“Marhaba”, which means “welcome” in Arabic, is the name of the operation that the kingdom launches annually at the beginning of June to welcome Moroccans residing abroad (MRE) in their country. It has now been two years since this operation could take place due to the pandemic and travel restrictions around the world. However, on June 5, Marhaba 2022 was launched with fanfare by the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity. For this very special edition, several changes have been observed: a very fluid reception system in Morocco, France, Italy and Spain, 23 reception areas have been set up, 17 reception sites installed in the northern ports and all airports in the kingdom. This year, two new sites were opened at Rabat-Salé airport and M’Diaq. In addition to medical assistance services, the Moroccan authorities have set up social workers, paramedical staff and volunteers. In short, more than 1,000 people have been mobilized by the Foundation for the smooth running of this summer period and professionals in the sector are already rubbing their hands. But good offers and service must follow the gesture and the warm welcome, analysts say.
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The reunion in bled
“The MREs are delighted and in a hurry to return to Morocco for this summer period! Some even returned early, by boat. The prices are reasonable and accessible. No more mandatory PCR test for vaccinated people. Everyone is eager to come to their native country,” rejoices Hayat El Moundir, president of the Association of Moroccans in the department of Isère, from France.
Same lively spirit on the part of Mountassir who lives in Germany and who returns home after five years of absence: “It’s ok… The tickets are not expensive at all, you just have to buy them in advance. It’s an open secret. Do not come whining and say that the tickets are expensive if you take them the day before your trip! “, he explains.
In Asilah, a coastal town south of Tangier, it is Hajja Neftaha who cries of joy during the reunion with her daughter Yasmine, whose T-shirt is practically wet with her mother’s tears. “Nothing can contain my joy. I finally saw my daughter again, my pampered one, the light of my eyes. I thank King Mohammed VI for having reopened the borders! I thought that with the pandemic, I was not going to see my daughter again. I had lost sleep. I sold my jewelry to buy him the first available flight from the United States to Morocco! “, Hajja Neftaha tells us with emotion.
That said, before this reunion, some had to overcome a few obstacles…
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Marhaba… under formal conditions
To enter the kingdom, there are always conditions to be met in view of the pandemic situation which seems to be resuscitating in recent weeks. Ali, who lives in Canada and often goes back and forth between Casablanca and Montreal, knows the song: “You must present a valid vaccine passport or the negative result of a PCR test not exceeding 72 hours. And that’s not all ! You must also complete a passenger health form each time. In short, you need to have a complete vaccination schedule depending on the country of origin,” he tells us.
According to the Moroccan Minister of Health and Social Protection, Khalid Aït Taleb, the kingdom’s health authorities have mobilized the health system for epidemiological surveillance, its structures and frameworks, with a view to coping – in addition to Covid-19 – to monkey pox (Monkeypox) and prevent its spread. The health authorities have also taken the initiative to train health managers and inform them of this disease, which has never existed in Morocco.
In any case, and despite these formal restrictions, the overall impression is clear: in the ports and airports of the kingdom, MREs, like tourists, seem happy to land in Morocco. “150 million DH were mobilized to prepare the transit operation, tells us Moussa, executive at the port of Al Hoceima. All this money has been injected to ensure the fluidity and comfort of these beautiful people who will return to the country. We have thought about increasing the reception capacities, without forgetting the comfort of the travellers…” he confides to us.
And all in all, these efforts made by Morocco are already beginning to yield good results: the first day of Operation Marhaba 2022 recorded a 40% increase in volume of arrivals compared to 2019, according to concordant sources from the foundation. In terms of number of passengers, that’s 13,000 people on the first day alone. Three million tourists are expected that year, and the indicators put this figure in the box of possibilities.
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Tourism: encouraging figures and new projects
One and a half million tourists have already arrived in Morocco between January and April 2022, according to Moroccan Tourism Minister Fatim-Zahra Ammor. “This official statement is based on serious figures. So by September 2022, we will easily reach the objective of three million tourists, ”confirms with confidence a parliamentary source close to the minister’s party, the National Rally of Independents (RNI).
During a working meeting, the Minister of Tourism also announced that in terms of currencies, Morocco has already received 1.5 billion dollars between January and April 2022 alone. Revenues have exceeded 14 62 billion dirhams at the end of April 2022, against 6.54 during the same period of 2021, according to the Foreign Exchange Office.
