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Published on Monday, October 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Sisters -" Moroccan Mountain Kasbahs Awake in Different Ways




With more flights, increasing tourism investment, a romantic, colourful and extraordinarily diverse tourism product, and an increasing emphasis on sustainable tourism, Morocco is set to be a major -¬Ë-Green Tourism-¬™ draw.

Two Kasbahs were built by Caid Souktani, a local dignitary, in the High Atlas as summer houses, so that he could escape the seasonal heat for luxury in the mountains.

One was restored by Luciano Tempo and has now become Richard Branson-ªs Kasbah Tamadot -" 18 rooms and suites and six luxurious Berber tents. Ideal for the super-rich to escape from the heat of global markets.

The other, the Kasbah du Toubkal, pictured above, is owned by two brothers, Chris and Mike McHugo. It has grown from modest beginnings -" 3 dormitories and an ablutions block to a 14 en suite room Berber hospitality centre that still has its 3 dormitories.

In 1998 the Kasbah Du Toubkal was recognized by Green Globe with a commendation, won a Tourism for Tomorrow award in 2002, a Responsible Tourism Award in 2004 and in 2008 won the Moroccan Responsible Tourism Award.

Where the Kasbah Du Toubkal differs from most other hotel developments that are funded from abroad is that the local community -" the fiercely proud and independent Berbers -" the original inhabitants of North Africa have been central to the Kasbah-ªs development and ethos.

Said Chris -¬---When I first suggested to Mike that we look into the ownership of the Kasbah it was because I felt that sooner or later, based on its dominant position for access to the High Atlas and the fact that Marrakech a city of one million being only an hour away, someone would try and develop it and that we could be a safe pair of hands to help develop international tourism but not ignore the impact on the fragile environment and traditional culture-¬~.

The project was also motivated by the fact that the McHugo Brothers had long links with the area and in particular the Ait Bahmed family where trust and respect had been built over many years. Doing business and projects successfully in such a remote area requires great patience and trust.

At the opening of the Kasbah in 1995 when over 700 local villages took part in the activities -" Luciano Tempo (the then owner of Kasbah Tamadot) toasted the brothers remarking that he had seen the site but it was too difficult to acquire. He said gratefully that he was pleased he had not succeeded as at Tamadot he had spent over $200,000 not getting electricity or water -" what he might have spent in Imlil he could only imagine!

Slowly since 1995 Discover Ltd - the UK company - has invested profits from its operation in France and created a unique facility where the local community has a veto over its actions. An example being that despite market pressure to serve alcohol they adopt a BYO ( bring your own) policy in respect of the local muslim values. Guests serve themselves and the local staff are not involved.

In 1996 Martin Scorsese converted the Kasbah into a Tibetan Monastery for his film -¬Ë-Kundun-¬™ on the Dalai Lama - which gave considerable work to over 100 local people and led to building what Chris describes as the -¬---Martin Scorsese Memorial Cinema-¬~ - the Kasbah-¬™s conference room.

Electricity only arrived in the valley in 1997 and the Kasbah still has no road access the last 500 metres being on foot or the back of a mule -" what is known locally as a Berber Mercedes.

In line with trying to ensure that the tourism gain is spread as widely as possible the Kasbah adds a 5% surcharge to its bills which goes to a local association -" there are few to no municipal services -" which provides rubbish clearance, local community incinerators, 4x4 ambulance service and a community bath house in the village. Nearly all the staff are from the local community and trained on the job and as much food and supplies are sourced from the village.

Valere Tjolle



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