There will be no Christmas in Fez. Before the health crisis, the imperial city of Morocco was full of tourists during this time of year. Owner of a riad in the medina, Karim (who wished to remain anonymous) is torn between anger and desolation: “I will have no one in December. Not a single customer. ”
In total, 100% of its reservations have been canceled since the suspension, on November 30, of all passenger flights to the kingdom for two weeks, following the announcement of the discovery in South Africa of a new variant of SARS- CoV-2, Omicron, with high propagation potential. “We had the feeling that tourism was recovering, we were counting on the winter season to get our heads out of the water, and there, return to the starting point. “
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In Ouarzazate, the “door to the desert,” Zoubir Bouhoute, president of the provincial tourism council, makes the same bitter observation: “It’s over. There will be no recovery at the end of the year and probably not in the first months of 2022, because, with this new variant of Omicron, we should not expect a rapid improvement in the health situation. ”
In a sector already devastated by two years of pandemic – and which weighs heavily on the Moroccan economy (7% of GDP, more than 500,000 jobs) – the closure of air borders is considered a coup de grace. The National Tourism Confederation (CNT) foresees a loss of one billion dirhams (94.7 million euros) for the last week of December alone. Week in which 100,000 foreign tourists were expected.
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” A nightmare “
The summer, however, had marked the beginning of a recovery, after an almost total slowdown since March 2020. The reopening of the borders in mid-June had allowed the massive return of Moroccans living abroad as well as the arrival of the first international tourists. . Far from the performance of 2019, the resorts in particular, such as Agadir, Essaouira or Tangier, registered good progress. Then, with the first chills of fall, came a cascade of bad news. In early October, airline closures began with Russia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.
At the end of October, the authorities abandoned the organization of the general assembly of the World Tourism Organization scheduled for Marrakech from November 30 to December 3, an event highly anticipated by the operators. It was Madrid who inherited it. On November 25, the announcement of the suspension of flights to and from France “until further notice” clouded the last hopes of recovery, while France is the number one market for Moroccan tourism, accounting for 28% of overnight stays. Three days later, the interdepartmental pandemic monitoring committee announced the suspension of all air links for two weeks, given the dissemination of the Omicron variant in several countries, specifying that the situation would be periodically evaluated “to adjust, if necessary, the necessary measures ”.
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In hotels, travel agencies, cancellations were immediate. Many establishments have already decided to close for the winter. In Essaouira, the Atlantic Andalusia Festival, scheduled for the end of December, has been postponed until spring 2022. In the coastal town, hotels close November with an occupancy rate “of 20% to 30%”, according to the president of the tourism council, Redouane El Khan. In Ouarzazate, this rate does not exceed 15%. “A hotel, to be profitable, must be at 60%. At less than 10%, it is bankruptcy ”, warns Zoubir Bouhoute. “It’s a nightmare”, alarm Mounir Chami, of the National Federation of Tourist Transport. Our 1,670 companies, 95% of which are very small and medium-sized companies, have been paralyzed since the beginning of the crisis. They no longer have the means to pay their expenses or their loans. The situation is catastrophic. “
Companies in danger
“Morocco has done well with its vaccination campaign; It is normal to do everything possible not to lose this advantage ”, considers, for his part, Wissal El Gharbaoui, general secretary of the CNT, welcoming the authorities’ choice to“ privilege health security, even if this has serious economic consequences. heavy “.
Negotiations are being made with the government to review the contract for the tourism support program signed in 2020, the main objective of which is to maintain employment. Tourism Minister Fatim-Zahra Ammor said the monthly allowance of Dh2,000 (around 189 euros) per employee, interrupted in June, would be reactivated. The CNT also advocates measures to alleviate the “depleted” cash flow of companies: “This must go through a state guarantee fund that allows companies to benefit from interest-free loans”, defends Ms El Gharbaoui.
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According to the secretary general of the CNT, almost 30% of the companies in the Moroccan tourism sector are in danger; 20% of jobs are “at risk of loss”. Figures that reflect a stark reality. In the labyrinth of alleys in the medina of Fez, where, in mid-November, we only saw some isolated tourists, merchants, artisans, confident guides who had exhausted their reservations, counting on family solidarity to support them, or sometimes with the help from your boss when your boss has been kind enough to keep a portion of your salary. Others have become olive groves or construction sites.
“We feel a lot of disorder, despair and even tension in the medina. People are starting to feel hungry in the true sense of the word, ”reports Karim, in Fez. He collapses under the weight of his riad. “I am beginning to seriously consider selling, because we cannot see the end of this crisis. “
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