Travel Atlas

Tourism in Morocco in 2019

Morocco's tourism industry has been moving from strength to strength for years. What's behind the Kingdom's enduring appeal?

People walk in Djemaa El Fna square in Marrakesh. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Nothing, it seems, can deter travelers from Morocco.

Despite the regional instability caused by the Arab Spring, and the extraordinary murder of two Scandinavian backpackers in Southern Morocco in late 2018, the country has experienced virtually no decline in the number of tourists arriving annually. €¨Morocco has been Africa’s most popular tourist destination since 2013.

Egypt previously held first place, but the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi and resulting volatility devastated the country’s tourism industry over the past decade.

But tourism has long had a significant impact on Morocco’s economy.

In 2018, the sector accounted directly for 8% of Morocco’s GDP, and indirectly contributed nearly 15%. The sector is further thought to directly and indirectly employ as much as a quarter of the country’s workforce, or some 2.5 million people.€¨According to BMI Research, tourism generated a total revenue of USD7.23 billion in 2017.

The Moroccan government, through the Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development (SMIT), has already begun implementing an ambitious plan to double the size of the tourism sector.

The country wants to double its tourist numbers from Europe and bring in more than 1 million new tourists from the emerging markets of the Gulf and across Asia and the Americas.

SMIT has been working as an intermediary between the government and the private sector, bringing in investments needed to achieve Morocco’s ambitious tourism goals. SMIT helps identify potential projects and matches them with investors and helps those investors with various forms of government support.

For the past five years, foreign direct investment in the tourism sector has topped USD1 billion. Morocco has plans for developing hotels and other tourist accommodations throughout the country, from new hotels in Saidia on its sandy, Mediterranean coast, to outdoor excursions high in the Atlas Mountains, and to bring developments all the way down to Dakhla, in Western Sahara, where the government has plans for eco-resorts along the Atlantic.

Morocco has proven immune to many of the problems facing the region over the past decade, and has in fact seen its industry grow at enviable rates. From 2011 to 2017, the country added more than 1,500 hotels or other types of lodging and accommodation, bringing the total number to 4,000. Bed capacity grew from 190,000 to 260,000. Overall, Morocco has seen growth rates at 9% annually for accommodation and 5% for bed capacity, far outpacing the region.

While many feared the horrific 2018 murder of two Scandinavian tourists in the Atlas Mountains would jeopardize Morocco’s reputation as one of the safest places in the region for visitors.

In fact, so far in 2019, the number of European tourists to the country has actually risen.

According to Morocco’s Tourism Observatory, Marrakesh saw an 8% rise YoY in overnight stays from 1H2018 to 1H2019.€¨Overall, the country has seen 6.6% rise YoY, with 5.4 million arrivals by the end of June.

Europe remains the tourism industry’s key market, and the first half of 2019 saw strong increases in arrivals, with the number of Italians visitors increasing by 12%, of French by 9%, and of both Spanish and German by 8%.

Similarly, occupancy rates have increased YoY, up five points from 1H2018 to 63% in 1H2019. Luxury and upmarket hotels have even seen their occupancy rates hit 70% recently, a comforting figure that is pushing foreign hotels to cement their presence in Morocco.

Marrakesh remains the country’s most popular destination, followed by the Atlantic coastal city of Agadir.

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