Monday, January 18, 2010

Moroccan News Briefs

More than 8.3 Million Tourists visit Morocco in '09

According to the newly appointed Tourism Minister, Yassir Znagui, the number of tourists that visited Morocco in 2009 reached 8.35 million, registering an increase of 6% relative to 2008.

However, in spite of this increase in the number of tourists, tourism revenues stood at MAD 52.4 billion (about USD 6.7 billion), dropping 5.7% compared to the previous year, said Znagui at the opening session of the third Moroccan Travel Market held in Marrakech.

"The tourist sector has showed resilience through realizing a more than honorable performance in such a year as 2009, marked by a difficult economic context," the minister boasted.

He also pointed out that the sector, accounting for 9% of GDP and employing over 420,000 people, attracted investments of MAD 10.8 billion, which are expected to create up to 8,840 more job opportunities.

Speaking about last year's achievements, Znagui added that 13,000 new beds were created, 40% of them in the red city of Marrakech.

"These results are the fruit of cooperation between the public and the private sectors, as well as good anticipation and innovation capacity," stressed the Moroccan minister, adding that they also show that the right strategic choices have been made.

According to organizers, the Moroccan travel Market, to continue till January 17, is expected to receive up to 13,000 national and international professional visitors and decision makers.

The Market, whose program features business meetings and thematic conferences, mainly aims to be a platform for the development of the sector in Morocco.

Last year, Morocco's king, Mohammed VI, had called on the government to prepare a new tourist vision for the year 2020, building on the achievement of the '2010 Vision'.

"Before the end of the year, the government should therefore seek to develop a tourist vision for the future, up to the year 2020," the king had said in a message to the participants in the ninth National Tourism Forum, held in the Mediterranean town of Saidia.

The new vision "must be both flexible and sustainable and should take into account international tourism trends, the challenges of globalization and likely developments in the world economy," he had specified.

Over 5,000 athletes enter Marrakech International Marathon

Over 5,000 athletes will leave the start line of the Marrakech International
Marathon, slated for January 31, the organising association said.

In addition to the best marathon runners in Morocco, some 2,000 foreign athletes from 25 countries will hit the road in Marrakech, chairperson of the association "Grand Atlas" Mohamed Knidiri said in a press conference in Casablanca.

The organising association has offered, besides the winner's prize, to grant prizes to the athletes who will run the marathon distance in less than 2h:10min and those who will break the marathon record (2h 8 min 15sec) for men and (2h 29 min 21s) for women, held by Moroccan Abdelkader El Mouaziz and Romanian Adriana Barbu since 1999 and 1994 respectively.

Kenyan David Rutoh (pictured above) won the 2009 marathon in a time of 2h 10 min 31 sec for men and Ethiopian Yeshi Esayias (2h 29 min 52 sec) for women.

Moroccan Oil Exploration - Update

International oil and gas exploration company Circle Oil has begun extended test production at a well in Morocco.

Engineering works and construction of surface facilities at the KSR-8 well, which Limerick-based Circle Oil said was the most promising of the 2008/09 Moroccan drilling campaign in its Sebou Permit, have already been completed.

In line with expectations, the prognosed winter rainfall and associated flooding in the Rharb Basin has occurred and work on the new drill sites has been temporarily curtailed, the company added. However, civil engineering work and drilling will recommence when conditions permit.

"We are pleased to have KSR-8 in production which sets the stage to increase production significantly once the new trunkline is installed,” said CEO of Circle Oil, David Hough.“The last year has been transformational for Circle and this new production starts 2010 on the right note with much to look forward to this year.”

Other producing wells in the area will be periodically shut in for pressure build up tests.

Morocco extends tax breaks to strengthen stock exchange

According to a number of sources including Reuters, Morocco has given a three year extension of tax breaks for companies on the Casablanca bourse for three years to back its drive for more listings.

Business leaders and market analysts doubted the incentive would be extended beyond last December because the government needs cash to plug a widening budget deficit.

The government expects the economy to grow by 3.5 percent this year from an estimated 5 percent last year.

Morocco wants to double company listings over the next four years to 150 and lift the number of individual investors to 500,000 from about 120,000 to become Africa's second ranked stock market hub after South Africa.

"The government has renewed the tax incentives for listed companies for three years. As a result listed firms will pay upto 50 percent less tax on profit," exchange head Karim Hajji.

Hajji said average annual investor returns on the Casablanca bourse were 15 percent over the 10 years to 2009 and market capitalisation grew five times.

The benchamrk MASI index is up 3.74 percent so far this year after losing 4.92 percent last year and 19.95 percent in 2007.


Hajji said the exchange expects to list its first foreign company next year.

"We are working on that with Moroccan banks with operations in West Africa. We plan to list the first company from that region in 2011. It would be the first foreign firm to be listed on our bourse," Hajji said but gave no details.

He said he expected one or two firms would be listed this year. No new firms were listed on the bourse last year because of the economic downturn.

Air Arabia expands despite aviation downturn

Cut-price airline Air Arabia has ordered 44 more Airbus planes to be delivered over the next five years, a senior executive said yesterday.
Air Arabia's chief operating officer for Morocco, Rohit Ramachandran told Reuters that the firm's expansion plans might even warrant a further investment on top of this, despite 2009 being a very difficult year for the airline industry.

"At our parent company in Sharjah, we regularly exceed 82 to 83 per cent seat factor even in a difficult year like 2009," said Ramachandran.

"I think it was in the early 80s [for the full year] but the final figure will be released later," he added.

Air Arabia opened up its second hub in Morocco last year and it also has plans to establish a third hub in Egypt this year, as well as collaborating with an Egyptian partner to launch another low cost airline.

"If anything [the Airbus deliveries] won't be able to keep up with our requirements for the three hubs, at least in the next couple of years we see our demand for airplanes outstripping the schedule," Ramachandran said at a recent industry event.

"We might even have to go outside. But we are in a good position right now because good airplanes are available cheap," he added.

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