Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mass tourism threat to Morocco?

The advent of no-frills flights to Morocco could spoil the very thing that draws visitors to the country, an environmental group said this week. Justin Francis, co-founder of Responsible Travel, a leading promoter of eco-tourism, said the Moroccan government was expanding its tourist industry without regard for traditional attractions.

"There is something unique about Morocco - it may be only a three-hour flight from Britain but in social and cultural terms it is radically different. The introduction of hordes of tourists and new hotels, without considering local sensibilities, will lead to over-crowding, over-development and a clash of cultures," he said.

Morocco is the latest battleground for no-frills carriers, with several airlines launching flights to the north African country this year.

Last week Ryanair announced that it had agreed to fly 20 routes from Europe over the next five years, carrying up to a million passengers a year. Its routes from Frankfurt and Marseille to Fès, Marrakesh and Oujda open for business in October.

EasyJet will begin flights in July from Gatwick to Marrakesh, with one-way fares starting at £30.99, including taxes. Thomsonfly will launch a route from Luton to Marrakesh in October; Atlas Blue has already begun flights to Marrakesh from Gatwick; and another budget carrier, Jet4You, is to begin services from Britain later this year.

The influx of no-frills airlines is part of the Moroccan government's ambitious "Vision 2010" strategy, which aims to raise the annual number of tourists to 10 million in the next four years and see the country compete with the Mediterreanean's most popular destinations.

Some 2.5 million people visited Morocco last year, a 20 per cent rise on 2004. The majority headed to Marrakesh, the "Pink City", with its markets, riads, souks and winding streets. Among the country's many other attractions are the snow-capped Atlas mountains, the Mediterranean coastline and the cities of Agadir, Tangier, Fès and Casablanca.

"There have been painful lessons learnt in the short- break market in Europe," Mr Francis said. "Cities such as Prague, which saw a sharp rise in tourists after no-frills flights began, are now ruing the influx of stag parties.

"Marrakesh will be less able to deal with such crowds, and it would be a shame if we were to see mass-market resorts opening up."

But those fears are already being realised with the development of "Plan Azur" - six Mediterranean resorts to be built along Morocco's coastline by 2010.

According to the Oxford Business Group (OBG), a leading publisher of economic and political intelligence on the emerging markets of North Africa, more than 200 other tourism and residential projects have been started over the past two years.

A spokeswoman for CV Travel, which offers breaks in luxury villas and hotels off the beaten track in Morocco, said the benefits to the economy should not be dismisssed.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to these plans. The tourism office is desperate to increase the number of tourists to create new jobs and greatly benefit the economy."

But Mr Francis questions whether much of the money made from these new developments will remain in the local community.

Last month UAE-based companies announced $19billion (£10 billion) of investment in tourism and infrastructure projects in Morocco over the next three years.

In an attempt to deal with the expected influx, the government is expanding Marrakesh airport, building a larger train station and improving roads in and around the city.

But with all these new developments there are fears that a water crisis might be on the way.

"The increase in arrivals and the numerous tourism and residential development projects - which usually encompass lush gardens and a flurry of swimming pools - are putting local water resources under serious stress," said a recent report by the OBG.

It added that if new developments are not controlled they may undermine Marrakesh's traditional appeal.

"The city's main selling arguments have long been its picturesque quality and tradition - two aspects that might be put in jeopardy if the building goes on without check," the report added.


Anonymous Morocco property said...

I think tourism is good for Morocco. Tourists from other countries bring money to economy and because of mass tourism today Morocco is a promising emerging market and a huge growth in developments to the region is living proof of this. The Moroccan government's commitment to increase the numbers of tourists is a real incentive for developers and investors alike.

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Blogger Parag said...

majority number of tourists visit Morocco for its cultural heritage. The history over here gives an exact plethora of Morocco. Not only this, it is also home to some of the beautiful beaches and landscapes and also form a big part of tourist attractions.
majority number of tourists visit Morocco for its cultural heritage. The history over here gives an exact plethora of Morocco. Not only this, it is also home to some of the beautiful beaches and landscapes and also form a big part of tourist attractions.
Marrakesh Attractions

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