The tourism sector of Tangier, to the limit after two years without ferries

March 12, 2020 is a date that many Tangiers remember. Chebaa was driving when the radio stopped programming to break the news. Farida found out when she received a call from a Spanish friend who was in the country and I didn’t know if I could return luckily she had returned the day before from a trip to Turkey. That day, Morocco suspended maritime and air connections with Spain.

That week Chebaa lost her job after 15 years as a tour guide and Farida closed the doors of her hotel. It was the prelude. There were only a few days left before the country decreed confinement. After the strictest restrictions, planes with tourists landed again in October 2020 and they were able to work a little, although during the two years of the pandemic the authorities suspended international air connections on two more occasions.

With the arrival of the omicron variant, they closed at the end of November last year and are scheduled to reopen on February 7, but there is no forecast to resume maritime connections with Spain. Almost two years later, none of the ferries that cross the strait and feed the Tangier tourism sector have set sail again.

“I have one client per week, the situation is very difficult & rdquor ;, regrets Khalid. In addition, he explains that it is the worst moment he remembers, “Even more than when there was the Gulf WarHis father opened a downtown craft and souvenir shop in 1968. Half a century later, he sits behind the counter and watches videos on his phone. That’s how he gets through the day, not in a hurry to end the conversation.

“Before the pandemic I had a job every day, it was a fabulous time, especially after 2015 when the arrival of tourists increased,” explains Chebaa sitting on the terrace of a cafe in Tangier, his hometown. He is a guide and tells that most visitors arrived by boat from Spain and they came to spend a day or the weekend. “Now there is nothing at all,” she laments. He explains that the Government is “trying to do something, but it is not enough, the only solution is to open the maritime connections and let us work.”

Since June 2020, the country’s authorities have been helping guides like Chebaa and other people who make a living from tourism with 2,000 dirhams (200 euros) a month, although for many it is not enough to make ends meet. “The only solution that the guides who don’t work have now are the call centers, in Tangier there are 150 guides and 50 of them work in these centers”, he explains.

few customers

Farida has a small hotel with 10 rooms in the Kasba, the oldest area of ​​the city. From the terrace of La Tangerina you can see the Spanish coast, although this Wednesday the wind is blowing strongly and poor visibility has erased the other shore of the strait. Your hotel is empty, “we’ve never locked the door before”the Mint.

On Friday he expects some clients who are going to come from Rabat, but during the week he has no one: “What are you going to do? If I had to pay a mortgage or a rent, I wouldn’t stand it.” He regrets that his friends have had no choice but to close permanently.

The pandemic came at its best, in 2020 it had more reservations than ever since it renovated and opened the hotel 17 years ago, but it was just the opposite. Almost two years later, he has not lost his optimism: “As soon as they open, I’m sure there will be queues to get on the plane.”

In 2019, 1.6 million people arrived in the city by boat from southern Spain, according to Jamil Ouazzani, director of marketing for the port of Tangier. He explains that the route that connects the city with Tarifa is the most important, “we had more and more cruise ships.” In 2020 and 2021 alone, more than 130 scales of these vessels were planned, but only three landed before closing. For this year the forecast was 77 cruise ships, but for now the port is still empty. “We hope that this year they will reopen, for this we continue working, we want to see the ferries circulating again,” he concludes.

The underlying diplomatic crisis

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In the city, no one is unaware that the pandemic is not the only reason why the ferries with Spain have stopped circulating, although many prefer not to go into this subject, “it is a matter of kings,” says one of them. The two sides of the strait have also been diplomatically separated for months and one of the reasons is Spain’s position on the issue of Western Sahara, which according to Moroccan leaders is “unclear”. Diplomatic relations remain frozen since the reception in a Rioja hospital of the leader of the Polisario Front and the Ceuta crisis in May 2021.

This week the Government has reported that international flights are going to land again in the country on February 7, a relief for a sector that is at the limit throughout the country. One day before the air reopening was announced, thousands of workers demonstrated in various cities shouting “open the border”. Meanwhile, the other border, the maritime one, continues to be closed. There is no news or rumors about the reopening. Farida continues to ventilate and clean her hotel rooms every day so that everything is ready. Tangier is too.

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