Morocco attracts record number of tourists in 2017

Approximately 11.35 million people visited Morocco last year.
Sunday 18/02/2018
The Oriental Desert Express train en route from Oujda to Bouarfa in north-eastern Morocco. 			                         	           (AFP)
The Oriental Desert Express train en route from Oujda to Bouarfa in north-eastern Morocco. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - A record number of tourists flocked to Morocco in 2017, exceeding the 11 million mark for the first time.

Approximately 11.35 million people visited the North African country last year, 10% more than in 2016. French nationals topped tourist arrivals in Morocco last year with more than 1.6 million visitors.

Tourism growth was led by the main markets such as Germany (up 15%), the Netherlands and Italy (9%) and France and Spain (8%). Emerging tourist markets such as China (up 151%), Japan (39%) and Brazil (38%) recorded strong growth, a Tourism Ministry report stated.

“This significant increase in Chinese tourist arrivals is due to the decision of King Mohammed VI to abolish visas for Chinese nationals,” said Tourism Minister Mohamed Sajid at the first plenary session of the Moroccan-Chinese Tourism Cooperation Forum, which included the participation of more than 200 Chinese and Moroccan professionals.

“The long-term goal is to attract more than 1 million Chinese tourists (a year),” Sajid said, adding that “we will put all the necessary means to penetrate well this market, which represents the first tourist provider in the world.”

The minister called on Moroccan professionals to heed the importance of the Chinese market and adapt products and services to the needs of Chinese tourists despite the absence of direct air links between the two countries.

Sajid said establishing a direct flight between Morocco and China is being considered by the Moroccan national airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM).

The volume of overnight stays in classified tourist accommodation establishments last year grew 15%, compared to 2016, resulting in a 43% occupancy rate, which is 3 percentage points higher than in 2016.

Fez registered the strongest growth (up 39%) followed by Ouarzazate (7%) and Tangiers (25%). Some cities, such as Fez, are still lagging well behind Morocco’s main tourist destinations, such as Marrakech, due to unfinished tourist projects, a lack of entertainment and limited air transport.

Hotel operators and politicians in Fez complain that the city is far behind the performance of Marrakech despite a new airport terminal. They called on authorities to allow more low-cost airlines to serve the city.

“It is abnormal that Fez, which has a new terminal, is not connected with European capitals and African cities issuing spiritual tourism,” MP Allal Amraoui told L’Economiste.

Tourism receipts in foreign currencies reached $7.63 billion in 2017 against $7.07 billion in 2016, the ministry said, calling 2017 an “exceptional year” after several years of near-stagnation.

Helping increase the number of tourist arrivals were a growing series of new routes initiated by low-cost airlines between Europe and Morocco, increased domestic flights by RAM and the country’s political stability.

Sharjah’s Air Arabia posted 29% growth in profit for 2017 thanks to its strong markets, including Morocco. The low-cost carrier said it expects Morocco and Egypt to drive growth in 2018.

“This year the good spots for us would be Morocco, which is going from strength to strength, and we’re putting more capacity on those lines,” Air Arabia CEO Adel Abdullah Ali told Bloomberg TV.

The tourism sector is Morocco’s second largest employer after agriculture and one of its main sources of foreign exchange, accounting for 10% of its wealth.

Tourists visit the Oudaya Kasbah in Rabat.                                       (AFP)
An Asian tourist takes a selfie in front of the Hassan Tower in Rabat. (AFP)
Tourists enjoy beverages on a terrace overlooking the Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech. (AFP)