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11th Edition of Morocco’s Tourism Conference Slated for September 29

Focus on Building Local Tourism Capabilities

The Moroccan Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with key government and private sector stakeholders, will open its 11th Tourism Conference on Monday, September 29. The conference will focus on two major themes: growing the tourist potential throughout Morocco and strategies for attracting investment to promote tourism development.

Minister Lahcen Haddad speaks to CNN

Minister Lahcen Haddad speaks to CNN

Minister of Tourism Lahcen Haddad noted that Vision 2020, the national plan for Tourism, aims to make the most of Morocco’s touristic potential and to ensure fair and equitable distribution of tourism wealth throughout the national territory.” He will be joined in the opening session by the Prime Minister, as well as officials from the National Confederation of Tourism, the mayor of Rabat, the Spanish Minister of Industry, Energy, and Tourism, and the General Secretary of the UN World Trade Organization (UNWWTO).

Morocco plans to develop at least eight additional tourism destination areas, each having its own distinctive character and distributed among the coastal, cultural, and ecological attractions of the Kingdom. In developing a comprehensive strategy to guide robust and sustainable development, the conference will discuss how to vary the development according to the unique environment of each site, including needed infrastructure, local regulatory governance to protect the environment and guide growth, and the marketing and logistics conditions that need to be addressed.

Branding Morocco’s Tourism

blog 26Sep 1In surveys that identify perceptions of Morocco, tourism ranks consistently on or near the top, especially in Europe and North America. Vision 2020 seeks to exploit that favorable image by creating even more diverse destinations to appeal to a broader tourist base. Fortunately, with more than a decade of dedicated analysis and development in the tourism sector, Morocco has learned a great deal about what attracts and holds the interests of travelers. Experts from Marrakech and Bilbao, Spain, will share their experiences and make recommendations for enhancing Morocco’s tourism industry. But none of this is possible without sufficient and targeted financing.

Vision 2020’s goal is to make Morocco one of the top 20 destinations worldwide and a model of sustainable development throughout the region. This can only be achieved through a diverse, high-quality tourism industry that makes the most of what Morocco has to offer and provides the services that tourists demand. According to the plan, Morocco will double the current number of hotel beds; provide incentives and programs to direct tourism investment to the target sectors of entertainment, sports, and leisure; add value to the presentation and promotion of Morocco’s cultural and artisanal heritage; and develop the right hospitality infrastructure for each of the new sites.

Why is Morocco Smiling? Tourism Gets Boost from New Investments and Projects

Tourism Minister showcases Morocco’s plans for Tangier, Rabat, and Casablanca

In a series of stories in the business media, the news about tourism in Morocco is all good. The numbers are up; investments are flowing in; and Morocco is gaining greater global recognition as “the place to be.” Situated at the western end of the Mediterranean, a short ferry ride from Spain, Morocco also enjoys a 1300-kilometer long Atlantic waterfront that has become a stop on the world tour of kiteboarding and other aquatic delights! A new report on CNN’s Marketplace Middle East says Morocco ranks among the top trending travel spots for tourists.

Tourism Review, in its annual look at the region, commented, “Untouched by revolutions, Morocco continues to attract. In 2013, the tourism sector represented more than 8.6% of GDP ($9.5 billion). Tourism revenues are expected to grow 8.1% in 2014 according to the World Travel and Tourism, while the Moroccan National Tourist Office plans to host more than 11 million foreign tourists in 2014. Relative peace and social problems of its neighbors make Morocco a popular destination.”

