Tourism in Morocco is well developed, with a strong tourist industry focused on the country’s coast, culture, and history. Morocco has been one of the most politically stable countries in North Africa, which has allowed tourism to develop. The Moroccan government created a Ministry of Tourism in 1985.
History of tourism
In the second half of the 1980s and the early 1990s, between 1 and 1.5 million Europeans visited Morocco. Most of these visitors were French or Spanish, with about 100,000 each from Britain,Germany, and the Netherlands. Tourists mostly visited large beach resorts along the Atlantic coast, particularly Agadir. About 20,000 people from Saudi Arabia visited, some of whom bought holiday homes. Receipts from tourism fell by 16.5% in 1990, the year the Gulf War began. In 1994, Algeria closed its border with Morocco after the Marrakech attack, this caused the number of Algerian visitors to fall considerably; there were 70,000 visitors in 1994 and 13,000 in 1995, compared to 1.66 million in 1992 and 1.28 million in 1993. In 2008 there were 8 million tourist arrivals, compared with about 7.4 million in 2007 i.e. a 7% growth compared to 2007 30% of the tourists in 2008 were one of the 3.8 million Moroccans living abroad. Most of the visitors to Morocco continue to be European, with French and Spanish nationals making up almost 40% of all visitors. Most Europeans visit in April and the autumn, apart from the Spanish, who mostly visit in June and August. In 2013, Morocco attracted more than 10 million international tourists and is the most visited country of Africa.
Tourist receipts in 2007 totaled US$7.55 billion. Tourism is the second largest foreign exchange earner in Morocco, after the phosphate industry. The Moroccan government is heavily investing in tourism development. A new tourism strategy called Vision 2010 was developed after the accession of King Mohammed VI in 1999. The government has targeted that Morocco will have 10 million visitors by 2010, with the hope that tourism will then have risen to 20% of GDP. A large government sponsored marketing campaigns to attract tourists advertised Morocco as a cheap and exotic, yet safe, place for European tourists.
Morocco’s relatively high amount of tourists has been aided by its location, tourist attractions, and relatively low price. Cruise ships visit the ports of Casablanca and Tangier. Morocco is close to Europe and attracts visitors to its beaches. Because of its proximity to Spain, tourists in southern Spain’s coastal areas take one- to three-day trips to Morocco. Air services between Morocco and Algeria have been established, many Algerians have gone to Morocco to shop and visit family and friends. Morocco is relatively inexpensive because of the devaluation of the dirham and the increase of hotel prices in Spain. Morocco has an excellent road and rail infrastructure that links the major cities and tourist destinations with ports and cities with international airports. Low-cost airlines offer cheap flights to the country.
The “Plan Azur“, is a large scale project initiated by king Mohammed VI, is meant to internationalise Morocco. The plan provides for creating six coastal resorts for holiday-home owners and tourists (five on the Atlantic coast and one on the Mediterranean), the daily telegraph noted. The plan also includes other large-scale development projects such as upgrading regional airports to attract budget airlines, and building new train and road links. Thus, the country achieved an 11% percent rise in tourism in the first five months of 2008 compared with the same period last year, it said, adding that French visitors topped the list with 927,000 followed by Spaniards (587,000) and Britons (141,000). Morocco, which is close to Europe, has a mix of culture and the exotic that makes it popular with Europeans buying holiday homes.
The country’s attractions can be divided into seven regions:
- the four Imperial cities — the four historical capital cities of Morocco: Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat
- Casablanca — Morocco’s largest city; home of the Hassan II Mosque, which has the world’s tallest minaret
- Tangier and the surrounding area
- Ouarzazate — a noted film-making location; the fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Agadir and its beach resorts
- Tarfaya and its beach resorts
While Morocco was a French Protectorate (from 1912 to 1956) tourism was focused on urban areas such as the Mediterranean cities of Tangier and Casablanca. Tangier attracted many writers, such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. There was a period of beach resort development at places such as Agadir on the Atlantic coast in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tourism is increasingly focused on Morocco’s culture, such as its ancient cities. The modern tourist industry capitalizes on Morocco’s ancient Roman and Islamic sites, and on its landscape and cultural history. 60% of Morocco’s tourists visit for its culture and heritage.
Agadir is a major coastal resort and has a third of all Moroccan bed nights. It is a base for tours to the Atlas Mountains. Other resorts in north Morocco are also very popular. Casablanca is the major cruise port in Morocco, and has the best developed market for tourists in Morocco.
As of 2006, activity and adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif Mountains are the fastest growth area in Moroccan tourism. These locations have excellent walking and trekking opportunities from late March to mid-November. The government is investing in trekking circuits. They are also developing desert tourism in competition with Tunisia.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Morocco is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Marrakech in central Morocco is a popular tourist destination, but is more popular among tourists for one- and two-day excursions that provide a taste of Morocco’s history and culture. The Majorelle botanical garden in Marrakech is a popular tourist attraction. It was bought by the fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. Their presence in the city helped to boost the city’s profile as a tourist destination.
El Jadida, formerly called Mazagan by the Portuguese, was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, on the basis of its status as an “outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures” and as an “early example of the realisation of the Renaissance ideals integrated with Portuguese construction technology”. According to UNESCO, the most important buildings from the Portuguese period are the cistern, and the Manueline Church of the Assumption.