May 13, 2020 / 5:16 PM / 16 days ago

Morocco hopes to boost domestic tourism to save key sector

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco’s government and tourism industry hope to encourage more Moroccans to explore the ancient souks of Marrakech and the beaches of Agadir this year, to make up for the collapse in foreign visitors due to the global pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese tourists visit the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal/File Photo

A TV advertising campaign, launched by the government, reminds citizens of the country’s many attractions with the slogan “until we meet.”

Tourism represents 7% of Moroccan economic activity, employing more than half a million people and generating $8 billion in foreign currency inflows last year, when 13 million foreigners flew into the North African kingdom.

“We know foreign tourists are not coming this summer,” said Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui, adding encouraging domestic tourism was the starting point for reopening the sector.

The crisis, with a full lockdown and a ban on all international travel since March, has reduced the income of many workers however, restricting their budget for holidays. Most hotels in Morocco are also more tailored to the needs of foreign tourists.

Domestic tourism represents 30% of hotel arrivals, and 1 million Moroccans go abroad every year, spending $2 billion.

Lahcen Zelmat, head of the hotel federation, said serviced apartments with pool access would likely prove more successful with locals than the rooms most hotels offer. He urged the government to offer state workers hotel allowances.

Nabila Darif, a Rabat-based civil servant, said she was considering a holiday in Morocco rather than Spain this year if she could find “a calm destination with nature”.

The government has already taken some action to try to help tour operators, hotels and domestic airlines, drafting a law that would allow them to offer future reservations to guests rather than refund bookings cancelled over the crisis.

It has also deferred taxes and asked banks to offer debt repayment holidays. It is handing out 2000 dirhams ($200) a month to workers who have been furloughed by companies.

Morocco’s travel industry lobby group CNT has demanded these measures be extended beyond June, saying that with government investment of $170 million, the industry could recover by 2022. Without help, it risked delaying a recovery until 2024.

Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Alexandra Hudson

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