Tourism Minister interviewed on CNN

Minister Lahcen Haddad speaks to CNN

Yet Morocco is not standing still. The Wessal Capital Fund, focusing on the tourism sector, is a collaboration of the Moroccan Fund for Tourism Development, Qatar Holdings, Kuwait’s Al Ajial Investments, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar, and the Saudi Investment Fund, and it is moving with impressive speed. The first priorities, already announced, are projects in Tangier, Casablanca, and Rabat. In Rabat and Tangier, the fund’s investments focus on mixed-use projects that include residential housing, port/marina development, entertainment and destination centers, and commercial and shopping areas. In Casablanca, activities concentrate on the coastline. “Casablanca-Port will completely change the city. There will be hotels, cruising port, marina and an ambitious plan to renovate the old Casablanca’s medina,” according to Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad.

In addition to the tourism projects, Morocco is also working hard to improve its infrastructure, with high speed trains connecting the three cities, improvements in telecommunications access and bandwidth, and modern, efficient tourist facilities.

In Rabat, the fund will invest nine billion dirhams ($1.10 billion) in the second phase of the Bouregreg River development, which is along the valley where the river winds from the Atlantic Ocean to the interior. There will be hotels, a marina, residential housing, urban green spaces, a museum, and a theater to highlight Rabat’s cultural attractions. Minister Haddad noted that the government is planning to spend another nine billion dirhams to renovate the urban areas of the city.

Tangier is slated for expansion of the world-class Tangier-Med Port on the Mediterranean as well as continued restructuring of its tourism districts. Earlier this year, King Mohammed VI launched the next phase of the port’s development, which features an intermodal terminal that will serve as an advanced industrial and logistical platform with connectivity to markets throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Africa. It will include a ferry terminal, passenger services, a railway station with two passenger docks, a bus station, an auditorium of 288 seats, a center with restaurants, banks, shopping and business services, and offices for companies serving the maritime industry.

As for tourism in Tangier, Middle East Online commented that “the city is looking to capitalise on its ‘coastal assets’ — building a marina on the Mediterranean seafront and a fishing harbour on the Atlantic — as well as promoting its cultural scene, with a new arts centre and theatre planned.”

 Building Global Awareness

Morocco's tourism goals in Vision 2020 Plan

Vision 2020 Tourism Plan for Morocco

To ensure that the good news about Morocco’s tourism keeps going global, it has secured the rights to host the World Travel Awards Grand Final for the next three years. The Awards were established by WTA in 1993 to “acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the tourism industry. Today, the WTA brand is recognized globally as the ultimate hallmark of quality, with winners setting the benchmark to which all others aspire” according to Travel Daily News.

In announcing the agreement, Minister Haddad noted that “Morocco is an enchanting, hospitable land, full of mystery, wonder, and cultural richness…Hosting the World Travel Awards Grand Final will be a defining event in enhancing the awareness of the Kingdom of Morocco among the most powerful leaders of the travel and hospitality industry.”

In the Middle East and North Africa, where there are few success stories of concrete efforts to meet the economic growth needs of the countries, Morocco is demonstrating repeatedly that it is not taking a wait-and-see attitude. By building international collaboration among investors on concrete projects in Morocco, the country is addressing the twin issues of employment and quality of life. The King’s commitment to human development rests on securing an economy that is responsive to the needs of Moroccans. His ability to pull together international investors and Moroccan expertise in viable projects is a healthy sign for the future.

Unemployment Numbers Mask Job Solutions

In an interview published in the newspaper “L’Economiste,” Moroccan Minister of Employment and Social Affairs Abdeslam Seddiki, made it clear that “to solve the problem of unemployment, we should not count only on growth.”

He went on to say that “according to estimates, 1 percent of growth rate generates an average of 30,000 jobs, and we have a labor market that is witnessing an annual arrival of 180,000 job applications. To meet these arrivals, we need a growth rate of 6 percent, without including the existing stock of unemployed people.”

He pledged to work towards “setting the balance between innovative investment” and those in more traditional sectors that produce direct jobs and “investment in infrastructure that creates indirect employment.”

This distinction is quite important, particularly in the high tech and tourism sectors, since they often create many more indirect jobs than the core employment generate by a specific project.

