Morocco tourism suffers after Paris attacks
Casablanca - It did not take the Islamic State (ISIS) long to threaten Morocco after Rabat reportedly gave intelligence information to the French government about the whereabouts of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the deadly Paris attacks.
ISIS attackers killed 130 people in Paris on November 13th, the deadliest attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 in which 191 people were killed.
French authorities had thought Abaaoud was still among ISIS jihadists fighting in Syria, but Moroccan officials informed them that he was in France.
Terror attacks in Tunisia, in which 60 tourists were killed, and the Russian plane crash caused by a bomb in Egypt prompted European holidaymakers to shun popular Arab destinations.
Morocco is not immune from the fear that is driving many tourists to opt for what they perceive as safer destinations or to stay home, Moroccan Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad acknowledged. He said the number of tourists in the country has been declining due to the growing ISIS threat.
Other officials and tourism operators concur, saying growth in the sector has been affected by a perception of threat.
“Since mid-2014 with the appearance of ISIS and then with the two attacks in Tunisia and with the Charlie Hebdo attack in France, we have seen a dwindling of the number of tourists,” Haddad told the Financial Times prior to the November 13th assault on Paris.
“It is not highly significant in the overall picture but very important for the French market, where we had a drop starting in mid-2014 — and it is still happening.”
France is the most significant market for Morocco. French holidaymakers represent 34% of the tourists who visit the North African kingdom each year.
Some cities in Morocco are already feeling the pinch. Agadir, which is one of Morocco’s sunny destinations throughout the year, is relying on local tourists to help offset the dwindling number of foreign holidaymakers.
According to figures released by Agadir’s Regional Council of Tourism, the number of nights spent at accommodations catering to tourists was down in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2014.
The southern coastal city recorded 2,262,788 bed nights over the period compared to 2,521,563 recorded in 2014.
This decrease is mainly due to the French market, which showed a decline in terms of tourist arrivals (down 21%) and bed nights (down 28%). However, the flow of local tourists rose as Agadir received 159,545 tourists from Moroccan cities from January through July, a 14.3% increase compared to the same period in 2014.
Tourism accounted for about 8% of the Morocco’s gross domestic product in 2014 and employs 500,000 people. The government hopes to see the number of visitors rise to 20 million by 2022.
One the other side of the tourism picture, some Moroccans who were planning to go to major European capitals such as London and Paris for Christmas and New Year’s festivities have cancelled their plans due to fears of potential terror attacks in Europe.
Leila Bourzik, a government employee, said that she dropped her plan to visit London for safety reasons.
“I cancelled my plan to go to the United Kingdom because I fear that terror attacks might happen anytime, anywhere,” Bourzik said.