Covid-19: in Morocco, the tourism sector in agony



Younès is responsible for a gallery in the heart of the very touristic medina of Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. From his doorstep, he points to several shops with closed doors: “They had no choice but to go out of business. Some have changed jobs. Others went to work at the port ”, he describes.

New blow

While the tourism sector was already severely affected by the Covid-19 crisis, it has just suffered a new hard blow. On November 28, Morocco decided, with two days notice, to close its borders “Due to the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant”. Applicable for 14 days, the measure has since been extended until January 31, according to the National Airports Office.

→ THE CONTEXT. Faced with the Omicron variant, Morocco closes its borders

The tourist activity however found colors for a few months. The country had largely reopened its borders this summer. “We were announcing a good end to the year, but the decision to close the borders was a massive blow. The cancellations fell one after the other ”, laments Éric Molle, director of the Blue Hour, a large hotel in Essaouira. The establishment was almost full for the holiday season.

Suddenness of measure

“Closing everything is not a solution, although we are mostly vaccinated! “, deplores Regragui Ait Bella, owner of a djellabas store. If Morocco experienced a peak in contamination this summer, the country recorded a few dozen cases at the end of November and less than five deaths per day on average. In addition, 68% of the population is vaccinated, the highest rate in Africa, excluding micro-states. Contamination has nevertheless been on the rise since mid-December.

→ EXPLANATION. Covid-19: how the Omicron variant weakens the vaccine strategy

Some professionals also regret the suddenness of the border closures. “Foreign tourists have lost confidence in the country. My family owns a riad in the medina and our clients are already canceling their reservations for the months of February and March ”, worries a merchant of the medina, Omar Hittouri.

Timid supportive measures

Some timid support measures have been put in place. A monthly aid of 2,000 dirhams (191 €) was granted to employees in the sector forced to stop working. Load deferrals have also been granted.

→ REPORT. Morocco launches vaccine pass, a first in Africa

According to the High Commission for Planning, tourism represented 7% of Morocco’s GDP in 2019. “The sector has an important place also because it is intensive in work, that it allows to garner foreign currency, and that it circulates a certain idea of ​​Morocco abroad”, describes Yasser Tamsamani, doctor of economics at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne.

No supply adapted to domestic demand

The tourist offer has been designed mainly for foreign visitors. The sector was thus completely suffocated in 2020 when the country’s borders closed for the first time. Hotel nights fell from 25.2 million in 2019 to 7 million in 2020. Only 3.4 million visitors were received in 2021, against 13 million two years earlier.

“The decision to consume tourism in Morocco depends on foreign demand. This exposes to developments that the country does not control. A tourist offer adapted to domestic demand has not been developed. Thus, today, the vast majority of Moroccans do not go on vacation. Only a few rich people do it ”, Yasser Tamsamani analysis. If this sector is at a standstill, the rest of the economy nevertheless seems on the way to recovery with growth estimated by the International Monetary Fund at 6.3% in 2021, after a recession of – 6.3% in 2020.

In a weekly interview As is, Tourism Minister Fatim-Zahra Ammor defended the decision to close the borders, taken for “Protect the health of citizens”. Without giving further details, she assured to work on “Develop offers more suited to the way of life of Moroccans”.

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