UPDATED January 2020 We’ve been called fools for travelling to Morocco. People have declared they would never set foot on Moroccan soil, because Islamic countries are ‘all the same’. We know travellers who have gone on cruises and stayed firmly on their ships, refusing to go ashore in Morocco over safety concerns. You could call it racism or bigotism, but I think it’s merely ignorance. The media have a lot to answer for. By liberally using the Islamic label in conjunction with terrorism, viewers have been easily misled and it’s not surprising that so many still ask is it safe to travel to Morocco?. Perhaps I’m a little biased, having fallen in love with Morocco on our numerous visits over the years. Or perhaps this experience just qualifies me to have an opinion on travel safety in Morocco.
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So, in my opinion, is it safe to travel to Morocco?
Lets look at the evidence. Okay, so 33 people sadly died in the 2003 Casablanca bombings; in 2011 17 people lost their lives during an attack on the Argana Cafe in Marrakech; and most recently 2 female tourists from Scandinavia were killed whilst trekking near Imlil in December 2018. All atrocious acts of terrorism, but is Morocco more dangerous to visit than anywhere else? Did you know that Europe faced 205 terror attacks in 2017 alone (that either took place, failed or were prevented), and more than half of these were reported in the UK, including the London Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks! And more recently there’s been another terrorist attack near London Bridge in November 2019 where two people lost their lives. Yet would that stop you from travelling to these places? And as for safety in the US…how many people die each year in gun-related crimes, and mass shootings?
And I’ll tell you something else. Hubbie and I live in the rural idyll that is the English Lake District. It’s a sparsely populated mountainous region in the north, home to long dead poets and a few sheep. Yet unbeknown to us at the time, just a few miles from our front door a group of terrorists were training in the hills. They were preparing for attacks on London in July 2005. So it’s not even 100% safe at home!
Yes, Morocco is currently on the Foreign Office list of countries where terrorist attacks are likely to occur. But so are destinations like Spain, Germany, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia. Yet would you think twice about visiting these places? It’s all a matter of perspective, and not allowing the media to overly influence your decision. Remember that the press affords a disproportionate focus to terrorism because sensation sells.
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Let’s not forget the geography
This leads us to a quick geography lesson. After each new terror attack, for example those in Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, many potential travellers stay away from Morocco too, simply because it’s in the ‘same’ part of the world. Yet I know many of them couldn’t actually locate Morocco on a map, because I’ve asked! In fact Morocco is closer in distance to their own homes than it is to Sousse or Istanbul. There’s one thing I want to ask these people. Would you travel to France? Would you visit London? The answer is probably yes, yet there have been more terrorist attacks in these places than in Morocco.
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Geographically, Morocco is separated from Spain by only a few miles, and thus is far closer to Europe than most other North African and Middle Eastern countries. In fact Spanish is still spoken in many northern parts of the country (something that confused me greatly in Chefchaouen), and the clear Andalucian influences throughout Morocco maintain close cultural links with Europe.
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I’ve honestly never felt safer anywhere in the world!
The first few times we visited Morocco were for holidays and exploration, but as the years pass by we find ourselves returning for a different reason. We go there to relax. To enjoy the company of some of the most genuinely welcoming people in the world. And to feel at peace. In Morocco it’s all about honour, something I think we’ve largely forgotten in the West. The hosts always see themselves as personally responsible for the welfare of their guests, and perhaps because of this, we’ve never felt anything other than safe and comfortable.
I asked some of our friends and hosts in Morocco if they thought it was safe to travel to Morocco, and couldn’t agree more with Nicolas Pawlowski, Manager at Riad Camilia. He says he feels safer in Morocco than when he’s travelling to European capital cities.
Here, everyone knows everyone, this is our kind of ‘Middle Age’ way of life…just think about living in the European countryside 40 years ago and you’ll know what it’s like to travel here…peace and beauty!
Michele and Grant from Riad Assakina agree that whilst you never know when something is going to happen, they feel safe living in Marrakech, as do their visiting guests.
Behind the scenes the Moroccan security forces work tirelessly to maintain peace in their country, although this receives little media attention since good news doesn’t sell headlines. After the Casablanca bombings in 2003, Moroccan intelligence services stepped up their fight against terrorism, turning their efforts to targeting cells at a grass-roots level to prevent them becoming operational. Hicham Mhammedi Alaoui, owner of Experience Morocco explains.
Moroccan intelligence services have allocated significant resources to monitor and address potential threats before they become a reality. To give a concrete example, Moroccan authorities were recognised just last month for playing a determining role in helping the French police investigation into the Paris attacks. In addition, local police forces have increased their visibility in major cities, with units patrolling busy areas at all times of day, and private businesses have followed suit with reinforced security measures appearing in malls, hotels, restaurants, and other gathering spots.
We’ve seen the increased police presence ourselves, and it definitely inspires confidence for visitors.
For those seeking a little more reassurance, Emily Burrows from Wild Morocco suggests getting in touch with local people who live and work in the country. They of course know Morocco better than anyone so are best placed to offer up to date advice about travelling there. And do as Nicolas suggests. Try to learn a bit about the culture to avoid making decisions based on assumptions and misconceptions. Keep an open mind, or stay at home!
Despite statistics and common sense, Morocco is still being affected by Western perceptions of terrorism.
In the last decade, tourism in Morocco has been increasing at an impressive rate as more and more people realise just how accessible and beautiful the country is. Yet terrorism is affecting all of North Africa, and there are concerns that Morocco could experience economic loss through a decline of tourism just like in Egypt and Tunisia, simply due to it’s proximity to those countries. Hicham tells me…
The tourism industry has been noticeably affected by the global and regional instability in recent months, as thousands of travellers have delayed or cancelled their trips to visit Morocco. These decisions are guided by a fear and apprehension that is understandable but also completely disconnected from the reality on the ground. Thankfully, not everyone is deterred and the visitors who have maintained their plans have been able to see for themselves how safe and welcoming the country is.
I have to say that Marrakech felt almost empty on our last visit. True, it was during winter, when visitor numbers drop naturally, but whilst sitting up on the balcony of our favourite cafe in Djemaa el Fna, there was a distinct lack of tour groups snaking through the square below. We usually have a bit of a giggle at them. Sticking closely together whilst following the umbrella or flag being held aloft by the leader, and all wearing the same cheesy group baseball cap or bag.
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Speaking again to Nicolas, we discovered that package tourism has indeed been affected far more than independent tourism. Apparently some of the large resort investors have opted to close rather than to waste money retaining their employees. Plane seats are no longer being filled by package tours, and some airlines have reduced their schedules.
The decline in package tourism has affected Morocco like Ebola has affected Senegal.
Yet Nicolas also reveals that amongst the extensive network of riad owners in Marrakech, independent travellers haven’t been deterred. So now is the time to go folks, avoid the tour crowds and have it almost to yourselves! Indeed, Michele and Grant feel that the tide may finally be changing as tourists begin to recognise that the situation in Morocco is much calmer than previously believed. Business is beginning to pick up again and there is optimism for the future. I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that by continuing to travel to Morocco we are in our own small way helping to combat terrorism, but every little helps, right?!
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Keeping a sense of perspective
So when people ask me is it safe to travel to Morocco I answer that’s it’s no more dangerous than staying at home. We’re far more likely to meet our demise in a traffic accident on the the way to work (I’ve had a couple such incidents!), or even being struck by lightning (we nearly were last year in our own village!) than being involved in a terror attack in Morocco. You might get hit by a bus tomorrow. So enjoy your today! No-one is ever truly safe and because of that we shouldn’t change our plans or our lives. What will be will be, or as they say in Morocco, Insha Allah.