The 10th MediTour 2023 Mediterranean Tourism Forum was held in Fez, the ideal setting for the event. The tourism sector is of vital importance for Morocco and for the Mediterranean region in general, and cooperation between the various countries and institutions is vital for the further development of tourism in the area.
Hamza Ben Abdellah, president of the Chamber of Industry, Commerce and Services of the Fez-Meknes region in Morocco spoke to Atalayar to assess the state of the tourism sector in Morocco and the Mediterranean region and to discuss the MediTour 2023 Mediterranean Tourism Forum in Fez.
Hamza Ben Abdellah, President of the Chamber of Industry, Commerce and Services of the Fez-Meknes region, first of all, congratulations for organising such an interesting forum on Mediterranean tourism. What are your main objectives for this forum?
Thank you for attending and covering this event. This is the 10th edition of the Mediterranean Tourism Forum MediTour 2023. The aim is to bring together tour operators from the Mediterranean basin, as well as institutional actors, mainly chambers of commerce, to discuss practices used on both sides in tourism development, so that we can exchange ideas and increase the attractiveness of our region.
Today, the Mediterranean basin hosts about one third of the world's tourists. These tourists come for the sea and the good weather, but also for the culture and the hinterland. Through the themes we address in this forum, we want to exchange experiences between the 23 countries that make up the Mediterranean basin, so that we can all benefit from each other's experiences, in order to further boost tourism, to make it more sustainable, more environmentally friendly and healthier for the future of generations to come.
Is there a need for investment cooperation, as well as cooperation by all Mediterranean countries, without competing, being partners working together to increase Mediterranean tourism?
Indeed, cooperation is essential, and the best example is the organisation of the 2030 World Cup by Morocco, Spain and Portugal, which shows that, in order to attract international events, working as a group is essential. Working together can be a great way to make events a success.
We are also thinking and trying to work with our Spanish and Portuguese compatriots to try to develop an Andalusian circuit, a circuit so that foreign tourists coming from far away, Americans or Asians, can discover when they come to our region the Andalusian culture, so that they get to know it through Morocco, but also through Spain and Portugal. Today there is a lot in common between the countries of the Mediterranean, and working together, setting up projects together, learning and exchanging can help us all to go further.
Sustainable, ecological and sports tourism. You spoke about football, about the World Cup. Now the European Union is asking for the removal of rubber from artificial turf football pitches because it is toxic. Tourism must give an answer to people and tourism that sustainable tourism can be achieved as well as sustainable sport in the regions of Morocco and any other Mediterranean country.
As far as Morocco is concerned, the government has put in place significant resources to encourage the development of sustainable tourism, both to encourage hotels to install solar systems for electricity and hot water supply, which are now subsidised in Morocco, and to reuse waste water. For example, Fez is implementing a major wastewater reuse system to irrigate the region's gulfs. This could be a model example. There are many other examples, and we talked about them during the forum.
Turkey, in particular, is doing excellent work on sustainable development in the field of tourism. One of the objectives is to exchange these experiences. Another is to promote culture. If we do not manage to develop culture, but in a sustainable way, we are going to wipe out the whole heritage. Today, the role of all of us is to be able to achieve this development while ensuring that this development can be passed on to future generations. To achieve this, we need sustainable development.
We are very interested in cooperation with Spain, such as connecting flights to Malaga, which is a very beautiful, very smart and important city. What about these connecting flights? How does the cooperation work, as some people from Malaga have participated in the forum?
If I go back ten years ago, there were no flights between Fez and Spain. Today we have six Spanish cities with direct flights to Fez. What has changed by doing this is that there are more exchanges, more mutual visits, whether they are Moroccan tourists going to Spain or Spanish tourists coming to Morocco, even if it is just for a couple of days or a weekend.
This is what allows us to build bridges beyond tourism and to build bridges of civilisation. Bridges of civilisation have always existed between Spain and Morocco. We must not forget that Spain is Morocco's main economic partner. Morocco is one of Spain's main economic partners outside the European Union. The introduction of these direct flights and links further facilitates these exchanges. It is no secret that the future of tourism lies in point-to-point airlines. Because today's tourists are increasingly looking for short breaks, lots of short breaks, rather than long stays. And for many short breaks, tourists, whether Moroccan or Spanish, are looking to spend two or three days in another destination for a change of scenery, and they need these point-to-point flights to make the most of those days.
Are you worried about the international situation and the crises that may affect tourism in the Mediterranean?
Unfortunately, yes, there is no denying that what has been happening in the Middle East in recent weeks has affected tourism in the Mediterranean basin. Unfortunately, the figures for many Mediterranean countries have been affected by this crisis. We all hope that stability and peace will return to the region very soon. We do not need it. We are a region that has always been characterised by peace, stability and the exchange of cultures, civilisations and religions.
I believe that this exchange must continue, it must remain. This is what will guarantee the stability of tourism also in the Mediterranean region.
Finally, what would you say to Spanish people about why they should come to Fez-Meknes, what you offer them, what they will find here for a great holiday or business meetings?
We always say that Fez is an open-air museum. Fez is a cultural capital. It is the historical capital of Morocco. It is 12 centuries old. The largest medina in the world. The oldest medina in the world. The oldest university in the world still in operation. It is a Guinness record, it is the University al-Qarawiyy.
There is a lot of cultural heritage to discover. Our Spanish compatriots are more interested because much of this heritage comes from Andalusian culture. It is also an opportunity for them to discover the cultures of their ancestors. Because we have had a lot of history in common over the centuries. There are many similarities between the monuments of Fez and those of Seville, Granada and other Spanish cities. This exchange and these similarities make you always want to go and discover. It's like the continuation of a story. You start in your own country, but you continue in the other.
The gastronomy of Fez is one of the most renowned in Morocco. I advise our compatriots and our Spanish friends who want to visit the region to come for more than three days to have the opportunity to discover this gastronomy, to have time to walk around and to discover the different cultural sites. The largest museum of Islamic art in the world will soon open its doors in Fez. It will be ready in two months, just opposite the museum of Jewish art. This is just one example of the exchange of religions and cultures we have here. There is a lot to see, and I would like to welcome you all.