Morocco is amongst the best developed tourism markets in Africa, benefitting from its close proximity to Europe, a wide variety of landscapes and attractions, year-round warm weather in parts of the country, and a more stable political and security environment than some of its regional competitors. The years since 2016 have seen healthy rises in tourism arrivals, though over the longer term growth has failed to meet the authorities’ targets for the sector, prompting work that is currently under way to revise the national strategy for the sector’s development.
Structure & Oversight
The Moroccan tourism sector is overseen by the kingdom’s Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy, which is responsible for implementing the national tourism development strategy known as Vision 2020. The National Moroccan Tourism Bureau (Office National Marocain du Tourisme, ONMT), which is branded as Visit Morocco, is responsible for promoting Morocco as a destination, both internationally and increasingly at home.
The government strategy for the development of the sector, Vision 2020 — which follows on from the previous strategy Vision 2010 — is based around the values of authenticity, diversity, quality and durability, and the development of six main tourism products, namely beach tourism, the substrategy for which is known as Azur 2020; heritage tourism; sustainable and ecotourism; entertainment, sports and leisure; local tourism, the development programme for which is called Biladi, or “my country” (see analysis); and niche tourism.
It aims to make Morocco one of the top-20 tourism destinations in the world by the end of the current decade and to double the size of the sector in several respects, including increasing tourism arrival numbers to 20m; doubling the number of beds available to 400,000; adding 470,000 jobs to almost double the number of people employed in the sector, to 1m; tripling the number of domestic trips; and raising the value of tourism receipts to Dh140bn (€12.6bn). Most of these targets are ambitious. Arrivals, for example, stood at 12.3m in 2018, meaning the target of 20m visitors by 2020 is almost certainly out of reach, as is the target for receipts.
Implementation of initiatives under the strategy has also been slow, with the kingdom’s Court of Audit in August 2018 finding that by the end of 2015 (halfway through the strategy), only 37 projects out of a planned total of 944 had been completed.
With the current aims of Vision 2020 appearing increasingly distant from the realities of the industry, the government and the private sector — represented by the National Tourism Confederation (Confédération Nationale du Tourisme, CNT) in July 2017 decided to jointly develop a new tourism roadmap that will include adjustments to Vision 2020 based on an assessment of the industry’s strengths and weaknesses. The Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy informed OBG that the roadmap would be based around five key elements: measures to incentivise investment; improvements in air transport links; stepped-up marketing and communications activities; further efforts to develop the sector’s human capital; and reforms to the governance of the industry to ensure better management of Vision 2020.
However, the project has faced some delays; it was originally supposed to be presented to the CNT’s general assembly in March 2018 but has yet to be made public, despite several announcements that it was almost ready. Most recently, the CNT in early October 2018 announced that the roadmap would be published within a month, but as of February 2019 it had yet to be made public, although some investment projects have already been launched.
Contribution to GDP
The hotels and restaurant sector GDP was worth Dh26.6bn (€2.4bn) in 2017, according to provisional data from the national statistics and planning body, the High Commission for Planning (Haut Commissariat au Plan, HCP), equivalent to 2.5% of national GDP.
The sector has been witnessing strong growth in arrivals since 2017, with visitor numbers rising by 8.3% in 2018, following growth of 10% across 2017. This, however, followed several years of weaker performance, with arrivals growing by 1.5% in 2016 and declining by 1% the year before that. Long-term growth has also been somewhat subdued, with the number of arrivals in 2017 only 22% greater than the figure in 2010, well short of national targets, which were set at 10m by 2010.
The number of tourist arrivals to the kingdom in 2018 stood at 12.3m, an increase of 8.3% on 2017, according to data from the kingdom’s Tourism Observatory (Observatoire du Tourisme, OT). In 2018, 46% of the total, or 5.6m visitors, were Moroccans living abroad, whose numbers rose by 2% over the period, while the number of foreign tourists rose by 14%, to 6.7m.
In 2017 arrivals stood at 11.35m, up 10% on the previous year. According to the African Development Bank, based on 2016 figures, the kingdom is the largest tourism market in Africa in terms of arrivals, ahead of South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt.
Adjusted for inflation, sector GDP rose 11.5% during 2017, up strongly from growth of 3.6% the previous year and a contraction of 1.3% in 2015. Fullyear data for 2018 is not yet available, but growth appears to have slowed somewhat compared to 2017, expanding by 5.8% in the third, and an estimated 4.2% in the final quarter of the year. This followed year-on-year growth of 6.1% and 6.7% in the second and first quarters, respectively.
