x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tourists lap up Casablanca dream

Casablanca expects a modest increase in tourists this year, despite the economic woes in Europe, as Gulf visitors drive spending in the city's hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Casablanca expects a modest increase in tourists this year, despite the economic woes in Europe, as Gulf visitors drive spending in the city's hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Said Mouhid, the director general of the Regional Council of Tourism in Casablanca, said the city now had the infrastructure, leisure facilities and hotels to attract more Gulf tourists. "We have a big part of the tourists coming from the Gulf and the Middle East in the summer because it's very hot and here they can have beautiful weather and all the facilities in Casablanca and shopping, entertainment and leisure," he said. "There is no brand that is not available in Casblanca, Dior, Gucci, any international brand." Mr Mouhid said the city was aiming to attract Gulf families who previously might have been put off by the lack of attractions for children and other activities.

"For a long time, we did not have enough infrastructure to really develop the market, because [Gulf tourists] want to come with the family and they need quality hotels," he said.

Casablanca is now investing heavily in infrastructure, building a 34km tram network around the city, as well as a huge marina development at a cost of 5 billion Moroccan dirhams (Dh2.08bn).

The redevelopment of the waterfront is set to include a new luxury hotel, a business-oriented hotel, a shopping mall, a business conference centre, an aquarium and luxury apartments. Mr Mouhid said the bomb attacks in Marrakech last year and the Arab Spring had not drastically affected the long-term trend of increasing numbers of tourists in the country.

"Tourism in Casablanca is going well. Since 2004 until now we have an average increase of about 8 to 12 per cent depending on the year," he said. "In 2011, we have a lower increase of about 4 per cent, but you can understand the reason," he added.

"There was a lot trouble in a lot of countries. Morocco had a decrease of 4 to 5 per cent, Casablanca stayed positive but just less than average." Mr Mouhid now expects growth in visitor numbers of 9 per cent this year, as the city heavily invests in its business services.

Like Dubai, Casablanca is developing a number of cities of expertise, such as Finance City, which is planned to be an offshore centre similar to the Dubai International Finance Centre.

There will also be a "city" dedicated to aerospace and automotive industries, one for technology and another for health and wellbeing.

rjones@thenational.ae