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Morocco believes in its star

For Morocco, the 21st century will be one of tourism or it won't be at all. By 2001, Mohammed VI already had high hopes for a promising sector that offers a great deal of money, generates much employment and acts as a vector for economic development. The goal is obvious: establish itself as an alternative destination with respect to the long-haul stars and long-established Mediterranean destinations. This expectation is not so unreasonable since the country has solid foundations that are not yet fully exploited: a pleasant climate, a varied geography, a rich cultural heritage, long beaches, all less than a three-hour flight from Europe's major cities. All these assets make it possible for the sharifian kingdom to play on multiple sources of clientele. Although Morocco lost the opportunity to host World Soccer Cup 2010 to South Africa by a hair, the country has nonetheless set itself a goal for 10 million visitors in 2010 versus 3.5 million before the beginning of the millennium. In order to meet this challenge, Morocco did not lighten its efforts since its sovereign launched the impetus. “Create the tourism offer, establish regulatory conditions in order to invest, liberalize airline transportation, actively promote the destination, support employment: in many ways the efforts were fault-free,” complements Marc Thépot, general manager of Accor Morocco. Within this framework, the open skies agreement signed at the end of 2005 with the European Union was an important step in making Moroccan tourism take off. From this date, Easyjet, Ryanair, the local companies JetforYou and Atlas as well as the low-cost emirate carrier Air Arabia rapidly multiplied rotations to carry tourists and businessmen to Morocco's cities. In addition to facilitating access to the country, this multiplication of connections presents another advantage: direct commercialization of the destination. Once on site, improved infrastructures with renovated airports, new highways and an efficient rail network further facilitate travel. And then the high-speed Tangier-Casablanca rail connection is expected to open in 2013/2014, and will later be extended to Marrakech and Agadir. Results are convincing. Morocco saw the number of arrivals nearly double from 4.3 million in 2001 to most probably more than 8 million in 2009. The failure to cross the benchmark of 10 million arrivals is thus relative. The country has entered a dynamic that neither the period after 9-11 nor the terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003 appear to have been able to upset. And, with the current crisis, the tourism sector also shows a strong capacity to withstand the situation. With exception to the British, strategic clientele - the French, Spanish, Germans - have grown in the last two years as have Moroccans residing abroad who constitute a strong customer base that accounts for more than 3.5 million visitors each year. But there is one small cloud hovering over this idyllic tableau: nights are down by 2%. Two primary causes are responsible for this paradoxical phenomenon: the proliferation of secondary residences and the underlying difficulty of including the number of nights at guest houses in national statistics. These traditional houses seduce clientele who wish to recharge their batteries and want authenticity. “The offer is profuse with 500 riads in Marrakech and 100 in Essaouira,” remarks Marc Thépot, “but as their numbers increase, they are becoming less and less visible,” outlines the managing director of Accor Morocco. In fact, examples of a structured approach on this market are rare, with exception to the Lotus and Angsana riads, the latter of which is a cousin of Banyan Tree, which created a collection for itself by buying and restoring six existing riads. On a market that remains very fragmented, with a very large independent economy hotel supply, international hotel groups are becoming a part of Morocco's tourism strategy. Most are setting their sites on Marrakech, the country's star destination that concentrates the upscale supply. But the kingdom's economic development offers new perspectives, essentially for new constructions. Growth in the GDP by more than 5% on the last decade also favors growth in international business tourism. Meanwhile, the growth of the middle class stimulates domestic demand which represents 20% of the market today. This conjunction of factors encourages hotel development, particularly for economy brands, in the country's major cities (read on to learn more). And that even if property and building costs follow the same growth trend. Accor, which was already well represented with 29 hotels and 4,300 rooms, foresees the opening of 6,000 additional rooms by 2012 to bring its supply to 60 hotels. “Morocco is one of the rare countries where we will deploy our entire range of brands and be present on all segments,” explains Marc Thépot, “we have completely changed the model that was originally developed in the 90s based on the corporate-operated leisure network.” Along