Sunday, May 22

Morocco: border closure deals “a fatal blow” to tourism

Tourism in Morocco risks receiving the coup de grace after the brutal announcement of the closure of the borders due to the Omicron variant, alarm professionals in this vital sector for the economy of the kingdom, already undermined by an unprecedented crisis for almost two years.

Avalanche of cancellations, hotels and travel agencies closed … The suspension of regular flights, in particular with France – whose nationals are the first foreign tourists – “deals a fatal blow to the sector”, asserts Mohamed Semlali, president of the National Federation of Travel Agencies of Morocco (FNAVM).

On November 25, Morocco decided to suspend “until further notice” direct flights to and from France, due to the resurgence of the epidemic in France. Before closing all the air borders for two weeks.

In a statement, Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair said on Thursday that it is “forced” to cancel all its flights to Morocco until February 1, 2022, “due to lack of clarity on the part of of the Moroccan government regarding its flight ban “, leaving” 230,000 passengers facing disruption in their travel plans “.

Tourism operators, who were betting on the end of the year celebrations to recover, see red ?: “All reservations have been canceled and most hotels will have to close, knowing that half of them have since start of the pandemic “in March 2020, deplores Lahcen Zelmat, president of the National Federation of the Hotel Industry (FNIH).

– Fall in revenue –

The lot of tour operators is no better. “Some 80% of travel agencies are already at a standstill,” said Semlali, “and recent decisions will make our situation worse”.

Under the effect of the new travel restrictions, the tourism sector is expected to suffer losses estimated at “at least one billion dirhams” (88 million EUR) between Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to an operator quoted by the site of economic information Medias24.

Asked by AFP, the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism did not respond.

If in 2019 the receipts of the tourism sector were around 80 billion dirhams (7.5 billion euros) for 13 million tourists, they had fallen by 65% ​​at the start of 2021, to 28 billion dirhams, according to official figures.

Hotel nights followed the same trend, falling from 25.2 million in 2019 to 7 million in 2020, a decrease of 72%.

But after long months of isolation, the Shereefian kingdom gradually reopened its borders from June, allowing a rebound in activities linked to tourism, which weighs nearly 7% of GDP.

During the summer period, it welcomed nearly 2 million tourists – against 165,000 during the summer of 2020 -, according to the Ministry of the Economy.

Professionals expected to see the end of the tunnel with the relaxation of restriction measures thanks to the improvement of the epidemiological situation.

– “Very bad news” –

But that was without taking into account the new surge in Covid-19 cases in Europe, which led the Moroccan authorities to close the air borders first with Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, then with France, and finally the rest of the world since Monday midnight.

“We were very optimistic with the arrival of the New Year, but this decision took us by surprise. We were on the verge of bankruptcy. Now we have set foot in bankruptcy”, warns Khalid Mubarak, the secretary general of the FNAVM.

The authorities justify these drastic measures “to preserve the achievements of Morocco in the fight against the pandemic”.

“This is very bad news for the country’s economy because there was an acceleration in bookings to Morocco, which has become an alternative to a number of closed destinations”, analysis for AFP Didier Arino, director of French specialist firm Protourisme.

Recalling that the French represent a third of arrivals, he estimates that the calendar falls badly ?: “On the end of year celebrations, we expected a hundred thousand French tourists in Morocco. There they cancel”.

The social impact is also devastating: between 20% and 30% of jobs in the sector have already been destroyed, believes Mr. Zelmat, the boss of the FNIH.

Tourism Minister Fatima Zahar Amor, quoted by Medias24, announced the return of monthly aid of 2,000 dirhams (around 190 euros) to actors in the sector stopped during the last quarter, without specifying the number of beneficiaries.

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