Responsible tourism in Morocco

You will need to monitor your baggage allowance carefully when you travel to Morocco, as shopping is pretty much inevitable even for those of us who suffer from retail allergies. Morocco does also have a lot of baggage of its own, however, with many of its issues becoming almost more heightened due to the sudden and rapid growth of tourism over the last 20 years. Here are a few of what we consider the most pertinent issues to consider before traveling to Morocco.

People & culture

Morocco is a pretty liberal country when compared with some other Arab tourism destinations, but one thing that comes up again and again is the alleged corruption going on. Although this doesnít affect tourists on a daily basis, small independent tourism businesses committed to sustainable, ethical practices come up against this all the time.

Wheeling and dealing, haggling and bartering are all part of the Moroccan culture, but the Council of Europe confirmed that corruption is now one part of the Moroccan makeup that needs to be wiped off its tourism face forever. At a conference in Rabat in 2014, the Council urged Morocco to change its ways when it came to the proliferation of corruption and money laundering. Although the government has put procedures in place, such as the protection of whistle-blowers, progress is still slow, with only petty corruption cases being highlighted to date, and the potentially high profile practitioners of dodgy dealing remaining a murky area.

What you can do:
Support small independent businesses which may have struggled for tourism licences, planning permission and, sometimes, to appear on the national tourism marketing campaigns. There are a lot of passionate, ethically minded people in Morocco trying to promote their homeland to tourists, from Berber guides, to agricultural cooperatives and ecolodge hosts. Support them, spread the word, and show Morocco that fair play can win the day.

Culture & the environment

It has been like the Arab Spring of tourism in Morocco: a revolution of revellers as hordes of vacationmakers are dropped in by budget airlines. With 5.5 million visitors in 2005 and 13 million in 2019, the development of multinational golf, hotel and ski resorts has gone ballistic. All-inclusive resorts are a big feature of Agadir, and now also in Marrakech.

We have seen other destinations around the world crash and burn after such rapid growth, if the people who really need to benefit economically are being shut out of the development plans. Creating an inequitable and unfair distribution of wealth in a country that needs to spread its newfound tourism income far and wide is irresponsible tourism per se. Growing and developing to bring wealth, increased education and career opportunities for local people isnít.

As it is now, with the influx of multinational one-size-fits-all tourism, few local people are benefitting: not the vacationmakers nor the hosts. The streets and souks are more congested, the beaches are more polluted, land is becoming overpriced due to development potential, illegal activities more prolific, the natural resources such as water more depleted, and the local people more deflated. Indeed the political Arab Spring of 2011 included protests by Moroccan young people who were unhappy about unemployment, democracy and corruption.

The King responded by launching a comprehensive program of reforms, granting greater human and social rights and creating a more open system of governance. Letís hope this fairer, squarer approach filters through to tourism.

What you can do:
Rapid tourism development risks impacting heavily on the uniqueness of Morocco. Of course an organic change in culture is inevitable, and a responsible tourist canít expect Moroccans to preserve and pickle their traditions and lifestyles just for our enjoyment Ė especially when this development has the potential to break the poverty cycle for many people.

However, when tourism is imposed by outside sources, local people are more likely to lose sight of their heritage and get swamped by the generic tourism products that emanate from globalisation. By supporting small, sustainable businesses, we can remind Moroccans that we tourists do value their heritage and culture, and that a wonderful vacation is as much about the experience and cultural exchange as it is about growing tourism numbers.

