Morocco expects European holidaymakers to lead an 8 percent rise in tourist arrivals in 2014, as it looks to China and Turkey to help drive further growth in the second-biggest sector of its economy.

“We expect tourism receipts to increase by 4 percent,” Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said in a telephone interview from his office in Rabat. “We will provide incentives to local hoteliers to help them resist wild price cuts they had imposed on them because of the economic crisis in the euro zone.”

To guarantee future growth of an industry that plays a key role in shoring up national income, Morocco plans to establish direct flights with China in 2015, Haddad said. Boosting arrivals from Turkey and Brazil is also on its radar, he said.

Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of Morocco’s $105 billion economy, second to the agricultural sector, and employs 400,000 people. Last year, tourist arrivals rose 7 percent, though visitors spent less than in previous years — receipts rose by only 0.5 percent to about 58 billion dirhams ($7 billion).

Morocco was relatively untouched by the uprisings that swept through the region in 2011 and battered tourism in Tunisia and Egypt. Airlines and tour operators see Morocco as a “a secure destination,” Haddad said.

The tourism ministry is leading talks with British Airways, Lufthansa, Ryanair, EasyJet, Transavia and Air Berlin to open routes to cities other than the two main destinations of Marrakesh and Agadir, he said. Fes, Tangier, Ouarzazate and Errachidia are cities he cited.

Tax Anger

The minister faced anger from local industry operators and legislators after the cash-tight government imposed a new tax of $12 per economy-class passenger in 2014. The levy also angered Ryanair, which had threatened to scale down its Morocco operations before announcing this month plans to start flights between London’s Stansted airport and the capital, Rabat.

“Ryanair’s announcement this month shows that the new tax is not hurting,” Haddad said.

Funds from the tax will be used to step up the promotion of Morocco abroad, including in non-traditional markets. State-run carrier Royal Air Maroc started direct flights to Sao Paulo in Brazil in December.

“Turkey is an important market for us because it’s an emerging economy and there are direct flights each week between the two countries,” said Haddad, adding that ONMT, a state-run agency promoting Morocco overseas, may open a branch in Turkey this year.

China’s Foreign Minister in December formally invited King Mohammed to visit and forge a strategic partnership. The two countries plan to lift visa requirements for travel.

Editors: Caroline Alexander, Mark Williams. To contact the reporter on this story: Souhail Karam in Rabat at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at 

Photo Credit: Tourists in Morocco in 2009. Magharebia / Flickr