Provisional data from the Office des Changes estimated tourism receipts for 2018 were worth Dh73.2bn (€6.6bn), up 1.5% on the past year. For 2017 as a whole, receipts were worth Dh72.1bn (€6.5bn), equivalent to 6.8% of GDP. The figure was up strongly from Dh64.2bn (€5.8bn) in 2016, though receipts were fairly in flat in the years before that going back to 2010, in line with the modest growth in arrivals.
There were 351,582 people employed in hotels and restaurants in the kingdom in 2016, according to HCP figures, representing 3% of the national workforce, working at 3690 establishments.
The number of licensed accommodation establishments stood at 4037 in 2018, comprising 121,171 rooms and 260,448 beds. These figures were up from 3897 establishments and 250,518 beds in 2017, with the number of establishments having almost tripled from 1366 in 2006.
Tourists spent a total of 24m nights in Moroccan hotels in 2018, up 8% on the previous year’s performance, according to the OT. Non-residents accounted for 70% of the total, or 16.8m nights (up 12% year-on-year), and residents comprised the remaining 30% (down from a peak of 32%), or 7.14m nights, up just 2% (see analysis).
By hotel category, four-star hotels accounted for the largest share of nights spent in the kingdom in 2018, with 26.7% of the total, followed closely by five-star establishments with 26.3%. However, the three- and five-star segments saw the strongest growth over the period, with both increasing by 11% each. This was followed by tourist residences with 15% and guest houses with 14%. The budget segment was nearly flat, with one-star facilities witnessing a contraction of 4%.
The number of rooms and establishments is set to grow further in the years ahead. According to the W Hospitality Group’s “Pipeline Report 2018”, 33 hotels are under construction in the kingdom, with 5456 rooms between them. This ranked Morocco as the fourth most active African market in terms of hotel projects, behind Ethiopia, Nigeria and Egypt.
Major hotel construction projects under way include the Hyatt Regency Taghazout Bay near Agadir. The $300m, five-star facility will have 160 rooms and is due to open in the third quarter of 2019. Another major five-star project, the Marriott Tamuda Bay, is being built in the north-eastern city of Tétouan. The $200m hotel will have 194 rooms and is due to open in mid-2020. Portuguese chain Pestana is also planning to open a branch of its Pestana CR7 chain at the new M Avenue development in Marrakech in 2020. The facility will have 168 rooms and will be the first branch of the brand, which was jointly conceived with footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, to be opened in Africa.
Recent openings include the inauguration of a 96-room Ibis hotel – the 14th in the kingdom – in Mohammedia, between Rabat and Casablanca, in February 2018. A Novotel, built at a cost of around $200m, opened on the same site shortly afterwards. Both brands are managed by French company Accor, which is the largest hotel operator in the kingdom.
A notable trend in the market in recent times has been rebranding and takeovers of existing hotels by major international hotel operators – in particular Spanish firms, which have a large presence in the market. In July 2018 Spanish operator Barceló agreed to manage two existing hotels, the Almohades Tangier and the Almohades Agadir. The rebranding will see both facilities renamed and renovated. The previous April Mélia Hotels International announced that it was taking over the management of the 211-room Sol Marrakech in the Palmeraie district of Marrakech, a project that also involves the renovation of the facility. Mélia is also the operator of two all-inclusive five-star resort hotels that opened in October 2017 in the north-eastern beach town of Saïdia: the 397-room Meliá Saïdia Beach Resort and the 150-room Meliá Saïdia Garden Golf Resort.
Hotel occupancy stood at 46% in 2018, according to OT data, up from 43% in 2017. Agadir and the most popular destination Marrakech had the highest occupancy of any major destination at 59%, followed by the third-most popular destination, Casablanca, with 54% in 2018. Agadir also saw the longest average stays, at 5.3 days, likely due to its popularity for package beach holidays. By hotel category, club hotels had the highest occupancy rate for the period by a considerable margin with 74%, followed by five- and four-star hotels with figures of 58% and 52%, respectively.
However, the budget end of the market appears to be struggling to attract guests, with one- and two-star hotels posting both the lowest occupancy rates, at 20% and 26%, respectively, and the shortest average stays, at 1.6 nights and 1.7 nights.
The development of domestic tourism is a key element of Vision 2020, with its own substrategy known as Biladi. Although the implementation of the initiative – similar to the strategy as a whole – has faced challenges, the segment has also been growing rapidly over the medium term and indeed substantially faster than the foreign tourism segment: notably, nights spent by residents increased by 76% between 2010 and 2017, to 7.14m, making up 30% of total market share (see analysis).
Marrakech is the kingdom’s most popular tourism destination, accounting for 36% of nights spent in tourism accommodation in 2018. Nights spent in the city rose by 10% on the same period a year earlier, to 8.5m.