Responsible tourism tips

You will want to take photographs everywhere you go in Morocco, the colours and culture are so vibrant. But remember to respect people, always ask permission, give them time to respond and thank them even if they decline. Also, in tourist hubs like Marrakech, people will often charge you to take their photos, such as the decorative water sellers, in which case do support this important source of income. Or just keep your lens cap on and enjoy the trip. Haggling is part of the game in Morocco, so you need to embrace it and join the fun. Trust your instincts and remember that most negotiations are just an economic exchange, not a way to trick you. Traveling with a local guide helps, as they can help you learn the tricks, but generally you should never accept the shopkeeperís first offer Ė it goes against Moroccan custom. In general, you can offer half the price, or 75 percent for expensive items, and then take it from there. If you donít speak Arabic or French, write down the agreed price, just to be clear. Do tip in Morocco as so many people depend on it as part of their income and wages are low. You will often be asked for more, but just smile or laugh and say a definitive thank you. Stick to a 10 percent tip and you will be giving fairly and squarely. Child sex tourism, unthinkable as it is, does happen in Morocco. Although the government has taken steps to improve this devastating issue, it still goes unpoliced in many areas, with children not recognised as victims of exploitation, according to the charity ECPAT. Always report any suspect activities with regards to children to local authorities and, in particular, the tourism locations which are allowing it to happen. The Code (short for ďThe Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and TourismĒ) is an excellent point of contact for this purpose, as it specialises in educating destinations in how to combat child sex tourism once and for all. LGBTQ+ people are criminalised in Morocco, although it is well known that Agadir has a gay scene, albeit very underground. Still, as with heterosexual travelers, public displays of affection are not recommended, and there was one tourist arrested for being gay in Morocco in 2014. Such arrests are very rare, however. Read our guide for LGBT travelers in Morocco to find out more. Snake charmers are less than charming, not only because they will charge a small fortune for a snap of you with their serpents, but because they are known to stitch the snakesí mouths together with fine twine, with just enough gap for the tongue to flick in and out of. The snakes arenít able to eat, get tongue diseases and die. But they live long enough for a few tourists to have their photos taken. Then they are disposed of and new ones are caught Ė all for the sake of a selfie. Similarly, monkeys are often used for tourist entertainment in Morocco. Kept in small cages with chains around their feet, this is animal cruelty in the extreme and so we donít recommend you support it. If you wonder why you see chameleons in cages throughout the markets, itís because they are considered a source of magical powers in traditional medicine. So they arenít there to be cute, but to be killed and dissected. Many Moroccans believe that a chameleonís bite will kill, and so this justifies killing it. However, the bite is totally harmless. Beware of souvenirs made of tortoises. Two main uses for the shells are decorative fire bellows and also for an instrument resembling the banjo. You can buy more sustainable ones that use gourds or ceramic bowls. In Marrakech, horses and carts, or caleches, are a common form of transport for tourists. Donkeys and mules are also used by local people to transport goods in and out of the souks. Many of them are cared for by the international organisation SPANA, which strives to protect the working animals of the world. They run free health clinics and build water troughs for the cityís 300 horses. They also run extensive education programmes throughout the country. You can support their vital work through donations on their site, or simply ensure that you use one of their horses on your visit to the country. You can recognise them by the SPANA tag, usually around one of their ankles. Watch SPANA's excellent video here. Not everybody in Morocco has been to school, so many adults cannot read or write, especially in rural areas. Donít assume that if you speak French youíll be understood, as French only gets taught in school and many have not completed their education. Trekking responsibly in the Sahara and Atlas Mountains is a given, leaving no trace, telling people where you are going, being accompanied by a guide when necessary, and being prepared with safety and medical kits, food and water. Hashis, or processed marijuana, is commonplace in Morocco. Called kif locally it is, rather poetically, from the Rif Mountains. Note that it is illegal to smoke it, although it is for sale everywhere and many local people do smoke it openly cafťs. Donít take on a desert trek that is solely by 4X4. Yes, they are necessary for getting out there, unless you go by camel or horse, but when you get there, try and trek as much as possible, as it is better for the dune landscape and also in terms of noise pollution. The same goes for quad biking. Going to the hammam, or public steam room, is a wonderful experience, but it is worth noting the etiquette. First of all, these are legitimate wash houses, and there is nothing seedy about them. They are always segregated, either with separate rooms, or with women and men going on different days. Men are never allowed to go naked but women are. But not everyone does go naked, so you need to judge that when you get there, and only strip if you see local women doing so. Otherwise, they will wear pants, or swimsuits, so bring a spare pair as they will get soaked. Water is scarce in Morocco, so only use what you need to rinse, and if you are going to a public hammam, as opposed to a private hotel one, people bring their own buckets for this purpose. Using too much water just isnít done. As most tourists donít go to public hammams, you will be warmly greeted and often invited for tea afterwards, so enjoy the hospitality. People always scrub each other, so if you are on your own, donít be surprised if someone offers to scrub you down. Cíest normale. Many people complain about hot water in hotels, or the lack of. Thatís because itís often solar heated by the hotel. So avoid long showers and, anyway, it is worth remembering that water is scarce too. Thatís life in the desert for you. Morocco is a Muslim country and so, although it is becoming rapidly cosmopolitan, you do need to respect any cultural norms such as not drinking in public, dressing modestly, especially in rural areas where covering the legs, arms and shoulders is advised, and not being openly intimate in public. Using your left hand for greeting, giving or receiving food or money doesnít go down well either, as it is considered Ďuncleaní in Muslim cultures. Do also remember to respect Muslim practices during Ramadan, as Muslims do not partake in any drinking, eating or smoking in public during daylight hours. You can read more about this on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. Being harassed as a woman is sometimes an issue, so common sense should always prevail. If you want to avoid it, dress modestly and avoid eye contact with men you donít know. Sunglasses help with that one. If you are harassed verbally, mention a husband. That usually has them running. Touching a woman is still seen as unacceptable, so if you are groped, shout, ďShooma!Ē (shame on you) and they will not only disappear, but people will also come to your help.  Waste disposal is an issue in Morocco, with rubbish seen throughout the country, in the mountains, valleys, beaches and on roadsides. So donít add to the problem and take your rubbish away with you. Try not to buy too much bottled water either, and use water purification tablets. People will sometimes ask to take your bottle after you have finished, however, so that they can sell them for recycling.
Written by Catherine Mack
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