Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Goa and Fez? What's the link?

Our special affairs reporter, Lumen, reckons that Goa has an idea that could be a goer in Fez. Here's her report.


It’s been eight years since I explored the Jesuit churches and monasteries of Old Goa, dug my toes into the warm sand and watched the sun set over the Arabian sea while sipping a Kingfisher, ate freshly cooked prawns in a beach shack and bought a pineapple from an impoverished but elegantly saried woman plying her wares up and down the beach. Although I chose to stay in a simple hotel a rice-paddy away from the beach at Benaulim, I was aware that there were larger resorts further along the 50-mile beach that mostly catered for German tourists at that time. But I wasn’t there for the sun and the sea and soon moved on to explore beyond.

These days, British tourists can spend a week in the sun – sun that’s hard to find in the UK between October and April – for as little as £249. It might be an 11 hour flight, but it’s billed as paradise. You can get a beer for 50p and a meal in a beach shack for a couple of pounds. The sea is warm and the markets enticing. Coconut palms sway and the living is easy.

No wonder, then, that many British people (and no doubt other nationalities) have decided to buy property in Goa. No longer the hippies who hung out on the beach and smoked dope, causing a headache for the local police, this is now serious money coming into the country.

However, the Indian authorities began to worry about foreign nationals owning so much property along the Goan coast, and have taken steps to temper it. Not stop it; that wouldn’t be financially sound. But at least slow down the fast-moving property market. They’ve introduced a law that requires potential buyers to stay in Goa (and elsewhere in India) for a minimum of 182 days before they can buy a property (other than those coming for employment). That’s six months. In that time, you’d be pretty sure if you can cope with living in such a foreign land, if you’re happy to be so far from home and if the dream you saw on holiday is really liveable. If you can’t stay that long in one stretch, you’re only allowed to lease a property for a maximum of five years.

What’s all this got to do with Morocco? On the one hand, Morocco, like India, is desperate for financial investment and selling properties is one way to get it and provide jobs at the same time. But on the other hand, Morocco is, again like India, a completely foreign land where very little is familiar to Brits. Will the British people who are buying property in Morocco ever integrate with the local society? Is it necessary for them to do so? Should the Moroccan authorities consider instituting a 182-day rule like the Indians?

Foreigners are being encouraged to invest in beach-front apartments in Morocco in which they can spend holidays, retire or just spend 6 months of the year to avoid taxes at home. It might be a gated community on the coast, lots of sunshine, swimming pool and pub, restaurants and golf. They’re not going to integrate into local society; it’s not expected of them and they probably won’t want to do it. Instituting the 182-day rule in this case would slow down investment and might put people off altogether.

However, when it comes to buying property in ancient medinas, perhaps the Moroccan authorities might consider such a rule. It doesn’t have to be six months; it could be three. But anyone who buys a property in a medina, be it Chefchaouen, Asilah or Fez, has got to integrate with the locals. You can’t live in the medina and not be part of it. And living in any medina in Morocco (with the possible exception of Marrakech) is not for the faint-hearted. It’s worrying that some people come to Fez, for example, on a weekend trip, looking to buy at least one house – but for investment only. They’ve been watching the intense media coverage of Fez in the UK recently, and think they’ll jump on the bandwagon of the surging property market. They’re not interested in the city, in the architecture, in the craftsmanship involved. They just want to make a fast buck. How would they fare if they actually lived here for a few months? Would such a rule of having to live here for a specified time ruin the property market? Or would it just be slowed down to a manageable pace? Those who come out smiling at the other end of such a trial would certainly know what they want.


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