Morocco's Ministry of Tourism, Dr. Lahcen Haddad, recently wrote about the future directions for Moroccan tourism and the fact that the country is aiming to diversify the origin of its investors and aiming to work together with Spain to offer a combined destination for tourists from Asia and America
Cosmopolitanism finds its purpose in a country where modernity and Arab, African and Berber traditions form an exceptional mixture. Last border of Africa or gateway to Europe, Morocco is a multifaceted country awaiting discovery. However the sector is experiencing a somewhat delicate moment, largely due to ignorance, putting all the countries of the Maghreb on the same footing. Can you talk to us about security in Morocco and the profound transformation that the country has undergone since 2011, a key factor contributing to its economic growth and social stability?
Morocco has a certain approach that it has undertaken for a long time. These are political reforms, reforms in the economic sphere as well as social reforms. Reforms also in the religious sphere: it is a country that is a model in Africa and a model in the Middle East in terms of management of the religious field. This enabled the country to gain some significant strength allowing it to make the transition without any violence. For us the Arab Spring was a social blessing, a collective boon in one sense, because it freed a lot of energy but there were reforms that were already under way, on the ground. Through the release of these energies we have taken a quantum leap with the Constitution of 2011. We were already prepared. Morocco is culturally and historically known to be a country of tolerance, a country of moderation, a country that is a plethora of different cultures and different visions, but at the same time there were reforms that were initiated, especially with King Mohammed VI after his enthronement in 1999.
So there is the security of Morocco. It is an intellectual, cultural, political security and it is something that exists in the genes of Moroccans, in their culture, in their way of doing things. So that’s the basics. But there is also a lot of professional groundwork that must be recognized as the security service in Morocco.
That said, of course there's the context that should not be ignored, the amalgam that is done. For example there is an amalgam which is very easily made in Europe. Morocco is a Muslim country so it's not like other countries. Communication must be carried out at all times to say: we are a country where all investors and tourists are going to have security. Thus that’s why we are also in touch with tour operators, with tourists, to communicate, to say that Morocco is a country that should be visited; that when we visit it, we cannot fear anything: there is good mobilization, there is an important plan to ensure security.
However I believe that terrorism is a global phenomenon. No country is immune, but if there is an approach, it should be a joint, international approach and a response to such a phenomenon from all nations that cherish freedom. If we take into consideration several issues - and that‘s what we also want to say - the first issue of a person against terrorism is development, human development too. Reducing marginalization and youth disenchantment is very important. The second thing is better management of the religious field. This is where Morocco can also be a model. There could be a lot of work to be done that we can already do. The third thing is all effort that must be made on the issue of the financing of terrorism, because that’s where a big part of the problem originates too.
Morocco has become a pole of attraction for foreign investors and a reference in Africa. Morocco is also a gateway for Europe to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco began a trend which was to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa and it also gave stability to the entire region. What is your opinion on the subject where companies like RAM play a key role?
For investors it is very important. And the reason for which there is an interest on the part of investors is because Morocco has worked on improving the business climate. I believe that we are moving up in the ranks to become a much more attractive country for investment and funding resources. Secondly, Morocco is a responsible country, which protects investors. And thirdly, the dynamics that Morocco is experiencing gives investment opportunities that are very important. And the fact that we say “Morocco, a platform for Africa” is not just rhetoric. Morocco has always had in this sense, since the Middle Ages, a cultural, historical and political relationship with Africa, but now it is the second largest investor in Africa.
Moroccan banks exist in about 25 African countries. RAM flies to 33 airports. All major Moroccan groups are very present in Africa, and are out there creating value, making investments and creating employment. And there is a possibility to make this kind of investment in a triangular manner. I believe that the future is Africa. And if Europe, the West and industrialized countries are serious with respect to Africa, the number one ally to really go to Africa will be Morocco.
Tourism plays a very important role because it is also a factor for development in the interest of all the inhabitants of the country and all regions. I would like to know your vision. What role will tourism play for the economic and social development of Morocco?
