News Travel Tourism: Traveling to Morocco After the Earthquake: What You Need to Know
Many French travelers have booked trips to Morocco, set to depart in the coming days or weeks. The destination had been recovering steadily for several months after facing a profound crisis due to the pandemic.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Morocco, which claimed over 2,000 lives (including 4 French citizens), both travel professionals and tourists are grappling with the aftermath. How should upcoming departures of French vacationers be managed in this tragic context? This question has been on the minds of tour operators, travel agencies, and the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs since the earthquake struck. Initially advising travelers to "as far as possible" postpone trips to Marrakech and affected areas, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs later shifted its stance. It now simply states that the Moroccan territory remains open, adding, "Most flights to and from Morocco are maintained; however, it is advisable to check with your airline."
Options for Fee-Free Changes? Given the earthquake's impact and its tragic consequences, some travelers are considering requesting either a trip reschedule or cancellation without incurring fees. Responding promptly, the Syndicate of Tour Operating Companies (Seto) issued initial recommendations on Saturday morning, urging its 70 member tour operators to exercise "the greatest commercial flexibility" for departures scheduled between Saturday and Monday, September 11, 2023. The syndicate intends to issue new recommendations today.
Certain tour operators, like Boomerang, are displaying flexibility. The voyager explains that clients departing from France can proceed with their trips as planned. However, for departures until Monday, September 18, 2023, they offer clients the option to either reschedule their journey within the next six months or change their destination if they are reluctant to travel to Morocco.
Prioritizing Consultation, as Emmanuelle Llop Suggests What does the Tourism Code state regarding cancellations or fee-free changes in light of the earthquake in Morocco? "The question remains the same here," responds Emmanuelle Llop, a lawyer at Equinoxe Avocats. Are the services included in the package tour affected? In other words, do the circumstances qualify as exceptional and unavoidable, justifying a cancellation at no cost initiated either by the client or the professional?
In theory, if flights are operational, and hotels in Morocco are functioning, travelers who wish to cancel may need to accept the fees outlined in their contract. However, in practice, there may be a possibility for the entire chain—comprising the agency, tour operator, local partners, and even airlines—to agree to reschedule trips rather than charging cancellation fees, adds Emmanuelle Llop.
This, however, depends on the willingness of airlines to cooperate. While Air France, Royal Air Maroc, and Transavia are accepting fee-free changes under certain conditions and for a limited time, some low-cost carriers are not. This led to Seto expressing its displeasure in an open letter to these airlines published on September 11, stating, "We refuse to put our clients in uncomfortable positions of voyeurism in the face of tragedy. Let's stay pragmatic, remembering that these countries and their citizens depend on the economic benefits of tourism. But let's be realistic and reasonable: while airport and hotel infrastructure may be operational, isn't our collective priority and responsibility elsewhere? Proposing reschedules with constraints, both in terms of duration and modalities, seems rather petty."
Approximately 6,000 Package Tour Clients On-Site "Prioritizing consultation among tour operators, travel agencies, local partners, and transportation providers," Emmanuelle Llop further advises, is crucial. Simultaneously, travel professionals must also "monitor information from authorities and local partners" to ensure that clients who are departing are well-informed, she adds.
According to Hervé Tilmont, CEO of Seto, approximately 6,000 clients who had purchased package tours were in Morocco last weekend. These travelers are joined by those who booked flight tickets alone or with accommodations reserved through digital platforms.
If clients fear aftershocks and desire an early return, they may be required to bear the costs, provided the hotel can accommodate them under appropriate conditions, confirms Emmanuelle Llop. However, this underscores the importance of consultation once again.
A Vital Sector Tourism accounted for 7% of Morocco's GDP in 2019, before the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic significantly weakened the entire tourism ecosystem in Morocco. "Morocco longs for its tourists," wrote our journalist Stéphane Jaladis in 2021. The shock is all the more brutal as the beloved kingdom had set records in 2019 with 13 million tourists, including 3.8 million from France.
In recent months, the destination had been regaining momentum. According to the Orchestra barometer for L'Echo touristique, it ranked seventh among the most popular countries in August, according to both online and traditional travel agencies.
"I hope this won't affect tourism there," remarked French comedian Élie Semoun, of Moroccan origin, during a France Info interview. He encouraged donations to aid the Moroccan people