMT) inaugurated its first sub-Saharan African delegation in Dakar, Senegal in February 2017. The initiative, a component of Moroccan investment in African relations, sought to encourage a closer relationship between their respective private sectors, as well as promote the sharing of knowledge on digital communication, organisation and training practices. Abderrafia Zouitene, former director-general of the ONMT, explained at the meeting that Senegal represents a valued source of religious tourism, especially given the interest of Senegalese nationals in Fez as a religious centre, and that more low-cost airlines and flights would boost air traffic and tourism activity.

As the first figures of 2017 surfaced, it became evident that the government’s innovative strategy and subsequent stakeholder efforts were attaining positive results. Together with targeted travel promotion initiatives and new flight paths, market diversification is acting as a key driver of sector growth.