HABIB EL FASSI EL FIHRY

Morocco 2020 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Habib El Fassi El Fihry, General Manager of Visit Morocco, on shifts in demand, client profiles, and the challenge of adding value.

There has been a shift in demand in the tourism sector. How would you define this shift?

Indeed, this shift has happened both in the business and the leisure segment, but more so in leisure. The shift in demand is mainly related to the digitalization of information. From our side, our position has always been to show “Morocco through our eyes” to our clients in a tailor made manner. We are always opening up new authentic and interactive experiences so as to encourage people to understand and live our country, rather than going on a strictly touristic path. We have observed this shift in demand, and we have found it to be good because it emphasizes our real value much better as experts of the destination. When we do our sales calls in the different markets we target, we show this expertise. We explain there is much more to see behind a medina or a mosque. We have to adapt our business model based on changing needs. Often our revenue will come from charging a management fee, for example. Even in the last few years, despite the slowdown the country experienced, there was great growth. Between 2017 and 2019, we have experienced double-digit growth.

What services weigh more in terms of revenue?

MICE and business travel is 70% of our business, but leisure is growing. We are opening the leisure part, and the frontier between business and leisure is less clear now. You organize a congress, and then some people will ask for extensions to make it into a vacation. People really appreciate our approach because it is different than just selling a typical packaged product. We make people interact with the country, and people are taken to lesser known places that are more authentic. Innovation is however dual. Sometimes we would create something new for the MICE business and then adapt it to our high end leisure groups and individuals or vice-versa.

What is your average client profile?

We are a B2B company. We rarely work with individuals directly. Most of our clients come from our business partners (corporations, international tour operators, event and marketing agencies, travel agencies, etc.) and our representative agents. Our local business is more B2B, so we work with corporations to manage their accounts.

Do you consider authenticity as the path to a sustainable tourism sector?

Yes, that is the key for a sustainable sector, and that is on trend. When people travel, they want to see something different: it is up to us to make something different. It is obviously more difficult and challenging to create that authentic experience than operating more already set touristic programs. We have a double mission. First, it is our duty to promote this authenticity and look for it across the country. To be more inclusive, sometimes we go in the middle of the desert and contact remote communities that may even live without access to electricity. Second, we need to do it in a way that does not make it like an industry so as not to spoil the experience nor the communities that we are interacting with. That's why we mostly focus on high-end clients who are willing to pay for something more authentic in a way that will bring value to the country and its communities.

One of the challenges of the country is to sell this added value. What is your view?

Our market is global, and currently destinations are in competition against each other. We must then establish a unique selling proposition that will differentiate us from other destinations. Fortunately we are blessed with so many different sights and cultural wealth. We should focus on these elements. I understand from a broader perspective that the country needs to bring more tourists and people have to manage their budgets accordingly. Therefore not everything can be done on authenticity and uniqueness. However it is important to show that Morocco is diverse. Maybe people would like to go hiking or go to the beach, and visit some cultural sites. In Morocco, tourists must try different things. For example, we have one of the best windsurfing spots in the world. Marrakech is the most touristic city in Morocco and yet still has so many hidden gems to still attract people. Overall to be able to sell our entire offer we need the adequate infrastructure around it. For this infrastructure to be sustainable you cannot rely only on tourism, there must be a business environment around it too. Local people that will benefit from this development and contribute to it at the same time. In my opinion this is one good way to sell our country as a whole and not only the very well know touristic areas.

Can one keep that authenticity without being commercial?

First, we are a long way from being commercial, especially comparing to countries like Spain or France, for instance. Maybe there are some specific areas that are touristic; maybe from there, we can shift this interest to areas that are completely unknown.

What are you going to focus on for 2020?

Historically, we have had mostly a business travel focus, since we are working with a lot of corporations. Now we are focusing more on bringing tourists to Morocco, so it is going to be a similar strategy for 2020. We are present in the US, Mexico, most of Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and other regions through our partners. Now we are trying to develop a bit more and know more about these markets. Our value proposition is unique we need to market it more with our target clients.