Morocco promotes rural tourism
By Imane Belhaj for Magharebia from Casablanca – 24/07/08
Morocco's tourism industry is undergoing significant change as part of its "Vision 2010" initiative to attract 10 million visitors by 2010. While the sector has traditionally focused on the beach vacation market, Morocco has begun targeting rural tourism in an effort to stimulate economic revival in remote areas and encourage expatriate Moroccans to both visit and invest in their homeland.
Every year, Morocco receives between 150,000 and 200,000 tourists who are attracted by this kind of tourism. They go to areas in the Atlas, desert and the countryside. In June 2003, Morocco launched an initiative to develop this sector by preparing a comprehensive work plan to develop "tourist reception avenues" in remote areas such as Chefchaouen, Ifrane, Imouzzer, and Ida ou Tanane, as well as places which already see tourist activities but which need rehabilitation and support, such as Great Atlas, Rachidia Desert, Ouarzazate and Zagora.
The rural tourism projects are focused on investing even in isolated douars (villages), with plans in place for 20 new inns. Nine such rustic accommodations located in Taroudant, Tiznit, Ouarzazate, Haouz, Tata, Chtouka ait Baha, Rachidia and Zagora have already started to receive visitors.
[Imane Belhaj] Morocco hopes to bolster its tourism industry by encouraging visits not only to beaches, but also to rural mountainous and desert destinations such as Chefchaouen, Ifrane and Ouarzazate.
[Imane Belhaj] Restored through French-Moroccan co-operation, the Agoudal Inn in the village of Echmarin offers classic Moroccan cuisine in a rich rural setting.
The rural tourism project is the fruit of co-operation between Morocco and the French Development Agency. The EU, along with several associations in the kingdom, provides financial support to enhance rural development and help revitalise the local economies. The goal is to boost opportunities for rural Moroccans so that they will be dissuaded from emigrating. The plan also aims at encouraging Moroccans living abroad to return and invest in their motherland.
Morocco's Social Development Agency provided training for the managers of the inns. However, the day-to-day operation is up to the owners, many of whom are people from the area who have either immigrated or retired.
Mohamed Lamine, a Moroccan living in France for more than 20 years, said, "It's about highlighting the features of Moroccan villages that enjoy significant qualifications and beautiful scenery. We are also sorry that only foreigners, who really appreciate such tourist treasures, benefit from them. Therefore, it has become our duty today to provide good reception conditions that would boost the importance of our legacy and our natural treasures."
The strategy to promote rural tourism includes providing douars with paved roads to the inns, electricity, drinking water and sanitary drainage canals.
"Naturally, this will not benefit tourists alone, but will also contribute to improving the social conditions of the residents of douars that host the inns; something that will boost the state's policy in curbing rural immigration," visitor Rachid Salah told Magharebia.
Agoudal Inn in Echmarin village is one of the rural tourism project's success stories. Owners Mohamed and Abderrahman Marir received help from the Social Development Agency and the French Development Agency to rebuild an old house while preserving its traditional design.
Like all restored inns, Agoudal offers guests classic Moroccan cuisine. One French tourist expressed his admiration for the Moroccan tagine, confirming that while its flavour may differ from region to region, the same taste and relish "makes you eat insatiably and forget about any diet."
"The natural environment and fresh air opens up your appetite all day long," he added.
Mohammed, a tourist from Casablanca, chose to spend his vacation among the valleys, hills and mountains of the south, of which he had long heard but had never seen.
"The tourist finds among these charming sights everything that relieves the soul after a whole year of work," he said.
It's also a souvenir-hunter's paradise. "Tourists will not leave empty-handed, because the people there enjoy magnificent manual skills to make traditional local products," he added.
"These inns also help create job opportunities for the people of the area," Mohammed noted, pointing out that locals take visitors on camel rides or offer sightseeing tours of the historical landmarks which abound in the area.
Morocco is working to help the long-isolated and marginalised local population manage tourism revenue and re-distribute the profits generated by the new visitors.
The local economic boost "preserves the dignity of Moroccans, spares them the needs and the pains of immigration in search of another means of income away from family and home," said expatriate Mohamed Lamine, who has lived in France for more than 20 years.
"The project has rehabilitated a remote mountainous area and made the standard of living of the people improve," agreed Abdalah Bahamu, the owner of Sirwa Inn in Tagmoute douar.
The Amlen Inn is located 4 kilometers from the Taforalt tourist area. The owner says it sustains his family, helps them cling to the land where they were born and creates job opportunities for the people of Amlen.
Another old, traditional house in Asrarak douar is also helping its owner provide a stable source of income for his family – now that he has built an extension to the property in order to accommodate visitors. Lahcen is proud that his Noujoum Inn has been visited by several tourist groups since April.
Ibrahim, a resident of the douar, said, "We have realised our role in participating in our national economy, as a number of us are doing work for the inn or are producing some traditional products to sell to tourists."
"You can't imagine the happiness of a woman who is able to make some income from a product she made with her own hands, or the happiness of a man who can highlight the features of his region's natural products, such as saffron, olives, and almonds," he told Magharebia.
"We now feel our importance as active, productive people."
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.