Moroccans shun local tourism for Spain, Turkey and Asia | Saad Guerraoui

CASABLANCA – Hundr of thousands of Moroccans are heading to Europe to spend billions of dollars on their summer vacation, dealing a blow to local tourism.

Spain is one of Moroccans’ favourite destinations. Approximately 900,000 Moroccan tourists went to Spain in 2018 while nearly 815,000 Spaniards visited Morocco, creating a travel balance deficit of more than $100 million.

In the same year, Spanish consulates in Morocco granted 220,929 visas to Moroccans, exceeding numbers of the last decade, which averaged 140,000-180,000 visas per year.

Youssouf Aboulfaraj, a 36-year-old Moroccan IT consultant, said he is a regular visitor to Spain.

“Every year I go with my wife to Altea in Alicante region because it has a lot more to offer than in the best tourist destinations in Morocco,” he said. “We book a year in advance as soon as we leave the hotel because Altea is our favourite city in the world thanks to its wide choice of restaurants that offer great value for money unlike in Morocco.”

“Quality hotels and holiday properties are very pricey in the peak summer season in Morocco,” he added.

Fouzi Zemrani, vice-president of the National Tourism Confederation, said Moroccans’ shunning of local tourism was because of growing competition from destinations such as Spain, Turkey and Asia.

“During the summer, the majority of Moroccans go to northern seaside resorts like Martil, Tamuda Bay (M’diq-Fnideq) and Saidia while those of Agadir and Taghazout are also very solicited,” Zemrani said.

Prices at hotels and holiday properties dramatically soar in Tamuda Bay, which has some of the finest beaches in Morocco. The rental price of a chalet near the beach in the private resort of Restinga Smir can be $300 a day in August.

Local travel agencies have stormed social networks promoting summer holiday packages to Europe and Asia, hoping to lure upper- and middle-class customers.

Yassine Ouaddahou, a 43-year-old engineer, said he goes to Spain quite often with his family by car because of its proximity to Morocco.

Spain is a great shopping destination that offers good infrastructure, such as hotels and restaurants besides its animated nightlife and festivals,” said Ouaddahou, adding that its clothing outlets are very interesting.

Spain is considering opening a Spanish National Tourist Office to boost the Moroccan market that it says is underexploited.

More Moroccans are headed to Turkey because of its competitive packages and visa-free travel and promotion of its tourist sites through dubbed soap operas on Moroccan TV channels.

“Between the absence of a visa and only 4 hours by plane, this country (Turkey) that has had a hard time has an incredible rating all year round, especially since it offers all-inclusive packages, for Moroccans to discover a country they often see in Turkish soaps,” said Zemrani.

Anas Essamlali, a 30-year-old photographer, recently returned home from Turkey after a 2-week holiday

Tourism is much cheaper in Turkey than Morocco, especially when you want to fly between Turkish cities,” said Essamlali. “I don’t need to look left and right when I’m talking on the phone in the streets even in the middle of the night.”

Moroccans spent $1.9 billion on tourism in 2018 and $1.8 billion the year before.