Marrakech’s old medina was almost empty on Sunday after a deadly earthquake struck Morocco, but that didn’t stop some tourists from telling AFP they chose to stay.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the North African country’s economy, and Marrakech is its main draw.
Friday’s devastating earthquake, which killed more than 2,000 people, has also fueled fears of a repeat of the tourism slump during the Covid pandemic.
However, some visitors were in no hurry to leave.
“We won’t let the earthquake ruin everything,” said 35-year-old Kirian Ficher from Germany during a tour of the historic city.
“There was no warning of a major risk, so we stuck to our plans.”
However, there were only four people on the tour, and all had been evacuated from their rooms when the earthquake struck late Friday at 11:11 PM (2211 GMT).
The magnitude 6.8 earthquake was the strongest ever to hit Morocco and wiped out entire villages in the hills of the Atlas Mountains southwest of Marrakesh.
“We are still unsure whether we will leave,” says 26-year-old tourist Dominik Huber.
“But it seems relatively safe. And by staying we also contribute in a small way to supporting the Moroccans.”
The small group stood outside the imposing studded wooden doors of the Bahia Palace, a tourist attraction from the 1860s that is now closed.
It has suffered some damage, with broken green glazed terracotta tiles on the ground.
Sharp cracks have appeared in the pink walls of buildings on nearby streets, and some houses are now just piles of rubble.
Guide Abderrazzaq Ouled assured the group that their tour of the city founded almost 1,000 years ago can still go ahead.
“Most of the visit is still feasible,” he said.
Not far away, three Italians asked police officers whether sights in the city – which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List – were still open to visitors.
They too decided to stay, just like a couple drinking tea in the shade of a paved terrace, and a lady in slippers and a straw hat haggling in one of the few shops that were still open for a leather bag she had her eye on. .
In Marrakech’s famous Jemaa el-Fna square, perfume and juice sellers have replaced residents who spent the night in the open, wrapped in blankets, as their homes were damaged or destroyed.
On Saturday, the SETO group, which includes about 70 of France’s leading tour operators, said that as far as it knew none of its customers in Marrakech had suffered from the earthquake.
But the city itself has changed and the frenzy of activity has disappeared.
The human toll of the tragedy continues to rise. Already 2,012 deaths have been recorded and 2,059 people have been injured, mainly in the rural mountain areas southwest of Marrakech.
The country’s Tourism Observatory is concerned that the economic fallout from the disaster could wipe out this year’s increase in visitor numbers.
‘Entire groups cancelled’
The observatory recorded some 6.5 million tourists in Morocco in the first half of 2023, mainly from Western Europe and the United States, an increase of 92 percent compared to the same period last year.
And Marrakech is Morocco’s main tourist attraction, with more than 4.3 million visitors, according to the observatory’s figures.
But the economic impact of the earthquake is already being felt by some tourism professionals in the city.
“Entire tour groups have already canceled for fear of aftershocks,” said 56-year-old Daehmen Ziani, who runs a hammam.
“The medina is the pride and soul of Marrakech, and tourism accounts for 99 percent of our income. If that goes away, everything will stop like it did during Covid,” said Daehmen Ziani, speaking on the marble steps of his now-abandoned business. .
Morocco imposed a strict lockdown in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, and the tourism sector came to a standstill.
“Then we can only cross our fingers and hope that such a disastrous time will not occur again,” Daehmen Ziani added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)