Tourism in Morocco has a long history and is an important source of economic prosperity. Morocco has several important advantages that enable it to compete well on the international tourism market, such as politically stable, highly diverse landscape (the extensive Atlas Mountains, the forests in the Rif, the Sahara dessert, the great diversity of fauna and flora, the vast stretches (1,835 km) of Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines), the imperial cities, progress on the road and transportation infrastructure, various natural and historical attractions (e.g. coastlines, beaches, old medina’s, Roman monuments and ruins), rich traditional culture (art, music, artisan, and gastronomic tradition), and an extremely pleasant climate.
Its rich culture is ‘a blend of Arab, Berber (indigenous African) and also other African and European influences. Morocco’s relatively high amount of tourists has also been aided by its location, specific attractions, and relatively low prices. The well-developed tourist industry in Morocco is a powerful driver of economic growth and is, after the phosphate industry, accountable for the second largest contribution to the country’s GDP (approximate 8 percent of the GDP), and employs around 500,000 people. Morocco is ranked 5th on the world list, in terms of government prioritization of the development of the Travel and Tourist industry. Morocco is a stable tourist destination, and was not much affected by the Arab Spring revolutions.
Although travellers had already visited Morocco during the 19th century, real tourism began after 1912 during the period of the French Protectorate. Due the colonial relationship, Morocco was positioned as a tourism destination mainly for the French. In 1953, near the end of this period, there were around 250,000 tourists a year. From an institutional perspective, during the French Protectorate, there were several initiatives, such as the establishment of the ‘Tourism Central Committee’ in 1918, the creation of the ‘Cherifian Office of Tourism’ in 1937, and the ‘Moroccan National Tourism Office’ in 1946. However, despite these initiatives, the impact on the Moroccan tourism industry during this era was limited. With the creation of the ‘Ministry of Tourism’ in 1965, Morocco officially entered the international tourism market. The Ministry defined several ‘3-year plans’, which successfully increased the number of tourists, rising to 2.2 million tourists in 1985.
Just after King Mohammed VI acceded to the throne, in 1999, he took the initiative to create, in close cooperation with the private sector, a new strategy on tourism called ‘Vision 2010’. This vision was formally signed in 2001 and had two primary goals: 1) to serve as a roadmap for the tourism sector until 2010, and 2) to allow the Moroccan tourism cluster to compete effectively with other tourism clusters in the Mediterranean region. The main target was that Morocco would have 10 million visitors by the year 2010. With an increase from 4.3 million tourists in 2000 to 9.3 million tourists in 2010, 97 percent of this target was reached, which can be considered as a major achievement.
Based on this success, in 2010, Morocco defined a new policy ’Vision 2020 for tourism in Morocco’, which seeks to expand the country’s appeal to include its rich variety of countryside, such as its mountains and deserts. This can be considered as the national framework for strategic activity. The main goals of this new vision include: 1) getting Morocco into the world’s top 20 destinations; 2) doubling the industry’s size by creating 470,000 new jobs, whereby the share of tourism in GDP will rise by 2%, and the number of tourists will more than double, to reach 140 billion MAD in 2020; 3) implementing a policy of improving Morocco’s offering to tourists; 4) providing a new institutional arrangement (governance); and 5) developing sustainable tourism.
Moreover, an important pillar of this new vision is a territory-based policy, with the introduction of eight tourist territories, including structuring programmes for a diversified product portfolio. They are also heavily investing in new accommodation, training facilities, seaside resorts (the Azur Plan), and transport accessibility. Morocco’s approach is based on a new generation of tourist products, a long-term ecosystem management, and local public participation, to become a model of tourism sustainability in the Mediterranean area. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.
One of the key elements is putting more emphasis on institutionalization of sustainable tourism by: 1) establishing special instruments for monitoring and evaluating sustainability indicators for the industry (to ensure compliance with tourist density thresholds, water consumption, the condition of the natural cultural attractions) by means of regional monitoring arrangements; and 2) strengthening the sustainability criteria in legal and regulatory standards, to distinguish model establishments and those that make particular efforts in this direction. As well as a range of marketing strategies and other strategic measures, advanced data management is one of the tools to monitor and manage tourist dynamics and other indicators (e.g. policies, regulations, sustainability, tourist experience and satisfaction, socio-cultural aspects).