Morocco’s Tourism Minister said the decision by the African soccer authority to strip his country of hosting regional championships is a blessing.

CAF, the regional soccer body, said yesterday it won’t let Morocco host the Africa Cup of Nations, scheduled for Jan. 17 through Feb. 8, because Morocco had wanted to postpone the 16- team event by up to a year because of concerns about Ebola. The disease, which is spread through body fluids, has led to about 5,000 deaths, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“We were chuffed,” Tourism Minister Lahcen Haddad said in a phone interview from his office in Rabat today. “It strengthens our image on behalf of tour operators and the industry as a secure and safe destination. I applaud and support this. This was a good decision.”

Morocco was relatively untouched by the uprisings that swept through the region in 2011 and battered tourism in Tunisia and Egypt. The sector accounts for about 10 percent of Morocco’s $105 billion economy, second to agriculture, and employs 400,000 people. After a 7 percent rise in 2013, tourist arrivals were up only 2 percent by end September, while receipts rose 1.9 percent to about 45 billion dirhams ($5 million).

State-controlled airline Royal Air Maroc is one of two airlines still serving the three African countries most affected by the disease. Authorities stepped up screening and health control measures at Casablanca airport where some 300 passengers land each day from those countries. The World Health Organization said Nov. 7 it wasn’t advising governments to ban travel or trade, even from Ebola-affected countries.

The pan-Africa soccer competition wasn’t going to be a big draw anyway, according to Mohamed Abu Basha, an economist at EFG-Hermes, a Cairo-based investment bank.

It’s “not the FIFA World Cup where people come from across the board to attend it,” he said. “It is obviously a much smaller scale event with few tourists moving around to attend. Egypt organized it in 2006 and I can’t really see that it had much of a positive impact on the economy.”

CAF, Confederation Africaine de Football, is selecting new new hosts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Souhail Karam in Rabat at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tarek El-Tablawy at 

Photo Credit: A tourist with Berber tribesmen in Morocco. Jon Rawlinson / Flickr