At the same time, Fatim-Zahra Ammor pleaded during her recent speech for the strengthening of domestic tourism. The latter represents nearly 30% of overnight stays in tourist accommodation establishments known as EHT, classified at national level. Moreover, during the health crisis, domestic tourism constituted 50% of overnight stays in 2020 and 69% in 2021. The minister also pointed out that 72% of Moroccans attach importance to the prices of tourist services.
Of the need to seduce
Operators in the sector are also confident and think that we just have to be “nice” in terms of prices and creative in terms of entertainment. “Even before Operation Marhaba, we noticed MREs and tourists landing in Morocco every weekend… There is a wind of renewal, a wind of hope which is therefore confirmed. There are more and more planes available and room for everyone. The desire for Morocco is very important this year,” says Hamid Bentahar, President of the National Confederation of Tourism (CNT) and Chairman and CEO of Accor Gestion Maroc.
Regarding the prices of plane and boat tickets, Hamid Bentahar evokes the famous law of supply and demand. “We asked operators and professionals to increase supply to meet all demand, and at the same time to have reasonable prices. Also, we should think about offering a lot more air seats, it is essential to hit the mark and have a maximum of tourists, ”continues the CEO of Accor Gestion Maroc.
In hotels, Hamid Bentahar believes that at the regional and provincial level, support programs must be put in place to help tourism players renovate their establishments…The latter must be up to the task in terms of animation hotel and leisure. “We need to launch several fun activities to encourage people to want not only to come, but to stay as long as possible, to see that they no longer want to leave… just to celebrate the reunion in good and due form”, he concludes.
In any case, what is apparent is that all professionals in the sector have turned the page on Covid once and for all.
The Covid page turned
For Aziz Hamman, hotel consultant and ex-manager of several hotels in the kingdom, “foreign tourists have already anticipated the summer season by arriving quite early in some cities of the kingdom and by exploding the number of reservations, which announces a very beautiful season which will undoubtedly make us forget the catastrophic season due to the pandemic”.
In terms of offers, Azziz Hamman indicates that “classified hotels with a quality product refined their offers before the recovery, and now they are overwhelmed with requests. There are offers of excellent quality, with a good quality/price ratio, and therefore the competition is very tough, there will only be room for the best”, explains the hotel consultant.
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“Paradise at a low price”
Looking around the hotels in Marrakech on Booking, Patrick and Annie, two Englishmen from Liverpool, are spoiled for choice. “We have been postponing our first trip to Morocco for 3 years, but this year is the right one! We did everything to get there and here we are in Marrakech! We are at our 3e day, we are already all tanned! “explains the couple with joy. They settled into a hotel that, in their words, offers “paradise on a budget.”
Contacted by Africa Point, the reservations manager of this hotel, Anas Khoubrane, reveals some secrets of this year’s formula. “It’s simple, we proposed all-inclusive. Lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, soft/alcoholic drinks, access to the aquapark, free transfer from or to the airport, shuttles between the hotel and Jemaa el-Fna available every hour, in addition to entertainment throughout the day: Gnaoua, the dekka Marrakchia, the Kids club for children and babysitting if the client requests it… all from 1,500 dh per couple,” explains Anas in detail.
Today, the hotel in which he works is full on weekends. For July and August, there are only a few free rooms left. Anas speaks of an occupancy rate of 70% by September. “For the most active segments, we have a filling rate of 50% of the local market and MREs; 32% for Europeans and the United Kingdom; and 18% are Israelis,” concludes Anas.
Institutions have gone into overdrive
The great tourist machine of the land of the sun is therefore well and truly in motion. In addition to the monster work provided by operators in the sector in collaboration with the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism and the Akhannouch government, there are also the efforts of the Moroccan National Tourist Office (ONMT).
A delegation from the latter made a trip recently, let us recall, to France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Objective: to promote Morocco as a destination in these strategic markets by capitalizing on the launch of the new international communication campaign “Morocco, Land of Light”. Around twenty other countries will soon be visited by the ONMT teams to attract as many tourists as possible to Morocco, which it should be remembered that for a while it carried the label of “the most beautiful country in the world”. A qualifier and a title that the kingdom intends to find again this year by multiplying initiatives aimed at tourists and Moroccans residing abroad.
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