For example, both high tech and tourism projects have three phases: development, start-up, and operations. During development, many of the employees are related to the planning phase, are engaged off-site and overseas, may be largely expatriates, and perform high-value and capital intensive (as opposed to labor intensive) functions.

Abdeslam SeddikiStart-up requires looking to a broader employment pool to attract qualified expatriate and local employees to provide the services required to bring the project to the operational stage. These workers may or may not stay with the project beyond the short and medium term as their special skills are not needed once the project is up and running.

It is during the operations phase that most long-term jobs are created because other functions are needed, ranging from logistics and maintenance support to marketing and packaging, household services, administrative tasks, and whatever else is needed to sustain the project.

Operations management looks to purchase local goods and services from the most cost-efficient and acceptable sources, thus creating opportunities for indirect jobs that support the project in the functional areas mentioned above.

This is where government programs that promote local business development can play a facilitating role as a broker between the project and the skills and resources available locally.

Morocco is moving in this direction as the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs is focusing government training programs on a more collaborative relationship with investors in order to anticipate what jobs and local companies will be needed by various projects over the medium and long term.

Government plays a key role in enabling job growth

This is also the target of entrepreneurs in Morocco – finding where opportunities exist locally, regionally, and internationally for their products and services.

Saad Jennane, founder of Kipintouch (left), with Abdelhamid Chakiri of Shorein, Mehdi Tamli of Secret4sale, and Meryem Bennani of Creative Group. Wamda

At the recent Casablanca-based New Work Labs competition called PitchLab, the winner, Kipintouch’s founder Saad Jennane noted that Moroccan entrepreneurs must have a global mindset, not just focused on Morocco.

“We can target the world or an entire region like the Middle East.”

As I have written previously, without an enabling environment, from access to finance and administrative support to friendly legal and regulatory regimes, obstacles will force entrepreneurs to abandon their efforts.

A second major area on which the government is focusing its efforts is the informal sector in Morocco. With an estimated value equivalent to 60 percent of Morocco’s GDP, bringing the informal sector into the marketplace through ease of entry regulations that encourage and reward these small firms will formalize the tens of thousands of informal jobs that are outside the country’s official employment roles.

This would have three immediate impacts: increased tax revenue and participation in social security and related programs, increased opportunities for collaboration among these largely micro-enterprises to enable them to have access to banking and administrative services, and, most importantly, for those with ambition, to provide the means for growth by attracting funding to expand their businesses.

The government’s role in ensuring a positive and business-friendly regulatory environment and in making training and resources accessible is vital and critical to the success of this effort.

The Minister, who noted that the “pressure on the labor market is still high, said that his department can act immediately on existing employment creation policies, namely the Taehil, the Idmaj and Moukawalati programs.

The Taehil program provides pre-employment training partly paid by the government with private sector partners. The Idmaj provides employment training for those with disabilities; and the Moukawalati project is the core entrepreneurship program in Morocco that is built on a public-private sector partnership.

Through greater collaboration with the private sector, more involvement of industry in boosting local sources and skills, and with increased joint investments in training, education, and entrepreneurship development, Morocco can generate the growth in jobs that will meet its needs in the coming decade.

Originally posted at Morocco on the Move. Slideshow photo of Twin Center in Casablanca by YoTut/Flickr.

German Marshall Fund Report Links Morocco’s “Geo-Economics” to US Interests in Africa

In late October, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) released a policy brief “Morocco’s New Geo-Economics: Implications for U.S.-Moroccan Partnership.” Authored by Dr. Ian Lesser, Executive Director of GMF’s Brussels Office and its Senior Director for Foreign and Security Policy, the paper was reviewed by a roundtable of experts whose insights were incorporated into the final document.

It is fitting that the paper was released during the week that marks the founding of the United Nations. As the world’s leadership in the 21st century has moved beyond a handful of Western powers and the Soviet Union to a broader, more diffuse global network in which regional alliances and relationships are increasingly significant, Morocco’s maturing strategic role in Africa points to how emerging states linked together by a wide range of interests are reshaping models of bilateral and multilateral relations.

