What's behind branded hotel growth in Morocco

Hilton appoints Feras Hasbini to spearhead MENA Hiton's development team in its newest focus area.
Image: Getty//masterovoy

Morocco saw visitor numbers increase by 9 percent to 3 million in the first quarter, according to figures released by the country’s General Directorate for National Security.

The data was released as Hilton announced plans to expand in the country, which it described as having “huge potential for both business and leisure tourism.” 

Morocco has suffered from falling visitor numbers as a result of its proximity to terror-hit countries such as Tunisia, despite not having seen an incident since the 2011 bombing in Jemaa el-Fnaa square, which killed 17 people. In an attempt to bolster numbers, the country’s government has liberalized its visa policy, offering Chinese citizens visa-free entry.

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The move saw arrivals from China reportedly increase by 565 percent in the first half of this year, against a 27-percent rise in visitors from the U.S., a 12-percent increase from Germany, an 8 percent increase from the Netherlands, a 7-percent increase from Spain and a 5-percent increase from France. 

Mohamed Sajid, the country’s minister of tourism, said that the sector was expected to grow up by 5.5 percent in 2017, with overall visitor numbers reaching 10.9 million.

Hilton's Plan

The growth has not gone unnoticed, with Hilton revealing plans to expand in the country. “Hilton re-established a presence in Morocco in March 2016 with the opening of Hilton Garden Inn Tangier City Centre,” Feras Hasbini, development director, Middle East & North Africa, Hilton, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT. “In June 2017, we opened our second hotel in the country, Hilton Tangier City Centre, and earlier this year we signaled our intention to ramp up our expansion in North Africa with the establishment of a dedicated development department in Casablanca.  We see great opportunity to further our presence in Morocco and already have a number of properties in the pipeline including Hilton Garden Inn Casablanca Sidi Maarouf and Hilton Taghazout Bay Resort & Spa.

“We see huge potential for both business and leisure tourism in Morocco,” Hasbini said. “The country, which is poised to become an important African economic hub, benefits from a well-developed infrastructure that links the major cities, tourist destinations and airports.  It is also ideally located close to Europe, making it a popular destination for European tourists.

“Visitors are attracted to the country’s coast, culture and history and under Vision 2020, the government aims to double the size of the tourism sector, making Morocco one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations by 2020. In addition, La Societe Marocaine d’Ingenierie Touristque (SMIT), an investor support system, plays an important role in the development of tourism in Morocco. SMIT makes the country a more attractive place to invest in tourism by acting as a ‘one stop shop’ for investors. With an attractive tourism offering, strong government support and organizations such as SMIT, the future looks bright for hospitality in Morocco.”

Hilton isn't alone. Earlier this year, AccorHotels announced plans to debut Morocco with the signing of a hotel management agreement with New Mauritius Hotels for the Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech. “Morocco is a strategic market for us and one in which we are witnessing solid growth and momentum,” Olivier Granet, COO and managing director, AccorHotels Middle East & Africa, said, noting that the company is planning to double its African network to reach 200 hotels.

As they (almost) say in Casablanca: Morocco, time to play it again. 

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.

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