Saturday, 30 August 2008

Morocco booms during the credit crunch

Detail of a mosaic in Meknes, MoroccoImage via Wikipedia Developments in infrastructure lure tourism real estate investors

The North African country of Morocco looks set to become a new hotspot for people thinking of retiring to the sun, after a planned tunnel with Spain received ministerial backing. Recently, plans for a tunnel linking Morocco with Spain have gained steam. In an interview, Karim Ghellab, Morocco's minister of transportation said: "It's not easy to predict a date yet, but it is a project that will happen. It will completely change our world."

With several low-cost airlines already offering cheap flights to the country, the new tunnel is only going to improve access to the country for people looking to retire abroad.

According to a Moroccan property expert, Property Borders, foreign investment in the country is already at an all time high and 10 million tourists are expected to visit annually by 2010. Many travel accommodation professionals and real investment advisors report that property in Morocco is also showing impressive returns. A record number of Britons are buying property and experiencing capital gains of more than 20% per year.

The costal towns of south-west Morocco are particularly suitable for people thinking of buying a property to retire to. The stretch along the coasts of Morocco is exciting for those looking for a second home, because property prices are still very reasonable.

Marrakech – the desert pearl

Marrakech is the most coveted city in Morocco attracting the attention of real estate investors and European tourists looking to acquire a second home away from the hassle and bustle of congested cities. This has had a strong impact on prices of property in the red city. According to Moroccan real estate agents, house prices in Marrakech for instance have increased twofold or even threefold in certain parts of the city over the past few years.

The same trend has been noticeable among council dwellings that are increasingly being sold as secondary homes to middle-class Moroccans from other cities. Sales prices have reached Dh6, 000 (US$680) per sq m in many parts of the city. To alleviate the effects of rising prices on the local population, the government launched a new initiative that aims to build 30,000 apartments and houses, creating accommodation for 165,000 people, by 2007. The investment is expected to exceed Dh7.8 billion (US$880 million).

While Marrakech is a becoming relatively popular destination, the central Moroccan city however is more famed for one or two-day excursions for travellers wanting to get a first hand impression of Moroccan culture and history. Agadir and developing resorts in northern Morocco are still the prime destinations for tourists. Business travellers, on the other hand, head for Casablanca and Rabat.

Dubbed the “second home” for French tourists

Morocco remains the most attractive destination for French tourists. This is the outcome of an annual survey published in 2006 by the research centre of the Association of French tour operators (CETO), of which 80% of French travel agents are members. The survey highlights a rather negative picture for most countries surveyed compared to 2005, except for Morocco. The number of French outbound tourists decreased considerably in 2006 (5.17 million in 2005, 5.11 million in 2006). Under these adverse conditions, Morocco noticed a steady increase in inbound tourists from France. In 2006, there were over 2.4 million French tourists that visited Morocco.

Other than Morocco and Tunisia, which continue to attract French tourists year-on-year, other destinations considered competitors to Morocco lost their attraction in 2006. It is reported according to studies by the World Tourism Organisation that Turkey and Egypt recorded respectively a 26% and 38% decrease in the number of French tourists. Spain and Italy also respectively lost 5% and 3% of their French customers.

According to the Moroccan Ministry for Tourism, this performance is due mainly to the development of the air transportation sector and the aggressive marketing of Morocco as a safe and “second home” destination for French tourists. The increase in the number of flights between Morocco and France following the "Open Sky" policy in December 2005 has had a positive impact on the number of visitors as well as the pricing. The tourism authorities also acknowledge the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns they launched in conjunction with French tour operators in 2005 and 2006.

Tourism mass with class

It is not just the budget conscious traveller that Morocco is seeking to attract though. There is an increasing move towards capturing a slice of the upper end of the regional tourism market. The growing numbers of wealthy tourists have also served to kick start a flurry of development projects to cater to their every need.

Among the big ticket schemes is Colony Capital's US$2 billion resort on the Atlantic coast near Agadir that will cover some 2,000 acres and include up to five deluxe hotels, and offer varied outdoor activities for the well heeled. Another is a project by Kerzner International to develop a resort, complete with 500-room hotel, golf course, spa and casino, 80km outside of Casablanca. In mid-September 2006, the multinational developer Domaine Palm Marrakech signed an agreement with the Moroccan government to establish an international standard golf resort in Marrakech. Projected to cost US$215 million, the resort will add 5,300 beds to the country's accommodation capacity and will create more than 1,500 new jobs.

Similarly, the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort scheduled to open a luxury five-star resort in Marrakech in 2008. The complex started construction in early 2005 and will consist of the hotel and amenities as well as a series of five-star villas, some of which are to be sold to private ownership and then fully serviced by Four Seasons.

Morocco, the new Mollywood

The film industry is helping support travel and tourism efforts to market Morocco as a leading destination. When it comes to filming large Hollywood productions, Moroccan studios in Ourzazate (in the south) are more popular than ever. 2006 saw a large number of international film productions shot in the country. Paramount Vantage's "Babel," New Line Cinema's "The Nativity Story" and MGM's upcoming "Home of the Brave" were shot there in 2006 as was an episode of CBS' "The Amazing Race." Universal Pictures' "Charlie Wilson's War" just finished shooting in Morocco, while New Line's "Rendition" and Warner Independent Pictures' Paul Haggis mystery thriller "In the Valley of Elah" are lining up shoots for 2007.

As a result, Morocco has enhanced its marketing image. In late September 2006, Morocco, along with New Zealand, Fiji, Prague and Australia, was rated as one of the five “coolest places on earth” in a survey carried out by the British consultancy firm Superbrands. While it might be stretching things somewhat to describe a country as a brand, as was done in the survey, the accolade was welcomed by the Moroccan tourism industry, and the government, both of which are working hard to lift the sector's profile.

Source Euromonitor International

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