with the international upscale brands, today, ibis is the spearhead of the group's strategy. In this way, the French hotelier thus created a strong economy network that will soon be reinforced by the forthcoming arrival of Etap Hotel. “ibis is successful, particularly with local clientele,” remarks Marc Thépot. Louvre Hôtels is on the move. With the investment fund H Partners and the development firm Hotelim Morocco, in 2008 the French group created the joint-venture Atlantic Morocco Hospitality. Twenty or so hotels under the brands Campanile and, probably, Première Classe will be born out of this association this year. “HP Partners has already selected six sites that we are going to acquire.The construction of the first Campanile hotels will begin this year in three royal cities,” explains Matthieu Evrard, International development Director, with an opening expected in the first semester 2011. With the acquisition of Golden Tulip, the group re-inforces its presence. “We already have 6 Golden Tulip in operation with another 4 in development”, adds Matthieu Evrard. In the end there are no givens, even for such an ambitious country. Morocco still has a way to go in order to impose itself definitively as THE favorite leisure destination of Europeans. The Plan Azur was to see eight “new generation” beach resorts emerge to introduce new tourist appeal alongside the two strong markets of Marrakech and Agadir. But the keystone to growth in Moroccan tourism is running behind and should see its figures drop. But the good news is that it has just taken off. The recent inauguration of the first resorts - Saidia this summer, then Mazagan last October - marks a new phase in Morocco within the high-society of world tourism. Moroccan Metropolises: structuring projects Casablanca the financier, institutional Rabat and industrial Tangier: these three cities constitute the winning trio in the Sharifian kingdom. Tangier is a symbol of Morocco's economic dynamism. The exparadise of artists and the “beat generation” has become one of the leaders of economic growth in the country. The development of the free zone, the extension of the port complex Tangier Med and the ongoing construction of a Renault factory expected in 2012 should further improve business tourism in the city. Like Tangiers, all the great Moroccan cities have launched major developments that should pay off in the future, and also support growth in nights generated by international businessmen and Moroccan managers alike. Fes Shore which will welcome the first technological businesses from 2015, the free zone of Kenitra which should be delivered at the beginning of 2012 to attract agro-food, textiles and chemical industries: Morocco is multiplying the initiatives that could blast its economy into the future. The success of existing areas. The Technopolis in Rabat-Salé or Casanearshore, the two parks intended for offshoring, show an occupancy rate of nearly 94%. Many hoteliers dream about such ORs. But in all these cities the average occupancy wavers between 50% and 55%, with results that are often better for the 3*. The hotel groups represented in large cities are rare with exception to the national groups Kenzi and Atlas, the franchisers Golden Tulip, Best Western Ramada and Accor. Three international brands (Ramada, Movenpick, Ibis) are represented in Tangier for a 2,500-room supply. The room supply in Rabat, the capital, is still limited with fewer than 2,000 rooms, and a near absence of world leaders since the Hilton became a Sofitel. Casablanca, which has just over 6,000 rooms, has, until now received all the attention with the presence of Ramada, Best Western, Le Méridien, Sheraton, Hyatt and Barcelo. There is no doubt that with the country's growth perspectives, other names will soon join this list. Moroccan newspapers have observed advanced negotiations between Marriott and Ritz-Carlton and the Compagnie générale immobilière (CGI), which commercializes the real estate project at Casablanca's marina. Marrakech: the risk of chronic over capacity In less than ten years, Marrakech the jetsetter has become the global meeting point of the luxury hotel industry. With just a few rare exceptions, absolutely all the brands should be present in the Ochre City. Some have been present for a long time such as Amanresorts, Sofitel, Le Méridien, Le Club Med and Fram, which has just added a new upscale complex to its supply, the Jardins de l'Agdal. Others opened more recently such as Lucien Barrière. And many others are preparing their arrival. Asian resort specialists such as Banyan Tree or Anantara; the Dubai group Jumeirah with a golf & polo resort; Baglioni, SBM Monte-Carlo or Rocco Forte Collection which are preparing to take their first steps outside Europe; international stars such as W, InterContinental, Marriott, Park Hyatt, Kempinski, Mandarin Oriental, Raffles, Four Seasons: all these brands are planning to take advantage of many building programs that are developing around Marrakech. In all, the luxury offer should surpass twenty hotels in 2013. Not to mention local legends such