Morocco News

New travel bans halt Moroccan tourism recovery

RABAT, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Travel restrictions because of the new coronavirus variants have shattered Morocco’s hopes of reviving its tourism sector this spring, hotel and tour companies said, as official figures showed revenue halved last year.

Tourism accounts for about 7% of Morocco’s economic output and employs over half a million people, with most foreign visitors coming from France, Britain, Germany and Spain.

“Tourism is at a standstill,” said Faouzi Zemrani, vice president of the national tourism companies federation, adding that the sector could not recover until 2024.

A jump in arrivals in November suggested that the winter season might not be as bad as previously feared but new restrictions due to the emergence of new strains has dashed those hopes.

Last year, tourism revenue fell by 53.8% to 36.3 billion dirhams ($3.8 billion), according to figures from the foreign exchange regulator.

Arrivals dropped by nearly four-fifths up to November.

The government has offered cheap loans, wage support and tax relief to tourism companies that keep on most of their staff, but without any customers many are still in trouble.

“These measures are not enough,” said Lahcen Zelmat, head of the hotels federation, urging an extension of state support until June including tax exemptions until 2022.

With nearly half a million coronavirus infections and more than 8,000 deaths, Morocco has imposed a night curfew and brought in a special permit to access major tourism hubs.

It started rolling out a national vaccination campaign last week but Zemrani said the sector would not fully recover until most of the world’s population had been innoculated.

In 2020, Morocco incurred a fiscal deficit of 7.5% of GDP. Its economy contracted by 7% and the unemployment rate surged to 11.9%, official data showed. (Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, editing by Angus McDowall and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)