We started Vision 2020 in 2010. There was a two-year shift due to the Arab Spring and the change experienced in Morocco. So the realization of the vision really began in 2012-2013 with a two-year delay. But we are on the right track because every year we produce about 10,000 to 12,000 additional beds, which is no small feat. The second thing: we're bringing to the foreground certain regions. If you look at the area of Casablanca-Rabat, there are a multitude of hotels, convention centers and products that appear. This region will emerge in 3-4 years as a destination of great potential for investors. We have already started with the new port of Casablanca or the second phase of development of the “Vallée de Bouregreg” with the Moroccan Tourism Development Fund (FMDT); and in the Tangiers-Tetouan region. So maybe in 4 years we will have 4 regions that are truly competitive and mature. They are the regions of Marrakech, of Agadir, of Casablanca-Rabat, and of Tangiers-Tetouan. And we're working hard to bring out other regions like Fez, Meknes, the Atlas and the valleys, Ouarzazate.
Another thing that is being done is that we are improving the quality of our services, be it: hotels, cities, or airports. I believe that we are advancing at the right pace with regard to Vision 2020, and we are doing all this within the context of a vision that is sustainable, that is protective of the environment, of human resources, of natural resources as well. It has a positive impact on the community. And this is the most important factor of all; that tourism is a means of economic development because it is a sector that creates employment. We have created around 50,000 jobs in tourism in the last three years; but not only that: we are also creating an economic dynamic where small and medium enterprises emerge in the tourism sector. As an example: 150 travel agencies have been created in recent years.
What is the role of foreign investors in tourism in Morocco and what mechanisms have been established to channel the interest of investors and financial agents?
The role of Moroccan investors had become much more important for tourism during those years. But now we are witnessing a new expansion, a new craze of foreign investors who come from China, who come from the United States, who come from other countries, from Russia, but also from the traditional investment markets for Morocco which are France, Spain, Germany, the UK and Italy. We are diversifying the origin of investors. We are dealing with Asia, with Europe, with America, with the Middle East which is very important. So we are diversifying investors. And we are also diversifying the tools. For example Sovereign Funds which are important, that’s the Middle East with Wessal Capital and the FMDT. China also, where there are Sovereign Funds that are important. But there are also private investments from other countries.
If we look at Spain, 10% of GDP is tourism. And there are a lot of Spanish hotels like the Melia group, which are present in many countries worldwide. I think that it is also a field to work together in both countries, because Spain can also be a platform to attract tourists and investors to Morocco.
We work with a lot of Spanish groups and also with Spanish brands. We work for example with Sol Meliá, Iberostar, Barceló, Hotusa, Husa Riu. These are important groups that are in Morocco, that know Morocco well.
Morocco is the first tourist destination of Spain after Europe and you have a strategy to attract a million more Spaniards by 2015.
We already have two million but we count Moroccans who are in Spain and also Spaniards. But we get around a million Spaniards.
So what can be done to attract Spanish tourists? We will tell them to take their cars and come! Despite the economic crisis in Spain, the flow of Spanish tourists has not decreased. Now we're a little better connected from Madrid, from Valencia, from Barcelona; even from Malaga now, which is very close to Morocco, we are well served. That will continue improving. There is reason to think about San Sebastian and perhaps Galicia and Asturias for further connectivity. There are a lot of airlines that are interested.
Our three major markets in Spain are Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia. But we are looking elsewhere too. I believe that the Basque country is important and we can have a greater flow from the Basque country and we are working on the airline possibilities. I believe that Galicia is very important for us as well, and that we can have air traffic flows from there.
We are also working on combined tourism with Spain. For distant destinations such as Brazil, we would like people to come to Spain and Morocco. For China we would like them to come to Morocco and Spain. Therefore this combination is important because someone who might travel for 12-14 hours would want to visit more than a country, like the Chinese for instance. But even for Brazilians: Brazilians want to come to Morocco, but they want to go and see Spain and Portugal which are important to them. We are working on that and it’s important for us to work on that; and especially Latin America: for us there are important markets in Latin America that we want to do either directly or through Spain.
Spain is a destination for Moroccan tourism. There are between 300,000 and 500,000 Moroccans who travel each year to Spain, with substantial purchasing power, who spend more than two weeks, families who go especially to the Costa del Sol. So with Spain it’s a win-win tourism: there are Spaniards who come to Morocco and Moroccans who go to Spain.
Whenever you go to a country you keep an image of the country. For example many people who have been to Spain keep the image of paella and bullfights, etc. What image do you want people to keep when they come here to Morocco?
I would like them to remember this image: snow-capped mountains, oasis as in Marrakech and nearby beaches. You can see it all in one day: you can go from the top of the mountains and two hours later be in the desert and again two hours later be at the beach in Essaouira where you can swim. It is this Morocco which I would like people to remember.