There will be no Christmas in Fez. Before the health crisis, the imperial city of Morocco was full of tourists during this time of year. Owner of a riad in the medina, Karim (who wished to remain anonymous) is torn between anger and desolation: “I won’t have anyone in December. Not a single customer. ”
In total, 100% of its reservations have been canceled since the suspension, on November 30, of all passenger flights to the kingdom for two weeks, after the announcement of the discovery in southern Africa of a new variant of SARS- CoV-2, Omicron, with high propagation potential. “We had the feeling that tourism was picking up, we were counting on the winter season to get our heads out of the water, and there, back to square one. “
In Ouarzazate – the “gateway to the desert” – Zoubir Bouhoute, president of the provincial tourism council, makes the same bitter observation: ” It’s finish. There will be no recovery at the end of the year and probably not in the first months of 2022 either, because, with this new Omicron variant, we should not expect a rapid improvement in the situation. sanitary. ”
In a sector already devastated by two years of pandemic – and which weighs heavily on the Moroccan economy (7% of GDP, more than 500,000 jobs) – the closure of air borders is seen as the coup de grace. The National Tourism Confederation (CNT) forecasts a loss of 1 billion dirhams (94.7 million euros) for the last week of December alone. Week during which 100,000 foreign tourists were expected.
” A nightmare “
The summer, however, had marked the beginnings of a recovery, after an almost total halt since March 2020. The reopening of the borders in mid-June had allowed the massive return of Moroccans residing abroad as well as the arrival of the first international tourists. Far from the performance of 2019, seaside resorts in particular, such as Agadir, Essaouira or Tangier, posted good progress. Then, with the first chills of fall came a cascade of bad news. In early October, airline closures began with Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
At the end of October, the authorities gave up organizing the general assembly of the World Tourism Organization scheduled for Marrakech from November 30 to December 3 – an event eagerly awaited by operators. It was Madrid who inherited it. On November 25, the announcement of the suspension of flights to and from France ” until further notice “ showered the last hopes of recovery, while France is the number one market for Moroccan tourism, representing 28% of overnight stays. Three days later, the interdepartmental pandemic monitoring committee announced the suspension of all air links for two weeks, in the face of the dissemination of the Omicron variant in several countries, specifying that the situation would be assessed regularly. “In order to adjust, if necessary, the necessary measures”.
In hotels, travel agencies, cancellations were not long in coming. Many establishments have already decided to close for the winter. In Essaouira, the Atlantic Andalusia Festival, scheduled for the end of December, has been postponed to spring 2022. In the seaside resort, hotels end November with an occupancy rate “From 20% to 30%”, according to the chairman of the tourism board, Redouane El Khan. In Ouarzazate, this rate does not exceed 15%. “A hotel, to be profitable, must be at 60%. At less than 10%, it’s bankruptcy ”, Zoubir Bouhoute warns. ” It’s a nightmare, alarmed Mounir Chami, of the National Federation of Tourist Transport. Our 1,670 companies, 95% of which are very small and medium-sized enterprises, have been at a standstill since the start of the crisis. They no longer have the means to pay their charges or their loans. The situation is catastrophic. “
Businesses in danger
“Morocco has done well with its vaccination campaign; it is normal to do everything not to lose this advantage ”, considers, for his part, Wissal El Gharbaoui, the secretary general of the CNT, welcoming the choice of the authorities to “Prioritize health security, even if this has extremely heavy economic consequences”.
Negotiations are underway with the government to revise the tourism support program contract signed in 2020, the main objective of which is to maintain jobs. Tourism Minister Fatim-Zahra Ammor said the monthly allowance of 2,000 dirhams (around 189 euros) per employee, interrupted in June, would be reactivated. The CNT also pleads for measures to relieve the cash flow “Dried up” enterprises : “This must go through a guarantee fund by the State to allow companies to benefit from zero-interest loans”, defends Mme El Gharbaoui.
According to the secretary general of the CNT, nearly 30% of businesses in the Moroccan tourism industry are in danger; 20% of jobs are “At risk of loss”. Figures that reflect a grim reality. In the maze of alleys of the medina of Fez, where, in mid-November, we only saw a few isolated tourists, traders, craftsmen, guides confided that they had exhausted their reserves, counting on family solidarity to to support them, or sometimes with the help of their boss when the latter has been kind enough to maintain a share of the salary. Others have converted to olive groves or to construction sites.
“We feel a lot of disarray, despair, and even tension in the medina. People are starting to get hungry in the true sense of the word ”, reports Karim, in Fez. He is crumbling under the burdens of his riad. “I am seriously starting to consider selling, because this crisis cannot be seen the end of it. “
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Covid-19: in Morocco, the disappointed hopes of a revival of tourism