Morocco's unique landscapes and cultural heritage have made tourism a fundamental pillar of the economy. The goal now is to preserve cultural identities, protect the environment, and uplift local communities so the country can successfully surf the wave of sustainable development.
MOROCCO’S UNIQUE GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION at the intersection of Europe and Africa and bordered by the waters of the Mediterranean has resulted in a tourism boom over the past decades. Not only does the country offer a vast variety of landscapes, ranging from beaches and mountains to deserts and jungles, it also presents tourists with an opportunity to discover two millennia of history and vestiges of several great civilizations and dynasties that succeeded one another.
In 2019, the sector accounted for almost one-fifth of GDP and employed more than 2 million people, or 20% of the total workforce. All this happened as Morocco received a record 13 million tourists, up 5.2% YoY. But as the number of tourists travelling to Morocco skyrockets, COVID-19-related challenges aside, many are considering ways to make their trips sustainable. Fully aware of this trend, the government has been guiding growth in the sector toward the path of sustainable development. Home to six national parks and reserves, 200 species of birds, and 105 species of mammals, including many endangered ones, Morocco is working on preserving its diversity via a real commitment to environmental principles by the government. King Mohammed VI launched the Moroccan Responsible Tourism Charter in 2016 and signaled his determination to make Morocco a sustainable tourism leader that protects its environment and cultural heritage. The end goal is to ensure that tourism goes beyond the beach resorts of the past to benefit natural and cultural attractions across the country. While Marrakesh and Agadir continue to host the majority of tourists, the Ministry of Tourism is consequently seeking ways to develop alternative tourism sites. At the national level, destination stewardship planning is underway with multiple stakeholders, including NGOs, the private sector, government, and local communities, to promote sustainable tourism.
The Taghazout seaside resort is a prime example of this. In 2H2018, a EUR10-million agreement was signed between the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Company for the Development and Promotion of the Taghazout Resort (SAPST), which is responsible for planning and developing 4.5km of the region’s coastline, to strengthen the integration of neighboring communities into the bustling tourism industry, protect the environment, and preserve local culture. In total, AFD is working on more than 40 projects in Morocco with the aim of extending the range of sustainable services, open up rural areas, and make the country more resilient to climate change. Elsewhere, in Moqrisset, a town located in a mountainous region that is home to 44 tribes and only 10,000 people, an inn called Djebli Club has become a place where the new and old worlds meet. Practicing a form of collaborative tourism where people pay in knowledge rather than in cash, every resident of Djebli Club, depending on their area of expertise, is required to devote two to three hours per day to workshops or trainings for the local community. The rise of sustainable tourism in Morocco is also reflected in the growing reputation of Green Key, an internationally recognized environmental label that is awarded to accommodation establishments that comply with a set of eco-friendly criteria. With 44 Green Keys, Morocco is among the top-10 countries with the highest number of awards. Staying at a Green Key establishment in Morocco is unique. Not only do establishments do their best to enrich customer experience and ensure their stay is aligned with ecotourism principles, each property has its own way of recycling waste and lowering the use of energy and water. All the properties in Morocco also work with guests, suppliers, and staff to create the changes necessary to promote and uphold the Green Key Label.
The government has certainly multiplied its efforts and collaboration with different stakeholders to further advance sustainable tourism and sustainability in general. And such has been the country’s performance that it did not surprise many when Morocco was ranked the second-most sustainable country in the world by the 2019 Climate Change Performance Index.