Interview by B. Chaou
Finances News Weekly: What aid is currently in place for the tourism sector and which branches are benefiting from it?
Nadia Fettah Alaoui: Morocco, under the Enlightened Vision of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, May God Help Him, put the health of citizens at the heart of its concerns in the aftermath of the pandemic. It was on this occasion that a fund dedicated to the Covid-19 crisis was created to support all employees, all sectors combined, and guarantee them income in the context of a slowdown in economic activity. The tourism sector, being a sector based on proximity, mobility and sharing, has been one of the most affected sectors and will be one of the last to return to its historical pre-crisis levels. Thus, a recovery plan was designed in partnership with public and private actors and resulted in the signing of a program contract in August 2020 for the support and revival of tourism between 2020 and 2022, and supplemented by an amendment. signed in January 2021.
This program contract provides for measures to preserve employment (flat-rate compensation for employees in the sector) from which operators of accommodation, travel distribution, tourist transport and catering benefit. In addition to measures to preserve employment, this program contract provides operators with cash flow support as well through probank drafts, moratoriums on loan maturities, and deferral of payment of social contributions. The recovery plan is not only a means of preserving jobs and the economic fabric, it is also a means of laying the foundations for a sustainable transformation of the tourism sector in anticipation of its post-Covid-19 crisis changes. This involves, in particular, projects relating to human capital, digitization and governance of the sector.
FNH: The successive suspension of air links, and most recently those with France and Spain, have had an impact on the tourism sector in Morocco. How much do you estimate these impacts in terms of revenues and jobs? And what measures have been taken in return to limit these effects on operators in the sector?
NFA: The tourism sector has always suffered external shocks, but the Covid-19 crisis is an unprecedented crisis due to its magnitude, but also due to the total lack of visibility that accompanies this pandemic. At the end of 2020, and in comparison with the levels for 2019, we estimate tourist arrivals at -79% and overnight stays at -72%. In terms of tourism revenue, the drop is estimated at -58%, a decrease that is mitigated thanks to the good performance of the first months of 2020 and the deferred revenue generated from certain services.
The Economic Watch Committee met on Friday, April 2, 2021 and decided, given the current conditions, to extend the support mechanisms granted to the tourism sector until June 2021. This decision is now a big boost. air both for tourist operators and for all employees of the tourism sector in Morocco. As a reminder, more than 54,000 employees benefit from the monthly lump sum allowance of 2,000 DH, more than 1,200 are beneficiaries of financing and guarantee products.
FNH: Tourism activity could also experience a sharp contraction during the month of Ramadan. What are the prospects for post-Ramadan recovery? And given this continuing global health situation, should Morocco rely more on domestic tourism? In this sense, have you thought of a device likely to boost internal tourism in the long term?
NFA: We are aware that international tourism activity will not resume at usual levels in the coming months, given the health developments relating to variants and the new restrictive measures imposed in several of our source markets. The period of the month of Ramadan has historically been a low season period for the activity touristic. Thus, we do not expect to achieve growing performance during this period. We have seen that domestic tourism is an important resilience factor for the industry. Mature destinations have succeeded in mitigating the impact of the crisis thanks to the weight of their internal tourism.
Thus, for this summer season, we will focus on the development of national tourism. A system is ready to be deployed in partnership with the territories, the ONMT and tourist operators, and will be put in place as soon as sanitary conditions allow. The development of internal tourism is a priority for the ministry, not only as a factor of short-term resilience, but also to make it a lever for long and medium-term development. A market study geared towards internal demand has been drawn up by the ministry in this regard and will ultimately make it possible to rethink the domestic tourist offer. In terms of international flows, the ministry has prepared a promotion plan for a rapid recovery of market shares upon recovery. Given the importance of reassuring both our partners and international tourists, we have started the process of labeling tourist accommodation establishments in Morocco, the Welcome Safely Label. This process has now started to bear fruit and more than 100 establishments are labeled, with a capacity of more than 26,000 beds.
FNH: More generally, will the lessons learned from this crisis lead to rethinking the national tourism offer to better address the future? If so, what are the levers you plan to activate?
NFA: If this crisis took the whole planet by surprise, the issues it reveals are nonetheless edifying:
• the need to reduce the weight of the informal sector and guarantee access to social coverage for all employees in the sector. Moreover, tourist guides now benefit from social protection within the framework of the program contract put in place;
• the need to intensify strategic international partnerships, by promoting cooperation and public-private partnership;
• the need to accelerate the digitization of business operating processes, user services and, in general, across the entire tourism value chain;
• the need to promote and encourage innovation and creation by young people for better employability and attractiveness of the tourism sector for young people with high potential.