Sino-Moroccan Bilateral Relations: Tapping into China’s Emerging Tourist Market

Published on 22nd October 2019

In early September, 2019 the Moroccan National Tourist Office, signed an agreement with the China Digital Travel Agency (Ctrip), to promote the Moroccan market in China. The 3-year agreement was widely welcomed because it offers opportunities to boost the flow of Chinese tourists to Morocco. The government’s target is to elevate Morocco to one of the top 20 global tourist destinations by 2020.

China’s relations with Morocco date back over 60 years. After France and Spain, China is Morocco’s third largest trade partner, with bilateral trade between them in 2017 totaling US$ 3.8 billion. China’s interests in Morocco include investments housed in the Kenitra Atlantic Free Zone, Casablanca Finance City, and the Tanger Med Port Complex. In addition, China’s Communications Construction Company and China Road and Bridge Cooperation have signed an MoU with Morocco’s BMCE Bank to construct the “Mohammed VI Tangier Tech City,” which is expected include several industrial zones. On the back of the impending Tech City, there are likewise Chinese auto manufacturing companies that have signed agreements with the Moroccan government to build various manufacturing plants.

Over six decades ago, Morocco was amongst the first African countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China. In 2017, Morocco was the first country in the Maghreb (the five North Africa countries comprising Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia, and Morocco) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the promotion of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The ties between these two countries run deep and the cooperation between the two countries has been heralded as designed for mutual benefit and common development. Indeed, Morocco’s strategic location props it up for China’s engagement with the Middle East, Africa, and the Mediterranean regions – a core component of the BRI agenda. At the same time Morocco’s development priorities in industrialization, infrastructure development and increased foreign direct investment intersect with the BRI’s aim of promoting connectivity and economic development in: policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, increased trade, financial integration, and people-to-people exchanges. Under BRI, China has committed to encourage its industrial enterprises to invest in Morocco in the automotive, textile and clothing, electrical goods, aviation, agro-industry, mining and renewable energy sectors with support from Chinese financial institutions.

Further, in line with FOCAC’s seventh pillar on people to people exchange, China and Morocco are actively exploring tourism cooperation. Under FOCAC, China committed to expand China-Africa tourism cooperation and expand two-way tourism exchanges. In this regard, Morocco is one of the qualifying African countries invited to apply for destinations for Chinese overseas tour groups. At the same time, Morocco gets invited to tourism exhibitions and festival celebrations held in China. Local governments and tourism companies in China and in Morocco are therefore encouraged to carry out more dialogue, cooperation and personnel exchanges and expand mutual investment.

China has become the largest market for tourists in the world with its expansion of middle and upper classes. The per capita income of Chinese citizens has increased considerably as the country’s economy has become the second-largest in the world. According to the China Tourism Academy, it is estimated that spending by Chinese tourists abroad will total about $429 billion annually by 2021. Morocco’s relative political stability, its top ranking in North Africa in the 2019 Ease of Doing Business and its easier visa requirements in relation to Chinese nationals have served to increase the flow of tourists from China to Morocco. At the China-Morocco Tourism Forum in Casablanca in February this year, Morocco's tourism minister Mohammed Sajid announced that Morocco has a target of 500,000 tourists per year by the year 2020. It is towards this goal that in 2016, Morocco went ahead to adopt a visa exemption policy for Chinese tourists. The exemption saw a rise in tourists from 20,000 to about 118,000.

Through the people-to-people exchange platform, China and Morocco are able to drive up cultural understanding and economic opportunities. China has an ongoing five-year tourism program aimed at advancing exchange and cooperation with Africa in areas such as culture, tourism and trade, as well as tourists to participating countries such as Morocco. It is noteworthy that a 2018 report titled “Sovereigns - Africa, Closer Trade and Investment Ties With China” by the ratings agency Moody's, counted Morocco amongst 10 African countries most likely to benefit from increased numbers of visitors from China. Morocco’s offerings include: Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, deserts, snowcapped mountains and ancient cities. The increase in Chinese tourists has partly facilitated the growth of Chinese restaurant numbers in Morocco as well as increased employment opportunities in the tourism industry. The deep running ties between China and Morocco and the intentional growth of bilateral relations between the two countries, magnifies the significance of the tourism cooperation MOU to this shared agenda.

By George Nyongesa

The author is a Senior Associate at Africa Policy Institute (Nairobi, Kenya)

Email: Twitter: GeorgeNyongesa

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