Published on Sunday, September 26, 2010

Morocco green shoots of massive ecotourism move

French connection adds style edge and ambition to global green tourism: Mogador may be world leading green tourism development

Morocco"s Essaouira has been around as a destination for a long time. Not perhaps as big and brash as its neighbour, Agadir, but in its own hip way the town is an iconic, quirky upmarket destination. The fabulous atmosphere and relaxed style has attracted the rich and famous from Jimi Hendrix to the 450,000 who flock to its annual Gnaoua  music festival.

Lovely vast beach and dunes as far as the eye can see, a walled city on the sea with winding streets and an ancient souk, superb food, great olive oil, and honey - these are just a few of the resort"s attractions. Tourists can even take a camel, horse, mule or quad bike ride on the sand dunes or buy the latest miracle cure superfood oil (Essaouira"s own indigenous Argan).

So what"s new in this gently rocking and very picturesque destination? A runway extension, a king who"s decided to up tourism to 10 million arrivals a year, and 17 new resorts. All this that will shortly mean Royal Air Maroc flights augmenting the scant arrivals into the local airport by operating a real international service and at least one new resort within the airports catchment area.

All of this, of course, is meant to be very sustainable, at least very eco-friendly.

Mr Thomas GREGGORY Sofitel Essaouira manager

In terms of style and architecture, the 10 year old Sofitel  currently dominates the walled-city end of the promenade and the beach. Built around a courtyard and swimming pool, medina-style, the hotel dispenses 5 star luxury to its mainly French clientele. Apart from the seamless service within the main establishment, the hotel operates a private beach and a rather swish beach-side restaurant.

There is also a Thalassotherapy spa centre providing a wide variety of treatments.
Even the picky could not fault the service and comfort at the hotel and guests benefit from delightful little touches like petal-strewn beds.

And the hotel has made real efforts to up its sustainability game - because it was built before sustainability became de rigeur, the hotel doesn"t have any inbuilt energy or water saving measures - but other initiatives have been put in place. For instance, local sourcing of food and other consumables is effected as much as is practical and 90% of staff working in Sofitel Medina & Spa are from Essaouira.

You get the feeling that the hotel is a beautifully-operating little machine in which time has largely stood still. That"s why the hotel has a very high repeat booking level from a clientele who probably don"t want to see much change and are very happy like it is.

But - look down the beach in the other direction from the walled city and you will see empty wave-lapped dunes and behind them the blades of a wind farm - and, maybe, the shape of tourism things to come.

The dunes are not quite as empty or as serene as they look. First steps in the development of a new resort include a Gary Player golf course. Billed as an ecologically-friendly links course, it certainly has taken sustainability seriously. Waste water from Essiouara and the local village is used for watering, new woods and watering gardens have been established and a number of measures have been put in place including:

  • Supporting habitats and viable species including the turtle breeding areas.
  • Avoiding the use of high quality, potable water and minimizing all water consumption thanks to the Filtering Garden
  • No plastic is used on the course, only natural materials (wood and metal). New road signs have been made in wood by a local art designer from Essaouira -´~~°€
  • Increasing use of organic fertilizers to reduce chemical fertilizers
  • 98% of staff are from Essaouira
  • 80 gardeners and 30 caddies have been trained to be sensitive to the preservation of natural environment.

The wind farm and the golf course are just the beginning, these are the first steps in developing the first purpose-built Moroccan eco-resort, of which there will be many more in the vision of Amyn ALAMI, writer of Morocco"s Vision 2010 plan and the Azur Plan to boost Morocco"s tourism.

Sofitel are playing a significant role in the initiative, and Sofitel Luxury are currently building a new complex for the new site - called Mogador (the original French appellation of  Essiouara). Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa will come on line next year.

This "New Generation" resort, the first one in Morocco, plans to become a popular sustainable destination making the very most of its natural beauty and wide landscapes. The 175-room resort, designed by Didier Gomez will contain 4 restaurants, 2 bars, sport facilities and a Cinq Mondes spa.

Nature plays an important part in the design, and is featured in many areas around the hotel.
Important green initiatives include:
  •  "Green awareness" scheme for guests and staff and less than 25% of Ground coefficient (8 ha of green areas)
  • Design features include a Tree trunk as huge column in the lobby, a vegetal wall in the lobby, stones from Essaouira everywhere in the rooms and along the alleys within the hotel-resort, tree trunk as night tables in rooms, indigenous Argan tree and other plants (including oranges) are in hotel restaurants and outside.
  • Water preservation features include Zoysia Tenufollia® turf (which offers a lush appearance with the benefits of low maintenance grass and lower water turf management , Filtering Gardens® water in an all green areas to reduce water consumption
  • Waste actions include: collection and recycling of used cooking oil, separation and collection of grease from food stuff, installation of water flow regulators, recycling of paper/cardboard packaging, recycling of glass packaging, safe disposal of hotel batteries, recycling of ink cartridges
  • Argan oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree will be used by the Sofitel kitchen for its nutritive properties and the spa will use it for the cosmetic benefits.
  • Near the Spa, the Natural swimming pool, also known as a biological pool, will be environmentally friendly. It requires absolutely no chlorine or other toxic substances. Instead of a regeneration zone with the plants and wildlife that are required by a natural pool, a biofilter and a specially developed phosphorous filter treat the water on a biological and physical basis.

The development will certainly be beautiful. On a recent visit it was impossible not to be taken back by the grandeur of the landscape and the efforts that Sofitel and all the other partners are making to develop in harmony. Naturally this has other benefits - an offer more in keeping with a rapidly-greening marketplace and energy savings that translate into hard cash. Hard cash which Sofitel say is turned into green investments. A win-win-win as they say.

Is this as big a new direction as it seems? Probably. Mogador represents an ambitious and committed initiative that will certainly spread its ripples out through the world"s hotel industry and will have lessons for all future world tourism.

Valere Tjolle


Get free sustainable tourism reports from Vision on Sustainable Tourism HERE

Valere Tjolle is editor of the Sustainable Tourism Report

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