“What a pleasure to find the place after slow and painful months”, launches the young Moroccan, just as happy with the return of tourists, playing with a snake on the nasal sound of “la ghaïta”, popular oboe in the Maghreb.
Marrakech, the kingdom’s tourist showcase at the foot of the High Atlas, is gradually recovering from two interminable years of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, devastating for a sector which weighed nearly 7% of Moroccan GDP in 2019.
Only 3.7 million foreign tourists visited Morocco in 2021 compared to 13 million in 2019, according to official statistics.
On this May day, the cramped alleys of the old medina of Marrakech – nicknamed the ocher city in reference to the red color of most of its houses and buildings -, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, are teeming people.
– End of the PCR test –
The café terraces are crowded and the souvenir and trinket shops, the traditional clothing and furniture stalls, always popular with tourists, are always full.
“We have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels but for a month, the situation has been improving”, confirms, with relief, Abdellah Bouazri, a merchant in the medina, after cashing in a tourist’s purchases. Argentinian wearing a Boca Juniors jersey.
This 35-year-old merchant, father of two children, had to adapt during the confinements by becoming a security guard in a security company.
“It was hard but today I am delighted to find my real job”, confides Abdellah who says he is “optimistic for the future”.
To stop the slump, the government launched at the beginning of the year a plan to support tourism of two billion dirhams (190 million euros) for the benefit of professionals in the sector.
However, the many undeclared workers, precarious employees without a social safety net, also found themselves on the street.
The state has also released one billion dirhams (95 million euros) in support of hoteliers who claim other types of aid.
The president of the National Federation of the Hotel Industry (FNIH), Lahcen Zelmat, had pleaded for the abolition of the PCR test required by the authorities to enter Moroccan territory – “too restrictive” in his eyes.
It was heard since the government decided on Tuesday “to cancel the condition of the PCR test” given the improvement in the epidemiological situation in Morocco.
“It’s a decision that should have been taken before but the main thing is that it’s done. We are very happy. This will encourage foreign tourists,” Zelmat told AFP.
– “Magical” –
According to the Ministry of Tourism, Morocco received just over 34 billion dirhams (3.2 billion euros) in tourism revenue in 2021, more than half as much as in 2019 (80 billion dirhams).
In the first quarter of 2022, they jumped by almost 80% compared to the same period in 2021 to nearly 10 billion dirhams (more than 900 million euros), according to the Moroccan Foreign Exchange Office.
A recent note from the Ministry of Finance welcomed the “prospects which seem more favorable for 2022”.
By engulfing inside the red ramparts of the old medina, the flow of tourists does not stop.
The incessant comings and goings animate the Medersa Ben Youssef, a Koranic school from the 16th century, an architectural masterpiece that dates back to the Saadian dynasty.
“This place is magical! I am impressed by all the details. I really missed discovering new cultures since the Covid,” enthuses Nick, a 29-year-old Londoner who is visiting Marrakech for the first time.
The city center is gradually reviving the tempo of the crowd of vacationers.
They also rush to visit the Majorelle Garden and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, emblematic and very popular high places of Marrakech.
“The museum was a must!”, say Tommy and Coco, two young Chinese living in Germany. “We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to travel again and so far we’ve been won over.”