Tourism industry struggles in Morocco after quake

The earthquake has had a devastating impact on tourism and Education For All, a nonprofit that provides boarding and support to enable girls from the most distant settlements in the region to attend school. The organization is located just a short distance away in Asni. Sonia Omar, who serves as the company’s chief executive, has stated that it will be necessary to reconstruct at least five of the six boarding homes.

As our group huddled in the streets outside of the medina in Fez, waiting for aftershocks till the early morning hours, our tour guide Sara Chakir assured us, “My family is safe.” The 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Morocco on Friday impacted the Al Haouz region of the High Atlas mountains just after 11 o’clock at night. This location is around 350 miles distant. The force was sufficient to cause our riad to sway, yet there was no obvious damage to either the individuals or the area. It wasn’t until the morning when it became apparent how extensive the damage was elsewhere. An further tour guide by the name of Hossain ait Mhand added, “My family is fine, but others in their town are not so lucky – their homes have been flattened.”

I was on my way to a seminar in Marrakech, which is around 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of where the epicenter of the earthquake was, but I decided to head back home instead. Those who were already in the city witnessed blood bank lines that wrapped around the city streets in response to a call out issued by the authorities. The Medina of Marrakech sustained damage, and it was reported that fifty individuals lost their lives in that area. A stream of tourists eventually left the city.

After three days, the death toll had nearly reached 3,000, while the number of those injured had surpassed 5,000. Some of Morocco’s most isolated towns were among the most severely affected, making it more challenging to begin the rehabilitation process. In some of the towns, residents are still awaiting aid, while in others, rescue workers have little hope because the historic clay buildings have completely collapsed. For example, out of the village of Tafeghaghte’s total population of 400, only 90 people remain.

Despite the fact that the Al Haouz region is becoming increasingly popular as we go closer to the high season for hiking, visitors have reported few problems.

Chris McHugo, who is a co-owner of the hotel Kasbah du Toubkal, which is run by the community, stated that “Here in Imlil, the damage is less than in other places.” It’s also due to the fact that money from tourism has been used to pay construction projects, making this village more structurally solid than others. The older section of our kasbah has sustained damage, but the rooms themselves have been spared.

Some people have not been as lucky as others. Chez Momo II, a stunning lodge that is locally owned and operated and which I had the pleasure of staying at the previous year when I was in Agnie, has sustained significant damage.

According to what she had to say, “Our immediate need is confirming the safety of our girls and cooperating with aid agencies to get food, water, blankets, torches, and medical supplies to where they are most needed.” There are now 55 girls who have not been located. The charitable organization has initiated urgent fund raising efforts with the goal of making long-term repairs.

The first three months of 2023 saw a record number of international tourists arrive in Morocco: 2.9 million to be exact. The tourism sector has been quick to show its support for this achievement. The Intrepid Foundation, which is managed by the adventure travel company Intrepid Travel and which brings groups to sites all across the country, is currently doing fundraising efforts for its two non-governmental organization (NGO) partners working on the ground. These partners are the High Atlas Foundation, which is providing urgent relief, and Education For All, which is providing long-term relief. The latter typically runs initiatives that involve sustainable infrastructure, so it is in an excellent position to redeploy services. Intrepid has been able to raise a total of AUS$340,582 (about £176,620) so far after the fund matched the first AUS$100,000.

Much Better Adventures has decided to give the High Atlas Foundation 5% of the company’s income for the month of September. Exodus Adventure Travels has begun fundraising for React’s catastrophe response, and the Morocco Earthquake Relief Fund established by Global Giving is contributing to the assistance of urgent needs. This past week, the Conscious Travel Foundation held a fundraiser in London to garner assistance from the travel industry. At the event, they raised ten thousand pounds and explored the most effective ways to respond to calamities of this nature.

Even if the tourism industry as a whole is still trying to encourage people to take trips, the Foreign Office recommends that those who are going to Morocco in the near future check in with travel agencies and tour operators before they leave.

Itineraries that include the Atlas highlands region have been modified by Intrepid, and other tour companies are following suit and making similar changes. The idea that continuing to travel ethically is a crucial aspect of support is becoming increasingly evident, as it is being communicated by tour guides, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and travel enterprises.

“Our message is strong,” said Gail Leonard, a representative from the local operator Plan-it Morocco. “The ongoing relief effort here in Morocco is dependent on the tourism revenue that you can provide.”

Jarrod Kyte, the product and sustainability director at Steppes Travel, who was in the mountains when the earthquake struck and shares our sentiments, says the same thing. My friend Steppes, who works as a partner at the Hotel Dar Ahlam in Skoura, told me that “beyond the aid that is being provided, tourist arrivals constitute a message of hope and support that is just as necessary and vital for Morocco.”

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