As Dr. Lesser explains, the US-Morocco relationship is longstanding, and “Morocco’s strategic significant for the United States has been shaped…by Morocco’s proximity to areas of vital U.S. economic interest.” He points to several trends that have reinforced the “geo-economic dimension of Morocco’s international posture and its importance to U.S. interests. From African development to global food security, from new transport hubs to renewable energy…Morocco’s focus is increasingly drawn south and west, to Africa and to the wider Atlantic.”

For Morocco, this growing outreach is driven by four overlapping trends in the region. First of all, traditional trade and investment ties to Europe are increasingly weaker due to the recent economic stagnation in the EU. This is clear from slowdowns in foreign direct investment (FDI), purchases of Moroccan products, tourism, and remittances from Europe. In looking for new business partners, Morocco has several differentiated marketing strategies: more tourism promotion globally, with initiatives along both sides of the Atlantic basin (regular flights to Sao Paulo are a recent example) and into Asia; the Moroccan Investment Development Agency (AMDI) has an eight-city road show covering markets in Asia, North America, and Europe to highlight opportunities in Morocco; and Moroccan firms are benefiting from government subsidies to attend trade shows and expand their export operations.

The second trend is the growth in trade and investment agreements linking Morocco to a potential market of one billion consumers, from the US and EU to Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Gulf. With its rapidly expanding manufacturing and logistics/distribution capabilities, Morocco is fast becoming a key regional hub for business activity north and south, into Europe and Africa.

The Africa Imperative

A third component in Morocco’s evolution as a regional economic player is its commitment to renewable energies and the potential for “substantial offshore oil and gas resources,” which would both reduce Morocco’s “high national expenditure on imported energy and domestic energy subsidies” and provide the backbone for expanding power transmission to meet the growing demand in African markets. With most projections for economic growth pointing to sub-Saharan Africa as the next great opportunity, Morocco is well-positioned to increase its already sizeable presence on the continent into an effective network for economic growth. 

Regional stability and security issues are the fourth element that affects Morocco’s regional designs. Although Morocco is committed to regional integration across North Africa, the continued stalemate with Algeria frustrates that ambition. For now, it appears that Maghreb relations will be more bilateral, building on shared business interests. So Morocco is looking elsewhere for growth to drive job creation to absorb local demand and provide a reservoir of talent for opportunities in target markets. It recognizes the importance of linking jobs, economic stability, and public security throughout the region. “To be sure, political and security factors are also at play in Morocco’s growing African interests, especially in light of the rapidly evolving terrorism, insurgency, and trafficking scene affecting Atlantic Africa and the Sahel – the dark side of regional geo-economics.” It is no surprise that King Mohammed VI has made Africa a priority in his travels, speeches, and support for economic and policy conferences focusing on Africa.

Dr. Lesser points out that “Morocco’s expanding economic role looking south shows every sign of becoming a structural factor in regional development and a more significant facet of U.S. interest in, and cooperation with, Morocco.” To this end, the policy paper concludes with several recommendations for US policymakers:

  • Morocco’s growing Atlantic engagement should be made an explicit part of the US-Morocco strategic partnership.
  • The US should renew its commitment to greater regional economic cooperation and integration in the Maghreb.
  • In the context of transatlantic trade negotiations (TTIP), consideration should be given to implications for the US-Morocco FTA and ways to streamline the current provisions on roles of origin and other constraints to extend the value of the FTA to other African countries.
  • The private sector should be more broadly integrated into US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue.
  • Morocco’s growing role in Africa should be part of the agenda with Washington and with European partners.

These recommendations are part of a common-sense approach to recognizing how the US can support Morocco’s growing global engagement, which enables Morocco to enlarge its leadership role while contributing to security, stability, and prosperity in a critically important part of the world.