The appeal of the city as a tourism destination is based around its famous medina (old city), including its famous souq and the large Jemaa El Fnaa square that hosts numerous street food stalls and traditional attractions such as storytellers and snake-charmers at night, as well as the presence of large numbers of resort hotels in the Palmeraie area and a well-developed nightlife scene.
Its appeal is about to be further expanded through the development of a new mixed-use real estate project, M Avenue. Work on the Dh680m (€61.2m) project, which will be 500m long and cover an area of 5 ha, began in 2017. When completed, the development will include several tourism accommodation facilities, including the aforementioned CR7 Pestana hotel and 88 Four Seasons apartments.
Agadir – a coastal city that primarily functions in tourism terms as a beach resort – ranks second, with 25.1% of nights spent during the period, up 9%. In third place is the economic capital Casablanca, with 9% of total nights spent during the period, up 3% on the same timeframe the previous year.
Fourth-ranked destination Fez, the kingdom’s pre-modern and spiritual capital, saw the strongest growth in nights spent over the period, by 18% to 913,000. This followed growth of nearly 40% the previous year, making it by far the kingdom’s fastest-growing destination in recent times. The city’s principal attraction is its large, well-preserved walled medina, which includes numerous heritage sites such as medieval madrasas (Islamic schools) and the Al Quaraouiyine mosque and university; it is also famous for hosting the annual week-long Fez Festival of World Sacred Music.
Developing the kingdom’s tourism marketing strategy is a key element of the planned roadmap for the sector being put together by the authorities and the CNT. Ministry of Tourism, Air Transport, Handicrafts and Social Economy priorities for marketing the kingdom to established source markets from 2017 to 2021 include making available more information about each of the kingdom’s 12 regions and focusing more on Moroccans living abroad through, for example, the use of social media influencers, competitions and loyalty programmes with Moroccan banks.
In addition, a campaign known as Morocco 360 encourages tourists who have already visited the kingdom from leading source markets such as France, Spain, the UK and Germany to return. The authorities are also seeking to develop established second-tier markets such as the GCC, African countries, the Benelux states, Italy, Portugal and Scandinavia through measures such as marketing campaigns and TV adverts specific to each country, as well as the US, with a specific focus on the West Coast. For emerging source markets such as Russia, China, Brazil, Japan, India and South Korea, the authorities are focusing in particular on establishing the kingdom’s tourism brand and promoting beach, cultural and luxury tourism.
France is, and has long been, the kingdom’s largest tourism source market, accounting for 31% of arrivals in 2018 according to OT data. However, the country’s share of arrivals has been trending downwards, from 37% at the start of the decade. Spain comes in second with 20% of arrivals (a figure that has remained more or less steady in recent years), followed by Germany in third place (6%) and the UK in fourth (5.6%).
The US is the only non-European source market of the eight countries for which the observatory gives data, ranking it the eighth-largest source market with a share of 3%. The US also posted the strongest growth over the period of the eight markets, with arrivals up 16%, followed by Italy, the fifth-largest source market, with 495,000 visitors, which saw visitors grow by 15%, and Germany with 10% growth.
One of the most promising source markets for the industry is China. In mid-2016 the authorities removed a previous requirement that Chinese visitors obtain a visa in advance of their arrival, part of wider efforts to promote economic cooperation between the two countries including a visit that year by King Mohammed VI to China. Since then, arrivals have been booming: the minister of tourism, Mohammed Sajid, said in mid-December 2018 that Chinese visitor numbers were on track to approach 132,000 for the year as a whole, up from around 10,000 in 2015 and 107,000 in 2017. North America is another fast-growing market, with arrivals up 89% between 2011 and 2017, to 365,925.
Niche tourism is one of the six tourism categories covered by Vision 2020. Segments under focus in this element of the plan include health and wellness tourism for which Morocco is already a leading regional destination (see Health chapter), and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE). The latter category remains underdeveloped, with business tourism accounting for just 4.4% of tourism receipts in 2017; however, the proximity of major European source markets with high levels of MICE demand suggests that the segment holds major development potential.
Factors such as its proximity to major European source markets, its diverse landscapes and heritage, warm winter weather, and on-going investment in the sector should help to ensure growth, albeit most likely at lower levels than those sought in the Vision 2020. New transport infrastructure such as the high-speed train line linking Casablanca to Tangier launched in late 2018, and the development of new hotels in the high-end segment both highlight the confidence in the strength of the sector felt by private developers and the government.
Growth in local tourism (see analysis) and rising numbers of visitors from emerging source markets such as China further underscore a broadly positive outlook of the industry, and suggest that there remain a lot of sources of untapped potential for the industry to explore over the years to come.