As a country with 100 million annual beach visitors, nine delicate UNESCO world heritage sites and aspirations to double tourism, Morocco faces sustainable tourism challenges. These include rising
seas levels, extreme weather events and a desire to improve the quality of life for its lower income
population. The collision between such difference forces of Climate Change, population growth and
economic development was the backdrop for the Envirocities 2016 Coastal Cities Conference* held in
Rabat 24 and 25 October.
These challenges highlighted the need for capacity building, community involvement and integration
of government legislation. It also clearly put into perspective the difficulties of applying an Integrated
Coastal Zone Management system when the vision tourism is one of massification of coastal
development to replicate other destinations (e.g. Miami) rather than developing a more sustainable
approach. On the one hand you have the push for action of Climate Change and on the other the pull
for economic growth and job creation.
The Moroccan Minister for the Environment, Water and Mining, Dr. Hakima El Haite, told the audience
of over 300 local government officials and mayors from across Morocco, that “climate change is the
biggest challenge mankind has ever faced” and then went on to say this in her unscripted speech:
“Do not be surprised that tomorrow you will hear that 1 million people will die through flooding or
coastal storms. Everything has to change. We all have to change. The world of tomorrow will not be
like the world of today. Following the COP meeting in Marrakech ** the Moroccan government will
also be hearing from all the mayors what they plan to do to reduce emissions in their communities
from transport to waste.” The audience gave loud applause which echoed their earlier push for action
during question time during the course of the conference. Everyone appeared to agree and wished to
stimulate progressive change from this developing nation at the top of Africa. What is apparent is that
they need economic support to make this change. They have the will, but what is the vision.
What action beyond visitation goals should be taken to create sustainable tourism rather mass
tourism is unclear and perhaps ‘unseen’. As we move to the official UN International Year of
Sustainable Tourism for Development, 2017 requires an integration of Moroccan ministries’ Climate
Change policy to enable local government and communities to implement adaptation measures which
provide economic opportunities for communities from tourism. To guide sustainable tourism
development a plan is required to use the resources at hand and in a scale that does not make the
urban and environmental mistakes of other coastal destinations and so exacerbate Climate Change.
Morocco has supported sustainable tourism initiatives for seven years (e.g. awards programmes)
but what integrated solutions actually might look like at a destination level though is more complex for
any country. As guidance I strongly advocated that they reflect on their cultural heritage and religion
to guide their way to be innovative. While signature nations of COP22 will commit to emissions and
temperature targets, how we achieve them must reflect our different geography, climates and
cultures, just as these factors have created such a richly diverse world. Reflecting on past ways of life
can show us the way forward; and such new approaches ought to be unique to where we live.
Likewise integrating sustainable supply chains must also be scaled to what the fragile earth can feed
and should be a key mediating factor in development planning, particularly for energy and water
This of course is easier said than done. The scale of the challenges should in no way be underestimated, particularly if one communicates an approach that appears to contradict the
stereotypical first world nation economic model which, until now, most appear to still have full
confidence in. I framed my argument as sustainability-oriented innovation showcasing examples and thus sharing a vision which progressively harmonies process, organisation and product in a more sustainable way.
In summary the vision might include:
- quality nor quantity approach to visitor numbers and spread visitation across the year
- the scattering of tourism accommodation across the country rather than dense enclaves
- linking renewable water and energy to these low density tourism sites
- constructing accommodation which reflects the cultural heritage and traditional building design to
moderate climate conditions
- efficient public transport linkage between locations
- involve visitors in responsible food, water, energy and waste consumption levels that respect the
land and people
- furnish accommodation with traditional arts and crafts and link accommodation with retailers/sellers
- invest in water efficient agriculture and marine fish farms
- train community guides and promote responsible tourism opportunities of authentic community
- charge international visitors entry to heritage sites with funds used for conservation and local
*The Envirocities Conference, organised and supported by the Environmental Centre for Arab
Towns, was a thought provoking two day event which brought together climate, ocean and biological
scientists with valuable examples from the Arabian Gulf (Dr Marouane Temimi) and Red Sea (Dr
Salim Al-Moghrabi), together with insights on how Morocco could protect its coastal marine waters
and benefit from fisheries for local economies (Eng. Ayet Lahsan).
**UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – Conference of Partners – progressing from
Copenhagen and Paris.
Note: Morocco is pushing for renewable energy in world’s largest solar power project.