Morocco reopens tourism after robust vaccination drive

2 months ago 357

A plane carrying French tourists touches down in Marrakech.

It's a sight that has become more commonplace since restrictions on flights were lifted in Morocco on June 15 (2021).

Morocco was the first country in Africa to start reopening air travel and as a result is enjoying a tourism boom.

"The feeling of being here again in our country is amazing we are so happy to be back thanks to God and to our king," says Hammou Bouseta, who has just arrived from France.

Morocco received 12 million tourists in 2019, including 6 million from Moroccan residents living abroad.

This year tourism officials say Morocco is set to fill 3.5 million seats over the season - from June 15 to September 30 - that's 72 percent of the same period in 2019.

During the week 15 to 21 June, Moroccan airports received 195,547 passengers via 1,857 flights.

Europe accounted for 86 percent of the total volume of air traffic with more than 168,500 passengers, followed by North America with about 9,300 and Africa with around 8,400 passengers.

"From the restart of flights on 15th June we have been receiving approximately 4,000 passengers every day and we are hoping these statistics will go up gradually, as there are other flight companies that will resume their flights from and to Marrakesh airport, as you've seen everything is going well," says Zakaria Harti, airport operations manager at Marrakech Menara Airport.

Discounted bookings

Going forward there are 42 airlines that will serve 43 countries, in addition to four new companies, two from Russia, one from Israel and another from Africa.

The tourism boom comes after King Mohammed VI ordered the transport sector to facilitate the return of Moroccans residing abroad at reasonable prices.

In addition to airfare discounts, cut price deals are being offered on rail, bus and coach transport, travel agencies and car rental as well as a 30 percent reduction on hotel prices.

Before the pandemic, London resident Tony Kitus says he used to come to Marrakech once a month, but after such a long time away this time around feels extra special.

"I came from London, I have two vaccines and did not need anything, I just need to show them my two vaccines, it was actually very encouraging for us to come to Marrakech," he says.

Morocco is currently on the UK's amber list of travel destinations, meaning tourists must quarantine for 10 days and take 2 COVID-19 tests on their return. But many sun-hungry travellers remain undeterred and hotels in Marrakech are reporting 100 percent occupancy.

It's a huge relief for the hospitality industry here, although some say they would prefer to see more restrictions lifted, especially the night curfew that starts at 11 p.m.

"We started to have reservations, of course we applied this decision (the king's decision), we have promotions and promotional rates on all categories of rooms and indeed we started to have reservation requests that have started to move a little in this moment, but we are also asking to lift more restrictions because until now there are certain activities in the field of tourism and hotels that are still closed," says Ahmed Benkirane, general director of Sofitel hotel in Marrakech.

Vaccinated travelers

Despite the optimism, tourism in Morocco is not expected to return to its usual pre-pandemic level until after 2030. According to officials, the sector lost more than 64 billion dirhams (7.2 billion U.S. dollars) last year.

"We are very confident for the future, we are looking for several markets abroad, new markets, of course we have our traditional markets which is Europe, but here we are attacking other markets at the level of Latin America, Asia, India, Israel, why not? So there are a lot of prospects, there are a lot of things that we are working and working seriously with new ideas, with new tourism in general," says Taoufik Madih, vice president of regional tourism council in Marrakech.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, tourists are trickling back to the desert.

The Stone Desert in Agafay, 30 kilometres from Marrakech, is already welcoming groups from Europe and the U.S.

"Here I am again after two years of absence due to my studies in France and I have not seen my family and here I'm back to see them and to have extra time with them and to be with them all the time to have fun and to be here in Sahara," says Marouane Nouali, a 20 year-old student currently living in France.

Zoubir Bouhoute is a counselor for the regional tourism council in Marrakech.

He believes this much needed boost to the country's tourist sector will filter through to all sectors of industry.

"We are now living in the beginning of the recovery of the tourism sector, and this is what makes a group of activities directly related to the tourism sector, such as air transport, road transport, restaurants, hotels, guest houses, car rental and travel agencies, all are booming," he says.

"Now they see the beginning of hope."

And here under the stars, a group of 100 guests from the U.S. are celebrating a wedding with a camp fire.

So far, around nine million Moroccans, or 23.5 percent of the population, have been fully vaccinated.

_AP_

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