CASABLANCA, (Reuters) – Morocco’s tourism industry “is in good health” despite the global economic crisis, with tourist arrivals expected to reach a record 7.9 million this year, a government minister said on Tuesday.
The tourism sector is Morocco’s primary foreign currency earner and main employer after labour-intensive agriculture and the textile industry.
It is also the country’s main attraction for foreign investment, with high-profile real estate and tourism projects financed by Arab Gulf investors worth some $20 billion.
Analysts and people in the tourism industry fear that a slowdown in tourism caused by economic recession in Europe and elsewhere might derail Morocco’s ambitious plan to develop its tourism industry.
“Tourism is in good health. The tourism industry would remain the main foreign currency earner and main receiver of foreign investment,” Tourism Minister Mohamed Boussaid told reporters.
Boussaid said Morocco expects the number of foreign vacationers to hit 7.9 million this year, 7 percent higher than in 2007 when the number of tourist arrivals reached a record.
But he said tourism revenue would be almost the same in 2008 as it was the previous year when earnings stood at 59 billion dirhams ($7.33 billion), 12 percent more than in 2006.
“I have no explanation why the number of tourists would increase by 7 percent this year while revenue would be flat. It is a riddle for me and for the government,” he said.
The government plans to increase the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 10 million in 2010.
“During crisis tourists turn to destinations close to their homes.” Boussaid said. “Morocco is close to Europe which accounts for 46 percent of the total number of tourists in the world, which is estimated at 900 million.”