The Kingdom of Morocco is leading an ambitious plan to develop renewable energies and is also supporting “sustainable” tourism in all its forms. These are concrete commitments which involve financial incentives to build in an environmentally friendly manner, as well as a water supply specially designed for golf courses. An interview with Hatim El Gharbi, France and Benelux Director of the Moroccan National Tourist Office (ONMT).

© Dan Lundberg
© Dan Lundberg

A number of countries, including Morocco, are committed to limiting their CO2 emissions. The tourism sector contributes to these emissions. Is the aim of developing it not contradictory with the country’s international commitments?

On the contrary, and this is what we wanted to show with our presence at the Grand Palais during COP21. Tourism accounts for 8% of our GDP. It is the first provider of foreign currency and the second largest provider of employment after agriculture, with 500,000 jobs. Our country has been the number one tourist destination in Africa since 2014, ahead of South Africa, with 11 million visitors in 2015 – including 3.5 million French people. We are penalized by the confusion made on our source markets between the terrorist threat and the whole of North Africa, but the number of tourist visits is continuing to rise.

Tourism is part of the sustainable development trajectory that we have established at national level. The share of renewable energies in our total generation capacity will rise to 42% by 2020 and 52% by 2030, with consequences on all the sectors of our economy. We feel that this trend is an additional asset: we believe that it is good for tourists to know that our country not only has cities and beautiful landscapes, but also a large solar farm in Ouarzazate and a wind farm in Tarfaya.

Morocco wants to be a model for sustainable development in the entire Mediterranean region, and not only for tourism. All these factors contribute to our country’s positive image and position it as a “sustainable” destination. Furthermore, Morocco is rewarded for its efforts: the fact that Marrakech was chosen to host COP22 in 2016 is a real sign of recognition.

What do you mean when you talk about “sustainable” tourism?

 For us, it involves studying the ecological transition in the tourism sector in a more concrete manner, at several levels. In terms of activities, tourists are given the opportunity to leave their mark by planting trees when they are hiking, participating in local cooperatives, or even building schools in remote areas. Our aim is to see rural communities stay in their areas, propose accommodation with locals, and offer a rural way of life that is different from cities, in order to conserve the wealth and diversity of our tourism.

In terms of products, we promote the green construction of hotels, be it for large resorts or small “boutique hotels”, with the benefit of tax incentives, which are beginning to be known and used. For example, import taxes on sustainable equipment have been abolished. 100% of the cost of digging a well and planting olive trees is reimbursed.

All large-scale projects must have a wastewater treatment plant. For example, we have prohibited golf courses in Morocco from being watered using water from cities. The 12 golf courses in the city of Marrakech alone are watered by the Autonomous Drinking Water and Electricity Distribution Authority of the city of Marrakech (Radeema), the company which processes wastewater from the city. First, it removes the methane from this water and uses it to produce electricity, then discharges the rest of the wastewater into golf courses and part of the palm grove. This company has conducted extension works making it the largest wastewater treatment plant in the Maghreb region. Since 2010, 30% has been financed by companies which manage the golf courses – a regulation which is imposed by the city. This concept is highly innovative and directly affects tourism.

Does your vision go much further than the small “eco-lodge” where everything would be recycled?

Yes, it does. For example, the Taghazout Bay complex in Agadir comprises a 5-star Hyatt which has been entirely built in an environmentally friendly manner. The hotel has not been built using adobe, but with modern techniques, including a lot of solar energy and permaculture. The Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa is a cultural seaside resort which meets the same environmental requirements. Similarly, the Mazagan Beach and Golf Resort in El Jadida is one of these big hotels which could have cost the same price without renewable energies, but which will eventually make huge savings and have a lower impact on the climate.

This does not mean that small hotels do not make a difference. A family-run structure, the Atlas Kasbah eco-lodge located in a natural park of argan trees near Agadir, was awarded the Gold Medal for Responsible Tourism in London this year. This was not only for the way in which it heats the water for its swimming pool, but because its employees come from the neighboring douars and the products for its cuisine are grown in the region. It is an extremely positive sign.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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