Morocco aims at 10% tourism growth in 2010

Morocco aims to draw 10 percent more visitors this year to help fill fast-growing hotel capacity and bolster tourism income after it slipped in 2009, industry and government officials said.

Heavy investment in hotels, resorts and holiday apartments has helped the north African country more than double tourism earnings in the past decade — providing a lifeline for a government battling widespread poverty.

The number of arrivals kept growing last year despite the global economic downturn, with an increase of 6 percent, but income fell as tourists spent less.

“We aim to realise growth of 10 percent (in 2010 tourism numbers), or three times the world trend that is forecast,” newly-appointed Tourism Minister Yassir Znagui said in a speech on the first day of industry event the Moroccan Travel Market.

Industry officials said the rise in tourist numbers hoped for this year would not come at the expense of profitability.

Last year visitor arrivals grew to 8.35 million while rival markets such as Spain and Tunisia fell, according to government figures.

But industry estimates show the number of hotel stays fell 1.6 percent and tourism income slid 5.7 percent to 52.4 billion dirhams.

“I think in 2010 we can achieve 6 percent growth in foreign currency earnings and get back to the level we were at in 2008,” Othman Cherif Alami, Chairman of Morocco’s National Tourism Federation (FNT), told Reuters.

Morocco’s tourism sector hopes new seaside resorts opening their doors, travel operators offering a wider choice of Moroccan holidays and budget airlines adding cheap flights from Europe, will boost earnings per tourist.

“We have a strong desire to gear Morocco towards sustainable tourism, respect for the environment and a top quality tourism product,” tourism minister Znagui told Reuters. “That does not imply a drop in profitability.”


Delegates in Marrakesh said they saw the January 4 nomination of Znagui, previously a City of London financier, as proof of the government’s determination to relaunch big resort developments put on hold when the financial crisis struck.

The government was forced to scale back its ambitions for Plan Azur, a chain of new holiday resorts along the country’s Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines paid for mostly by investors from the Arabian Gulf, Europe and North America.

Industry officials said two of the resorts — Mogador near the southern port of Essaouira and Lixus near Larache in the north — should open in July and at the end of the year respectively.

Another two that were delayed when investors backed away — Taghazout near Agadir and Plage Blanche in the far south — could also be viable again before long, they said.

Plage Blanche, victim of the insolvency of Spanish property developer Fadesa, seems to have been revived in part by an unnamed Egyptian investor, delegates said.

Taghazout has seen two investors, including U.S.-based Colony Capital back off, raising questions over whether it might ever happen.

“I am sure the new minister will re-launch calls for candidates (to complete) Taghazout,” said Alami of the FNT. “It is the first site he visited 48 hours after he was nominated. I think that shows a strategy to relaunch investments.”

Source: Reuters

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