Declining tourist numbers forces Morocco to court Russia, China

Published on : Sunday, October 23, 2016

morocco-to-court-russiaCircumstances have forced Morocco to turn to new markets like Russia and China to support the country’s large tourism industry following a decline in visitors from its traditional source markets.

While Morocco remains the number-one African destination for foreign tourists – ahead of Egypt, with 9.6m visitors and South Africa, with 9.4m in 2014 – the country’s tourism industry has seen a slowdown, with international arrivals for the first half of the year decreasing by 5.6% year-on-year. This comes on the back of a 1% year-on-year decline in arrivals last year, from 10.3m in 2014 to 10.2m, in part a reflection of the ongoing stagnant growth in Europe.

Indeed, the Eurozone accounts for 82% of the North African kingdom’s total visitors, with three of Morocco’s main source markets seeing declines last year: namely France (-5%), Italy (-5%) and Belgium (-2%).

Diversification will be key to meeting the goals of Morocco’s Vision 2020, the country’s tourism development plan, which ambitiously aims to attract 20m visitors and boost tourism revenues to Dh140bn (€12.8bn) by the end of the decade.

Last year revenues from tourism decreased 1.4% year-on-year (y-o-y) to Dh58.6bn (€5.4bn), with the country welcoming just over 10m visitors, indicating the magnitude of the task ahead.

Russian tourists spent only Dh28m (€2.6m) in Morocco last year, but the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) is increasingly looking to Russia as a priority market.

In 2015 there were approximately 40,000 visitors from Russia, well behind the 3.3m from France, 2.1m from Spain and 615,000 from Germany, but the Moroccan National Tourism Office (Office National Marocain du Tourisme, ONMT), aims to increase that figure to 800,000 by 2020.

According to statements from ONMT, the carrier is also in talks to establish direct flights from Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, to both Agadir and Marrakech.

The government has also embarked on aggressive marketing campaigns. Earlier this year Moroccan tourism authorities hosted representatives of 30 Russian news outlets and 400 Russian travel agencies in Agadir, Marrakech and Casablanca to promote and increase the visibility of the kingdom’s tourist offerings.

The strategy – which comes as the number of Russian visits to other competing Mediterranean destinations, including Egypt and Turkey, are slowing – appears to be paying off.

While the total number of tourist arrivals in Agadir from January to July decreased by 3% y-o-y to 473,000, for example – the result of a decline in tourists from France, England and Belgium – there was a four-fold y-o-y rise in Russian tourists, with 5200 Russian visitors in July alone.

Morocco’s tourism authorities are also looking to attract additional visitors from China, the world’s fastest-growing source market, with a projected 133m outbound travellers in 2016, according to a report by the China Tourism Academy.

More than 10,500 Chinese tourists visited Morocco last year, an increase of 12% y-o-y, yet this rate will need to accelerate in order to meet the goal of 100,000 Chinese visitors by 2018.

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