as La Manounia, which has prepared itself for this new hand by redecorating to achieve a new beauty under the guidance of Jacques Garcia and is looking at this competition from its historic position at the heart of the medina. The Royal Mansour, a veritable marble palace, has also just reopened its doors after major improvement works. What other tourist destination in the world can boast attracting so many prestigious names? None. Even Bali almost pales in comparison. Morocco's tourism engine concentrated all the investments and is fully implicated in tourism diversification. In the end, Marrakech should have 6 convention centers. The number of golf courses has multiplied. The spas are flourishing at the center of this semi-arid zone. And the hotel capacity is exploding: it should reach 80,000 beds in 2013, up from 18,000 in 2000 and 43,000 today. Did Marrakech set its sights to high, too soon? The country's showcase continues to represent one third of nights in the sharifian kingdom, and its appeal remains indubitable. For hoteliers, however, the figures are hardly reassuring. Blame the crisis… the volume of nights was down by 6% in 2008, by 3% on the first ten months of the year. This decline alone would not be dramatic in such a difficult context were it not for the rapid growth in supply that recently telescoped with the crumbling of demand. The OR that was at 66% in 2007 fell progressively, one level at a time: 55% in 2008 then 47% in the period January-October 2009. The average daily rate of hotels is following this same decline, which is further exacerbated by the preferential rates proposed by the newcomers. Star wars, price wars, battles over human resources to attract the best elements: Marrakech will have some difficult years ahead. The return to equilibrium will happen through slowed development as well as the implementation of a conquering strategy. Air transport is one of the priority axes. The city suffers from a lack of flight rotations, particularly with regard to classic direct airlines that correspond better to Four Seasons' clientele than EasyJet does. Tourism authorities are working with companies to implement 120 to 140 additional flight rotations. Another major effort: Internet. A dedicated site has already been implemented to increase direct sales, while waiting for partnerships with major online distributors such as Booking and Expedia on the city's five 5 target markets. Didier Picquot, general manager of La Mamounia in Marrakech “The destination of Marrakech has two major challenges, the first concerns its accessibility from international destinations, the second is more important and affects its wealth in terms of human resources. Marrakech benefits from its proximity to the large sources of European populations just a three-hour flight away, but for the moment the number of connections is insufficient to meet the city's ambitious goals. Some flights - to Germany, for example - are complex with poor connections. This is a problem, but one that can be resolved if managing directors of airlines become aware that it is in their interest to add more practical, new links required by the market. This is one of the conditions for establishing the city as a weekend destination. “I am even more concerned about the issue of human resources. The arrival of upscale brands in Marrakech places a great deal of pressure on the need for qualified personnel. Even before the forecasted openings we are having trouble finalizing our recruiting. But it is precisely the quality of the recruitment and complementary training that will differentiate the brands and, more generally, differentiate destinations. Marc Thépot, managing director Accor Morocco: “We play on the country's dynamics” “We have long-term plans for Morocco. Our development is supported by the investment fund RISMA, which is quoted on the stock exchange. Accor owns 35% with BMCE, the numberone private bank in the country, the investment bank Casablanca Finance Group and the mutual insurance companies MAMDAMCMA. As manager and owner, we are practically a Moroccan player. We play on the country's dynamics. Once we have 20-25 properties versus the 15 we own today, we will have completed our Ibis network. We are launching Etap Hotel with fifteen or so properties. These brands will accompany the industrial development of the country with a presence in the off-shore areas of Casablanca, Tangier and Rabat. Etap will also be located in cities where the Ibis's positioning would be too high, such as Kenitra and Tetouan. We are consolidating the network of Sofitel to reposition it on the luxury segment with three new projects: a Business hotel at the CasaCityCenter where we already have an Ibis and a Novotel in addition to two leisure properties at Essaouira and Agadir. Pullman is targeting the MICE segment with projects in Rabat, Casablanca, Tanger and Marrakech and also converting a Sofitel in El Jadida in order to benefit from the dynamics in Mazagan. Finally the Novotel brand will soon be present in Rabat and Tangier.”

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