RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Spared the violence and instability of its North African neighbors, Morocco is looking to lure even more tourists to its beaches, cities and mountains to make up for those kept home by Europe's economic crisis.
Morocco hasn't had anywhere near the catastrophic drop in tourism experienced by once-popular destinations such as Egypt and Tunisia, both of which are going through chaotic and at times violent post-revolutionary phases. Still, Morocco's numbers are flagging, Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.
More than half of Morocco's 9.3 million visitors in 2011 were French or Spanish, but those groups arrived in smaller numbers that before and stayed fewer nights due to financial crises in their nations. To offset those losses, Haddad said Morocco wants to attract more visitors from Britain, Germany and Saudi Arabia.
The challenge for Morocco will be to distinguish itself from its more unstable neighbors.
"A lot of people put Morocco in the same basket as the other countries even though Morocco has known a different road in terms of political reform," the tourism chief said. "It has required a lot of communication in order to put Morocco in a different light than what has been reported in some media."
Morocco experienced pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 much like the rest of the region, but these largely died away after the king pushed through constitutional reforms and an opposition party won elections. Still, Morocco's once booming tourism sector has dragged, with arrivals growing just 1 percent in 2011 while the nights they stayed in hotels — a key indicator of revenue — dropped 6 percent.