Morocco is the latest destination impacted by a severe natural disaster, with tour operators needing to implement contingency plans to deal with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake.
The impact of Morocco’s deadly earthquake is still being assessed as emergency services continue rescue operations. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake has claimed more than 2,000 lives, and thousands more are injured, after the natural disaster struck about 50 miles outside of Marrakesh in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco on Friday.
Intrepid Travel, one of the largest tour operators in Morocco, said it had approximately 650 customers in the country when the earthquake struck.
The tour operator said all customers currently on tours, tour leaders, and staff in Morocco are accounted for. Departures scheduled until September 12 have been canceled to allow authorities to respond to the immediate disaster.
“Safety is always Intrepid’s number one priority – we’re relieved to have been able to account for all our customers and believe canceling upcoming tour departures is in the best interests of local communities right now,” said Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid’s managing director, EMEA, based in Morocco. “Our thoughts go out to everyone in Morocco who has been affected by this disaster, and we will do everything we can, including through the Intrepid Foundation, to support communities as they rebuild.”
Affected customers are being contacted and will be able to reschedule their trip or receive a refund. Intrepid’s tours will resume on September 13.
Intrepid Travel has also established a relief fund, the Morocco Earthquake Appeal, through its not-for-profit, the Intrepid Foundation, committing to match all donations up to $64,000 (AU$100,000). The emergency relief funds raised will support Education for All and the High Atlas Foundation, which work with local communities, said Bencheikh.
“Through this relief effort, we hope to give back to the country that has given so much to our travel community,” said Bencheikh.
Certain G Adventures Tours Canceled
Small group tour operator G Adventures, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, confirmed all travelers and staff we accounted for and safe in Morocco.
The company was canceling six tours to areas most impacted by the earthquake. A spokesperson confirmed that all other departures in Morocco are scheduled to run as planned, with minor modifications to trip itineraries to avoid affected areas.
Soumia Ait Bendawad, Regional Operations Manager Morocco & The Middle East, based in Marrakech, said G Adventures has halted tours to Mount Toubkal and is rerouting tours to Imlil and Ait Ben Haddou. “We are also offering alternative experiences in Marrakech to avoid the Medina, which has sadly been impacted by the earthquake.”
Bendawad said the immediate need was to keep the most impacted areas clear and let the emergency services fulfill their role. The company would assess when it is appropriate to resume trips, but it could not confirm a restart date for now.
“Bringing tourism income back to the affected areas will be vital to support the local communities, but only when it is appropriate. The other cities we visit are safe. For any travelers who wish to change their travel plans, we are helping them do so. This approach allows us to continue running our operations but still supports tourism in Morocco, which is essential in such times.”
“We are advising all guests to establish contact with their embassies to register their presence and will release more information as it becomes available. Our thoughts are with the Moroccan people at this time,” said Bendawad.
No Change in TUI Operations
While the TUI Group, headquartered in Germany, did not immediately confirm how many customers it had in Morroco, Europe’s largest tour operator confirmed it is continuing operations in Morocco, with the next planned TUI flight to Morocco on Monday, September 11.
“We are aware of and deeply saddened by the devastating earthquakes, which took place last night about 70km Southwest of Marrakesh. We can confirm that there has been no change in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advice, customers remain in their hotels, and flights are operating. We’ll closely monitor the situation and will keep customers informed of any relevant updates,” a TUI spokesperson said.
When asked why TUI was not canceling or putting any of its trips to Morocco on hold, the spokesperson said guest safety remained the “highest priority” as the company takes its guidance from government travel advisories.
“In Morocco, in particular, we are in contact with local authorities and partners and continue to assess the situation. Right now, we have no reports about injuries among TUI guests or colleagues, and neither about structural damage in hotels and resorts with TUI guests. Our TUI service teams are present in the hotels and (can) assist guests with any inquiries or questions they may have.”
UNESCO to Assist with Repair Plan
Tourism accounts for 8% of Morocco’s GDP, with the government stating in March this year that it intended to spend $580 million (6.1 billion dirhams) to attract 17.5 million tourists by 2026. This is more than double the 6.5 million visitors from last year. In 2019, Morocco had 13 million visitors.
Natural disasters like earthquakes can profoundly impact cultural heritage sites that are integral to multi-day tours to a destination like Morocco. As a UNESCO World Heritage site and well-known for its ancient mosques and palaces, Marrakech has yet to determine the full damage to its historical buildings.
Reuters reported an earth-and-stone mosque in the High Atlas mountains, built by a medieval dynasty that conquered North Africa and Spain, has been badly damaged.
The UN heritage organization has sent an assessment team to the Marrakech Medina and confirmed it would help Morocco draw up an inventory of damage to national heritage sites and a repair strategy. While unconfirmed, some reports indicate that most of the main historic sites in the old city appeared largely unscathed.
*This is a developing story. G Adventures confirmation of rerouted tours and impact to Marrakech’s Medina have been updated.