When French President Emmanuel Macron made his first visit to Northern Africa, he raised a few eyebrows by choosing Morocco instead of Algeria as his first stop. Algeria has long been considered France’s strongest ally in the region; nonetheless, President Macron may be attuned to the ambitious plan to redevelop Morocco’s capital city of Rabat into a first-class haven for tourism and international finance.
Similar to Casablanca, Marrakesh is a premier tourism destination for visitors who wish to experience the magic combination of North African, Mediterranean and Arab cultures. Marrakesh is mystical and filled with history; this is a place of snake charmers, a city where tourists can get lost in ancient bazaars and haggle over the prices of colorful souvenirs with merchants who will not hesitate to pack up their wares if buyers do not push hard enough for bargains.
In contrast, Rabat may not be as well-known as a tourism destination, but Moroccan business leaders believe that the capital is due for a massive redevelopment project that would require investments of up to $1.2 billion. This ambitious project is getting a boost from World Bank projections that estimate economic growth for Morocco of up to four percent if Rabat can offer certain comforts to international visitors.
One of the financial backers of this redevelopment project is no less than Eagle Hills, a powerhouse investment banking firm based in Abu Dhabi. This firm is already busy with the development of an area in Rabat that will combine upscale resort, residential and commercial zoning; in essence, this 400,000 square meter project will resemble a gleaming section of Abu Dhabi complete with a marina where luxury yachts can dock.
Morocco has always done an excellent job of maintaining the historical and cultural areas of Marrakesh and other tourist spots; however, the same could not be said of infrastructure projects until now. A modern light rail system is currently under construction for the purpose of connecting Marrakesh with cities such as Rabat and Fkih Ben Salah. Thus far, this system has created 350 permanent jobs. Even more new jobs will also be created by the improvement of the highway system that currently suffers from massive gridlock.
Creating an Infrastructure to Attract Investors
Morocco is following the example of of the United Arab Emirates in relation to building a very attractive infrastructure that will entice people to relocate for the purpose of living and doing business. Unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however, Morocco will take up to 20 years to complete its vision for Rabat; after all, this is a country that is famous for taking things slow and enjoying life.
Business officials in Morocco plan to attract business by means of financial and trade incentives as well as with a diplomatic image. This will take time, but some progress is already happening. In late May, the Mohammed VI University Hospital received a prestigious International Quality Star award that is essential for medical tourism. The BigBoss Business Conference, a major French networking event, attracted nearly 600 visitors in mid-June, and a Chinese private jet company recently landed a 787 Dream Jet in a local executive airport.
There is also the important climate change factor to consider. Marrakesh hosted the COP 22 United Nations summit, and Morocco is a major supporter of climate agreements. The local Radisson Blu Hotel, for example, is operated by the Rezidor Group, which has been a signatory of the UN Global Compact on caring for climate since 2009.