The large Spanish hotel companies have put Morocco in the spotlight. Large chains such as Barceló, Riu, Iberostar and Meliá have chosen the North African country in recent years to continue growing in the face of high competition in Europe, Asia and America, and take advantage of the tourism boom in Morocco, which hopes to break its tourist record this year. foreign. These four companies now have 18 operating hotels and plan to continue growing in that market.
Morocco is presented as a stable destination, both from a political and social point of view, compared to other countries in the region, such as Tunisia or Egypt. In the first 11 months of 2023 (latest data available), it received 13.2 million tourists, exceeding the statistics recorded in the whole of 2019, before the pandemic, when it received 12.9 million travelers. And it expects to have closed 2023 with 14 million foreign visitors, according to estimates by the Ministry of Tourism, despite the earthquake that mainly affected Marrakech and the High Atlas, the most touristy part of the country. The catastrophe, the second largest earthquake in its history, left almost 3,000 dead and 300,000 homeless. However, it has not significantly caused reservation cancellations. The figure of 14 million is far from the 83 million travelers with which Spain expects to have closed the year, but it represents a very attractive market with growth potential for hotel companies.
One of the companies that is betting the hardest is Barceló. The Mallorcan family group has eight hotels managed in six cities – Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Tangier, Fez and Agadir – with more than 1,600 rooms and 1,200 direct jobs. Company sources explain that they landed in the country in 2006 and hope to incorporate new hotels, mainly 4 and 5 stars, both in the vacation and urban segments.
Its latest operation is very recent: in October the group announced an investment of more than 80 million euros in the acquisition and subsequent renovation of two five-star hotels in Casablanca and Rabat, until then operated by the Farah brand. “We are a family business that seeks to have a balance between ownership, management and rental. We look for solidity, long-term investments, with our vision set on permanence and not on maximizing investment in the short term. That is why, in certain destinations where we prefer to buy hotels, growth is slower,” they explain in Barceló.
As for Riu, it landed in 2002 with the Moroccan group Tikida as a partner. Together they opened two first hotels in the town of Agadir, which currently continue to operate alongside the Riu Palace Tikida Agadir. In addition, they have two more establishments in Marrakech and another in Taghazout. “These six hotels are the result of a strong alliance that lasts more than 20 years,” the company explains.
In 2023, Riu had a “very positive” level of reservations and occupancy, with an occupancy rate of more than 87%, above 2019, despite the earthquake suffered in Marrakech in September. The forecasts for the beginning of 2024 are along the same lines and expect to receive new travelers thanks to the opening of new airlines, particularly those from the Baltic countries and Italian ones.
They are also optimistic at Iberostar. The hotel chain currently has three hotels in Morocco, with 1,273 rooms. The company states that it has recorded a very positive evolution of this destination since the end of the pandemic: it expects to close 2023 with an upward result and its forecasts for 2024 also point to an upward trend. “We identify even more growth potential due to an increase in demand, especially in source markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France,” they explain. “We observe a determined commitment to the tourism sector in the country, with effective measures to encourage the tourism industry and the end customer to bet on Morocco.”
For its part, Meliá has a hotel, in Marrakech, with good forecasts also for 2024. The Mallorcan chain is looking for opportunities in the country and, although it does not have any closed projects, company sources affirm that there are several projects on the table that they are evaluating. “Our will is to grow in the country,” they say. Not only large chains are present in Morocco. For example, the Inveravante group, owned by the Jove family, has five hotels in Tangier and Casablanca operated by Four Seasons, Pestana and Hilton.
The tourists who come to Morocco are mainly European, 70% of the total, especially from France and Spain. But the influx of other countries is growing, such as Israel, which in 2020 established diplomatic relations with Rabat and agreed to introduce direct flights. The boost that the Moroccan Government wants to give to tourism is proving key, according to the companies. The Management Deposit Fund is the public body that allocates part of its investment to hotels, while the Moroccan National Tourism Office is undertaking several actions to support the tourism industry with subsidies granted to several airlines to strengthen connections domestically. and international. In addition, investments are being made to renovate some historic places.
The ambitions of Spanish companies in Africa go beyond Morocco. In the last two years, Barceló has opened new hotels, both in North Africa and the Middle East. Currently, the family chain manages 20 hotels in five countries: in addition to Morocco, in Tunisia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. And it plans to continue growing in this geographical area, with possible projects in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Riu has also made a strong commitment to Africa. In 2022 it opened its first hotel in Senegal and hopes to open more, as happened in other destinations on that continent, such as Cape Verde. In addition, this past 2023 it presented its second hotel in Zanzibar. Currently, it has a total of 15 hotels in Africa: six in Morocco, two in Tanzania, one in Senegal and six in Cape Verde. For its part, Iberostar has six hotels in Tunisia, while Meliá has another three in Tanzania.
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