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Thursday 30 August 2018

New York Times : As More Tourists Flock to Morocco, Marrakesh is Reinventing Itself with Luxury Hotels and Resorts to Attract its Share

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New York Times : As More Tourists Flock to Morocco, Marrakesh is Reinventing Itself with Luxury Hotels and Resorts to Attract its Share

As more tourists flock to Morocco, Marrakesh is reinventing itself with luxury hotels and resorts to attract its share, US daily "The New York Times" pointed out in article published on Wednesday.

One of the first stops for visitors to this city is the medina, the cacophonous mazelike Arab quarter of the city, bustling with snake charmers, henna artists and shopkeepers selling spices, pottery and textiles, the paper said.

Lately, Marrakesh is also abuzz with more modern sounds: the hum of construction vehicles building a flurry of luxury hotels and resorts to accommodate a growing wave of tourists, it added.

Marrakesh has long been a weekend getaway for well-heeled Moroccans from Casablanca and Rabat, the nation’s capital, the US paper said, noting that a surge of wealthy international visitors is helping charge the high-end construction boom and bringing global attention to the “Red City,” as it is named because of its rose-colored buildings.

In early August, the singer Madonna celebrated her 60th birthday in Marrakesh and documented the festivities on Twitter, the source said.

More than 11 million people visited Morocco in 2017, an increase of 10 percent over the previous year, according to the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism. The number of American visitors has increased at an even quicker pace. Last year, more than 254,000 Americans visited the North African country, a rise of 29 percent over 2016 and 81 percent over 2012.

More flights, an easing of visa regulations and a concerted effort by the Kingdom of Morocco to modernize infrastructure and improve safety have all played a part, the paper said, adding that as more visitors come to Morocco, Marrakesh is reinventing itself to lure its share of tourists, who stay an average of three nights.

“One of the main challenges of the tourism sector in Marrakesh is increasing the length of stay,” said Alexis Reynaud, an editorial manager at the Oxford Business Group, a research and consulting firm. “New high-end resorts and hotels are starting to offer much more than just luxury lodging to encourage people to stay longer.”

Leading the pack among these new ventures is M Avenue, a $100 million multiuse project known as Garden Avenue because it will include nearly 108,000 square feet of gardens and landscaped areas alongside about 183,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries.

Lodging will include a 168-room hotel from the Portuguese hotelier Pestana and 88 private residences from the Four Seasons.

“We are trying to create a new city center,” said Nabil Slitine, the chief executive of M Avenue Development, who in 2011 helped open the Four Seasons Resort, one of the first international hotels in the city.

Paul White, president of residential for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said he wanted to increase the company’s footprint in Marrakesh. M Avenue, which is near the airport and the Palais des Congrès conference center, offers “access to the sights of the city, including the medina and Menara gardens, while also acting as a convenient takeoff point to venture into the surrounding region, including the Atlas Mountains,” he said.

Nearby, a W hotel is under construction, a Ritz-Carlton hotel is slated to open in 2022, and a Park Hyatt hotel is being built amid a $450 million urban golf and retail complex known as Marrakech Golf City, set to open in 2024.

The government has made a big push to promote the country and Marrakesh in particular, it said, noting that the government has also modernized infrastructure, including the construction of a new central train station in 2008. In late 2016, a new terminal was added to the international airport in Marrakesh.

Business visitors are also coming in larger numbers, thanks to more international conferences such as the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties, or COP22, a climate change meeting in 2016.

The easing of visa regulations for specific countries has also bolstered tourism. In June 2016, Morocco exempted Chinese nationals from visa requirements. In 2017, 118,000 visitors came from China, a 1,022 percent increase from 2015.

To take advantage, Marrakesh is ramping up its offerings. Visitors already flock to the city to explore the many secret gardens, to unwind in the traditional Moroccan steam baths called hammams and to wander the souks. These marketplaces, full of shops lining alleys and narrow streets, sell a wide variety of products, like ornate Berber carpets, hand-painted tagines, and dates, nuts and other fruits, it said.

Marrakesh is also fashioning itself as a contemporary art destination. The French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent famously started spending time in Marrakesh in the 1960s, and in late 2017, an Yves Saint Laurent museum opened near one of the designer’s former residences near the Majorelle Garden. Designed by the French painter Jacques Majorelle, the 2.5 acres of gardens contain hundreds of species of plants, landscaped streams and pools, and bright cobalt blue buildings, making it one of Marrakesh’s biggest tourist draws.

“High-end museums and art help attract wealthier travellers,” Reynaud of the Oxford Business Group said. “Tourists can visit galleries and also buy art at reasonable prices compared to London, New York and Paris.”

MAP 29 August 2018