Thursday, August 4, 2011

Impact of tourism

Tourism is an important source of income and employment in Morocco, but it comes with a number of challenges. For example:

  • Water is a scarce resource in Morocco, and tourists use a lot of it when they stay in hotels and swim in pools--and especially when they go golfing. A single 18-hole golf course requires 3500 m/day of water, which is 3.5 times as much as the average Moroccan consumes in a whole year. While traveling, we've seen several fancy golf courses in locations not far removed from houses without running water.
  • There's been a big increase recently in use of 4 x 4 vehicles for recreation and travel in the desert. These vehicles break the fragile crust which normally reduces soil erosion in sandy areas. During dry periods, scientists have measured a 4000 % increase in airborne particulates in areas where 4 x 4s regularly operate in the desert. Near Merzouga, we raced across sand dunes and black rock desert in 4 x 4s. It was a great way to come into contact with people living or working in remote locations, and some people are using this kind of transportation to support new "nomad schools". (I'm very interested in learning more about those schools.) But destabilized dunes often destroy important sources of water. Travel by camel doesn't have the same impact. We rode camels one day too, and I can't say I like that form of transportation any more than I like automobiles; in both situations, I am a terrible back-seat driver without much interest in taking the "wheel". But camels don't damage the desert in the same way that 4 x 4s do.
  • Morocco has done a better job than many countries with development of local tourist operations (hotels, guide agencies, transportation). But a lot of tourist dollars still "escape" the Moroccan economy because they are pumped into chain hotels owned by multinational corporations.
  • A Moroccan NGO recently released a study calling for better protection of coastal, mountain and desert areas that are attractive to tourists, with simultaneous consideration of the aspirations of local people. This study is consistent with UNESCO's definition of "sustainability"", which addresses environmental, cultural, economic and political issues framed by high standards for social justice.

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