Who hasn't taken an ALSA bus? That company that started in Asturias, which gradually developed, was a pioneer - one of the first Spanish companies to work in China - and was also one of the companies that was successful in Morocco. ALSA is 100 years old and in the North African country it is 25 years old. Alberto Pérez, General Manager of ALSA in Morocco, tells us at the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) what this period in the country has been like.
You have experienced ALSA's 25 years in Morocco first-hand, tell us now what can we celebrate about this period?
Yes, I have experienced the history and the implementation of ALSA in Morocco from the very beginning. I arrived in 1999 and I have been an active part of this development, but above all I have witnessed the important change that has taken place in Morocco, a fantastic country for doing business, where we have done very well and we are very happy.
I believe that our evolution in Morocco is a success story. It is a story of long-term work, of commitment to the country, of trying to create value and not going for quick deals where we invest a lot. It is a story of a service provided by Moroccans for Moroccans. We don't export anything, we provide a service for the country's own population.
It has been an evolutionary process. Right now we are established in Marrakech, Agadir, Tangier, Casablanca and Rabat, which are the five largest cities in Morocco, and also in Jouribga, which is a small city, for what Morocco is, of about 200,000 inhabitants. In total in six cities with 6,000 employees and operating 1,700 buses.
These buses worked by Moroccans, men and women?
Absolutely, men and women. We are working hard on the diversity aspects, making important efforts to integrate women in positions that have traditionally been relegated to men, such as driving or maintenance. Last year we launched a plan to hire 100 women drivers in Casablanca and we have succeeded. We have paid for these women's driving licences, we have paid for their training and fortunately, little by little, we are integrating women a little more. In short, of the 6,000 employees we have in Morocco, all but a dozen are local, Moroccans, to whom we offer a professional career both in Morocco and in Spain.
Could these drivers drive a bus in Spain?
Yes, they could. Perhaps, because of the environment in which they have worked, they have received much more training than the drivers in Spain, especially in terms of safety, which has been a much more important challenge. They are very well-trained drivers. We are now trying to resolve the administrative problems, but we want to carry out a test to open up this route so that the drivers from Morocco can continue their professional career in Spain, opening the doors of the company for professional promotion.
When I saw the ALSA buses in Tangiers or Marrakech, I was struck by the fact that they were the latest generation buses.
That's true. Since we arrived in 1999, we have been an innovative company. We introduced in Morocco everything from ticketing monetisation to GPS and ticketing applications. We are true pioneers in fleet technology. All the new transport technologies that are integrated into buses are applied in Morocco in the same way. To speak of the last city in which we are implementing in 2019, Casablanca, it has nothing to envy to any European city in terms of quality of buses, service or integrated technologies because it is at the same level.
Another fact that must be taken into account is the accident rate, which is very low, according to the data we have seen.
In terms of the accident rate, a lot of efforts have been made in terms of training and vehicle equipment, but the environment is more complicated in Morocco than in Europe, and that is why I reiterate that drivers receive much more training. The successes in terms of safety are very important, in the last 10 years we have reduced the accident rate by 85%, which is brutal.
When dealing with the Moroccan authorities, what is the bureaucratic process like?
I think what you need is a value proposition that is interesting. In our experience, you have to have a win-win proposition: they must have a need for you and what you bring is your competitive advantage over other options. When that is the case, the authority is the first interested in facilitating the way because the sooner what you propose is in service, the better it is for them.
We have not had any major administrative problems. We often talk about the country risk of certain countries. I always say that after 24 years in Morocco, country risk does not exist. It has not been easy, especially because it takes time to understand how things are done in Morocco, but we have not encountered insurmountable obstacles, at least not different from those that can be found in Spain, Switzerland or Portugal.
How have you won people over?
By putting ourselves in their shoes. I think they are very grateful and hard-working staff, as soon as you give them incentives they give their all, they feel very identified with the company. As for the customer, he is also a very grateful customer who, when he sees that you are making an effort, he appreciates it and does so with loyalty. Today we have 300,000 customers and they are growing every year. That must be for a reason.
As for the other customer, who are the authorities, you are making a value proposal that solves real problems where there is a win-win agreement, where we all win: the staff, the customer, the authorities and we win as a company. I believe this is a winning proposition that constitutes our competitive advantage, that is defensible in the long term and that has ensured our success over the last 24 years.
In terms of mobility and safety, what has ALSA's contribution been?
As far as safety is concerned, we have made a great effort internally: training, processes, technological resources, but we reached a point where we saw that we could change the company as we wished, but we could not change the environment.
The mentalisation of people and the awareness of the importance of safety, which in the end is human lives, did not take hold because we did not act on it. At a certain point we started to establish an action plan that was focused on changing that mentality. We started to carry out actions in schools and we created a road safety school in Marrakech in which we train 30,000 public school students a year. We took an age group, 12 years old, and every year all the public schools in Marrakech go through this school, where there are electric karts and a circuit similar to what the DGT used to do many years ago in Spain.
With this we manage to train not only 30,000 children, because in 10 years you have trained 300,000 thousand, but in the process you have also trained their parents and everyone starts to become aware of safety. In 10 years you end up training 1,200,000 people, which is the population of Marrakech. It is a long-term challenge with an indirect effect, but it is of great value for road safety.
The concept that ALSA is applying is broader and more social. Is it an investment?
That is, I believe that for a foreign company to operate in a public service as exposed to public opinion as public transport is, in addition to having a quality of service that is much higher than the existing average, you have to be involved in the socio-economic fabric of the country, understand the culture, understand the needs and align yourself with the strategic vision of the country. In that sense, continue to provide solutions that allow you to pursue your development strategy.
Do political crises affect private business activity?
In these 24 or 25 years we have lived through all the political crises: the Casablanca attacks, Perejil, a government of one party, a government of another, and the truth is that we have never been used by any side as a hostage for anything. When we had the right to a certain claim, they have always granted it to us, and also the opposite, they have denied us things that they did not have the right to. I believe that in Morocco they know very well how to separate economic relations from political relations, and a private company often has nothing to do with the differences between the governments of two countries.