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Executive Interview

Come back to Morocco

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN  Jun 20, 2010

(eTN) Maybe it was the 1980s (or 1990s) when Morocco was a popular destination from the USA. I remember seeing Morocco in Vogue Magazine advertisements; it was often used as an exotic background for beautiful women wearing fabulous clothes. In home decorating magazines, Morocco provided the setting for unique and colorful interior design suggestions. Friends were heading to Marrakech (along we were not quite sure where it was) because colorful brochures displayed extraordinary shopping and exquisite hotels.

All of a sudden, information on Morocco as a striking tourism destination stopped and narcotics stories took their place. Morocco became known as the world’s largest producer and exporter of hashish to Western Europe and a transit point for cocaine from South America.

Morocco has been very busy developing the European markets, and marketing strategies are focusing on enticing American travelers to experience new hotels, glorious mountains, pristine beaches, and unique shops. Leisure and business travelers eager to find a country with macroeconomic stability; low inflation; and sustained, moderately high growth rates will find Morocco very attractive.

The US State Department finds that privatization in the country has reduced the cost of supporting a public sector economy. The 2006 bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the US and Morocco has eliminated tariffs on 95 percent of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products and negotiations continue to expand agreements on intellectual property right protection, transparency in government procurement, investment, services, and e-commerce. Since the inception of the FTA, bilateral trade between the two countries has increased by 147 percent.

Royal Air Maroc: Flag Carrier for the Kingdom of Morocco
If anyone has been thinking of doing business in Morocco and traveling to this North Africa destination for a holiday, it appears that this just might be the right time to do it as Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has brought in a heavy-hitter to head up the North American and Canadian corridor for airlift to Morocco, and based on online RAM passenger comments, the airline needs a professional’s touch. Abdelhamid Khalil comes to New York after spending years successfully developing the UK and Spanish markets for this airline. Although Khalils’ education is in mechanical engineering, his interests are more in the movement of people onto planes, rather than the aircraft itself.

Only three months into his New York way of life, Khalil does not feel like a stranger. His years in the UK and Spain provide him with an understanding of the sophisticated traveler and he has been busy setting up his East 54th Street office, meeting with Morocco tourism executives, and trying to determine the best target markets for the re-launch of the Morocco brand.

So Much to Do
One of Khalils’ first steps is to identify travel agents and tour operators who “used to sell” the destination and determine why the traffic stopped. Anxious to hear their good/bad experiences with air and ground transportation, hotels, and attractions, Khalil is counting on candid remarks so that he, along with RAM and Morocco tourism will offer a winning product in the US.
Ticket pricing is a sore point in some markets, and when asked about the airline pricing strategy Khalil remarked, “The months of June, July, and August are high season for ethnic travel to Casablanca with Christmas and Easter experiencing a high demand for both ethic and tourism travel. High demand equals a higher ticket price.” Seat prices are lower from September through November as well as January and February. “Royal Air Maroc would like to increase flight frequency as that would allow us to lower prices,” Khalil commented. From November 2008 through June 20, 2009, over 5 million passengers flew on RAM, this was a 4 percent decline in both international and domestic travel from previous years.

Royal Air Maroc started operations in 1953 with international destinations added in 1957. Currently RAM flies to over 38 countries and 70 destinations and offers more than 1500 flights per week. Its Casablanca hub is the first African airport platform connecting Africa and Europe, North America, and the Middle East. RAM operates the largest fleet of 737s in Africa (42). The government of Morocco owns 95 percent of the airline, 5 percent is owned by private entities (including Air France). RAM is based at Mohammed V International Airport (CMN) and has connections to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the US and Canada.

What to Expect?
In 2009, over 8 million tourists visited Morocco, a 6 percent increase over 2008 with 160,000 of the visitors coming from the USA. Recognizing that visitors want to see more of Morocco than just Casablanca, Atlas Express provides value priced transport to/from major Moroccan destinations. The routing for the airline is being reviewed – trying to accommodate passengers who would like to visit a few cities without returning to Casablanca for each continuing leg of the journey.

Where to Go? What to See?
Ever the diplomat, when I asked Khalil the best places to visit in Morocco, he responded, “It all depends on your personal interests.” There are seven regions in the Kingdom: 1) Tangier and the surrounding area; 2) Agadir and 3) Tarfaya – both with beach resorts; 4) Marrakech; 5) Casablanca; the 6) Imperial cities; and 7) Ouarzazate.

Agadir, a major coastal city, is the base for tours to the Atlas Mountains although Casablanca has the best developed tourist market. Although Marrakech is popular with tourists, the longest stay is usually two days. The fastest growth segment for adventure tourism is to the Atlas and Rif Mountains as they provide walking and trekking options from late-March through mid-November. In the planning stage is the development of desert tourism.

Customs and Culture
Although English is spoken throughout the country, road and street signs are printed in Arabic and French, and the quality of roads varies with location. Women traveling solo throughout Morocco should do a reality check: this is a Muslim country and a conservative view of women prevails. To avoid disturbances, leave the short skirts, bare skin, and tank tops for hotels. The US State Department advises US citizens traveling to Morocco to be cautious as panhandling, pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, theft from occupied vehicles stopped in traffic, and harassment of women are frequently reported crimes. It is always best to have a travel companion and utilize taxis from point-to-point, particularly at night and when moving through unfamiliar areas. (

Go, Go, Go
We are likely to see continued growth in tourism in Morocco for it has the support of King Mohammed VI. In his Vision 2010 speech at the Sixth International Tourism meeting he commented, “…Whether we view it from the natural, human, or cultural angle, tourism must develop in a responsible manner in order to be sustainable. It is, indeed, our duty to contribute to all aspects of environmental protection and to make sure our projects fulfill the twin obligation of ensuring tourist development and of preserving the environment and natural resources.”

Come back to Morocco
Abdelhamid Khalil, general manager, RAM North America

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