From explorers to vacationers, how Morocco has become a mecca for tourism, Jeune Afrique


From explorers to vacationers, how Morocco became a tourism hotspot

“We follow the path which turns right in front of the German legation […], the rather poorly paved road passes between the embankments of the Moorish cemetery full of aloes […], beyond the small valley stands El Monte , presenting its south-east face covered with isolated gourbis. We soon arrived at the Jews' Creek, which we once crossed over a bridge which was destroyed by the waters of the winter of 1886-1887 […] and we quickly reached Cape Spartel, where the lighthouse stands [ …]. It is the extreme northwest tip of the African continent. It is the ancient vineyard cape of Strabo. " We are at Tangier, city in northern Morocco, on the Strait of Gibraltar. These few lines are extracted du first travel guide printed in 1888, precisely in Tangier, by André de Kerdec-Chény.

It all begins in the city of the strait. Until the end of the XNUMXth century, Moroccan cities in the interior were hermetically closed to foreigners. We were able to see explorers such as Charles de Foucauld disguise themselves as Moroccan Jews in order to travel unhindered in the hinterland. The Makhzen then feared Christian evangelizers like the plague.

In the baggage of colonization


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In any case, the kick-off of tourism in Morocco was given by the multiplication of steamer lines, such as those of the French company Paquet, after the 1880s. “Amusing paradox: the tourist season is rather winter,” explains the historian French Jean-Louis Miège. The “winterers” are looking for mild winters. And the Cherifian empire offers them to them. Especially since these vacationers leave their trunks in port cities, in Tangier, Mogador [Essaouira], Mazagan [El Jadida], where the oceanic influence moderates the frost.

Tourism began quite naturally with colonization. In 1830 in Algeria, in 1881 in Tunisia, and much earlier in Egypt, in the 1860s, with Thomas Cook. The particularity of Morocco is that Western penetration spans more than half a century. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when it all started. One thing is certain, tourism, initially occasional at the turn of the XNUMXth century, is boosted by the establishment of the protectorateIn 1912.

En 1921, Georges Desroches (author of Morocco, its past, its present, its future) details the journey as follows: “To reach Morocco from Paris, you can follow one of the three itineraries below. 1° Paris-Marseille-Tangier-Casablanca; 2° Paris-Bordeaux-Casablanca; 3° Paris-Bordeaux-Madrid-Algeciras-Gibraltar-Tangier-Casablanca”. Tangier and Casablanca are then the epicenter of tourism. Once in Morocco, it is difficult to travel by car. Roads and railways were simply non-existent until the late 1910s.

In 1918, Lyautey set up a Central Tourism Committee. The first Moroccan institution responsible for coordinating and developing the sector, this committee is the ancestor of the Cherifian Tourism Office, then of ONMT (Moroccan National Tourism Office), who will see le day in 1946. “Tourism is expected, without a doubt, after the war, to take on an extension [sic] in Morocco as important as that which was recorded in Algeria and in Tunisia, and which was so profitable to our two great Mediterranean colonies,” says the review France-Morocco of October 15, 1918.


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To do this, Lyautey called on the three most important French tourist organizations of the time: the French Alpine Club, the Touring Club de France and the National Tourist Office. “The network of roads which will connect the most distant regions to the ports of the coast developed especially from 1930”, specifies the ethnologist Robert Montagne.

In the meantime, the protective tourism committee is taking care of the most urgent matters. The The first tourist leaders of the Cherifian empire were none other than officers. Not very surprising when we know that they have surveyed the terrain to pacify the four corners of the country...

Selling exotic dreams


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In order to seduce tourists, travel literature – in vogue since the 1919th century and the practice of the “Grand Tour”, made fashionable by the English nobility – sells oriental exoticism. For example, the XNUMX Hachette guide notes that the Cherifian empire is “a land of the African Middle Ages, with local color and charm […]. This ancient land, with its ancient practices, its remarkable monuments and its gentle pastoral life was a strong source of impressions.”

Then, to receive the upscale clientele (The workers will only benefit from paid leave from 1936), Lyautey is thinking of building luxury hotels. In less than a decade, La Mamounia, in Marrakech, and the Jamaï palace, in Fez, are designed to accommodate tourists. The second, built in 1879 by the Grand Vizier of Moulay Hassan Ben Mohammed (1873-1894), was completely redeveloped by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique.

At the turn of the 1930s, however, Morocco could not be visited in its entirety. And for good reason: the country was only pacified in 1934, with the capture of Jebel Saghro, in the High Atlas. Another reason: the absence of roads and hotel establishments. Of course, there are fondouks, halfway between the inn and the caravanserai, but these are medieval structures, where men rub shoulders with horses. Furthermore, even if the French explorer René Caillié spent his nights in fondouks on his return from Timbuktu, adventurers avoid them, fearing promiscuity.

In any case, alongside the coastal cities, it was the imperial cities – Fez, Meknes, Marrakech, Rabat – and their surroundings which became tourist destinations in the interwar period. It would be necessary to wait until after the war to see the tourist offer diversify. Seaside resorts, mountain excursions, circuits… Advertising inserts multiplied in the French press in the early 1950s.

Encart publicitaire dans « Le Figaro » du 4 décembre 1950.

Advertising insert in “Le Figaro” of December 4, 1950.

Morocco then seems to be at the top of tourist destinations in Africa, and everything is done for please European tourists. In 1953, in a country whose sunshine, dunes and beaches are praised, we are creating a ski resort in Oukaimden, in the High Atlas, about a hundred kilometers from Marrakech. The first two ski lifts were installed there.

After 1956, newly independent Morocco understood the importance of tourism. He dedicates a ministry to him. However, it was only a decade later, with the 1965-1967 three-year plan, that he began to invest massively in the sector. However, the political situation is not very favorable. Social and economic instability has negative repercussions on Moroccan tourism. What's more, until 1978, the main investor was the State. It was only in the 1980s that the tourism sector, under the impulse of liberalization and privatization, takes on the appearance we know today.

Under the reign of Mohammed VI, the objective of receiving 10 million tourists in 2010 was achieved. The Covid interlude, between 2019 and 2022, however, deals a serious blow to the sector. On the other hand, the Al Haouz earthquake, September 8 last, seems to have had a limited impact: that same month, the number of visitors increased by 7%. The milestone of 14 million will easily be reached this year. We only know – and the statistics from the Tourism Observatory do not say – who, foreigners or MREs (Moroccans residing abroad), will have come to refuel de Sun.

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