Morocco's Grand Plan. (Tourism)

Article excerpt

With one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world and a host of other tourist attractions, Morocco has embarked on an ambitious plan to make tourism the Kingdom's prime foreign exchange earner. AMAN TE WATER reports from Tangier.

Morocco is perhaps best known for its bustling souks and the romance of cities such as Tangier, Marrakech and Casablanca. Hollywood films like Casablanca and more recently, Hideous Kinky, have given them an aura of mystery and adventure. Celebrities and artists like Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Matisse all spent time here to write, paint and mingle in this sensual land.

Perhaps what is less well known is that Morocco possesses one of the most diverse and precious ecologies in the world. Marketing natural assets - like the whales that swim off the country's coasts - is part of a thrust to make tourism Morocco's prime foreign exchange earner and increase tourism revenue to 20% of GDP by 2010.

Already, tourists are rushing to the Royal Kingdom of Morocco in droves, and the number of visitors from Great Britain alone increased by 31% in 2001, despite September 11.

The Office des Changes in Rabat estimates that the number of tourists to Morocco will reach three million per annum by the end of this year, a 45% increase since 1996, and saturation point in terms of accommodation facilities.

But Morocco's King Mohammed VI is unfazed. In a recent speech to delegates attending the International Forum of the World Association for Hospitality and Tourism in Tangier, he emphasised that Morocco had successfully weathered the storm generated in the tourism industry by the events of last September, and was back on track to achieve the goals set out in his 10-year tourism plan.

10M TOURISTS BY 2010

The plan, launched in Marrakech in 2000, and signed into law on October 29 last year, is a strategy based on institutional, financial, real estate and fiscal dimensions, in harmony with the principles of sustained development. It aims to attract 10m tourists a year to the kingdom by 2010 - and this idea is not so far fetched.

Morocco already possesses a number of natural advantages towards realising this vision. The World Travel Association estimates that world-wide, the number of people travelling will rise to one billion by 2010, a quarter of whom will aim for the Mediterranean.

Morocco's diverse natural environment is another asset. It has 3,500km of coasts on the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea; there are four major mountain ranges across the country and the Sahara. Beyond that, Morocco is one of the oldest civilisations in the world and is home to ancient architecture and imperial cities like Fes, arguably the best preserved medieval city in the world.

What the King's vision for 2010 aims to do is enhance and sustain these natural characteristics and the lives of the people who live and work nearby, by providing the financial and infrastructural support to allow greater numbers of tourists to discover these delights for themselves. The plan will also open up new avenues by promoting golf (there are more than 20 courses scattered around the country), health and wellness, conferences and rural tourism.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF COASTLINE

But the main thrust, since 2000, has been to exploit the country's vast unspoiled coasts in line with the Program for Sustainable Development of Coastal Tourism. This is being done with the support of the World Bank and private consultants. Already, six main areas to be developed have been identified.

In a public private partnership, the government has earmarked the land, which is state-owned, for development by private investors. The first stage, the selection of the sites, was completed in 2000 when the land, located near international airports was selected. These sites are Plage Blanche, Mogador, El Haouzia, Khemis Sahel, Saida and Taghazout. …