In response to this demand, the Moroccan tourism sector has undergone significant transformations over the past decade, through the implementation of a policy aiming to increase hotel capacities, invest in training, and pursue international promotion strategies.
In that sense, the Moroccan tourism development policy mainly focused on attracting tourists to visit large cities such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, and coastal areas. However, domestic tourism in rural areas remains underserved until now.
There are still many Moroccan areas not known by tourists. Although lacking national promotion and exposure, these landscapes possesses high potential. For instance, the rural areas in northern Morocco offer exciting and high potential for tourism development. Hence, emphasizing rural tourism could attract tourists seeking exotic destinations, and at the same time, enhance profoundly the quality of life of the people living in these remote areas.
Take the case of the Province of Taounate. Geographically located in the northern part of the Kingdom of Morocco in the region of Fes- Meknes, Taounate is only about 90 kilometers northeast of Fes. The Province is richly endowed with a cultural and natural richness, which could become one of the most attractive touristic areas of Morocco. However, since the independence of Morocco in 1956, successive governments and local authorities failed to see the potential of this great city. Therefore, it becomes crucial that the northern region receive a revised and clearly-stated sustainable tourism policy.
The government launched the 2020 plan aiming to reach 18 million tourists by diversifying the products provided according to each region’s potentials. This program will eventually help improve the economy through the creation of jobs and new opportunities. However, the local community of the Taounate region wants to know when the government is going to implement these measures? And if it will include the rural destinations that were overlooked for so long in favor of the traditional imperial cities?
Taounate, with its diverse products, can be developed to become one of the most famous tourist destinations in Morocco and can contribute significantly to the growth of the northern region’s economy. In this regard, the area has significant natural and cultural attractions, including forests, diversity of flora and fauna, and native handicrafts. Taounate has a historical heritage consisting of ancient fortresses and various yearly “Moussems” such as the colorful “Tissa Horse Festival.”
Furthermore, one of the best places that can be promoted as a touristic destination is the Ourtzagh-Tafrant zone. The zone possesses a highly strategic geographical location due to its fascinating natural and cultural potentials. Ourtzagh-Tafrant zone also has existing tourist accommodations, activities (e.g., pottery handicrafts ongoing in Ain Bouchrik), organic farming (e.g., in Gite Kissan & Dar Zhor in Onsar Village in Ourzagh), and a Skifa Cultural Festival (e.g., in Skiffa Village in Tfrant). Therefore, it is clear that this rural zone has a lot of potentials to offer to tourists, especially to those searching for authentic cultural related activities, nature-related events, and water-related activities.
The Taounate region, in general, is still undiscovered and unexploited as a tourist spot. This can be said as the area possesses mountainous villages, pastoral simple life & traditions of the natives, folklores, thousand rivers & water streams, dams, and the ethnic and cultural diversity (Arab and Amazigh). With this natural richness and the development of appropriate infrastructures, Taounate would become one of the best tourist destinations in Morocco.
Thus, the birth of the Taounate Eco-Tourism Development Project (TETDP) has come as the first leading sustainable initiative and road map for tourism promotion, human development, and capability-building for locals, as well as for the environmental protection in the Taounate region.
The need for establishing a clear development policy, law that implement rules and regulations, and acceptable guidelines for cooperating entities have become a matter of urgency.
What is meant by the Taounate Eco-Tourism Development Project or the TETDP?
It is a sustainable tourism plan launched by the Taounate Eco-Tourism Discoveries. This program was created due to the collaboration and the involvement of local and foreign entities. The technical consultant that supervises the TETDP project is Dr. Emma Abanes Pujalte (MNSA, Ph.D.), President and C.E.O. of the IRRREN (International Resource Recovery and Recycling Network) Foundation Inc, and Christof Burgbacher, founder of Elementerre, as an independent consultant. The TETDP aims to bolster the local economy as a whole, along with the principle of preserving and sustaining natural and cultural resources for the present and future generations. The TETDP aims to promote rural tourism in the remote areas of the Taounate region, particularly in the rural communes of Ourtzagh and Tafrant.
The TETDP aims to preserve the environment and prevent degradation, in total compliance with the guidelines of the 2020 Moroccan vision for tourism and the 2011 Moroccan constitution.
The main objectives of this plan are:
1. To minimize negative environmental and social impacts – through the establishment of a clear sustainable vision involving the participation of local stakeholders, including local authority, non-governmental organizations, and civil society.
2. To provide economic benefits for local people and to enhance communities through improvements in the working conditions, the well-being of host, and the access to the sector.
3. To involve responsible action on the part of visiting tourists and that of the tourism industry.
4. To contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.
5. To provide more enjoyable experiences for tourists – through offering a variety of outdoor activities, such as yoga, biking, trekking, hiking, donkey riding, and joining local people in their day to day activities to learn and experience the cultural and social activities of the region.
6. To mobilize local and international volunteers in assisting proponent organization in its initialization efforts at the Taounate Eco-Tourism Development Project (TETDP)
7. To provide training Courses for both local people and interested visitors – through organizing workshops and demonstration lessons on Bio-Dynamic Farming, Permaculture, Distillation of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Pottery-Making, and on Traditional Cooking, among others.
Taounate Ecotourism Discoveries will not only promote eco-friendly activities. It will also offer various cultural and nature-based activities, all of which would have significant impacts on the quality of life of the people in the host community, and their surrounding environment.
SUGGESTED TOURS IN TAOUNATE will be conducted at the foot of Jebl Sidi Masouad and its surrounding villages, at the Oudka Mountain and Tafrant and Bouadel. These tours would include biking, trekking, cycling, donkey riding, and tours of some surrounding villages.
CULTURE-RELATED TOURISM ACTIVITIES will include visiting local historical landmarks found in the region, learning about local foods, poetry, and other traditional handicraft through short demonstration lessons.
WATER-RELATED ACTIVITIES are to be conducted at the Alwahda dam, such as fishing, boat touring, and boat racing are to be offered to tourists.
FARMING RELATED ACTIVITIES are mainly related to any activity done in the process of farming in the mountainous areas of Taounate that brings the tourists to the farm for educational, recreational, or retail purposes. The region is known for its permaculture farming methods, and orange rose water extraction.
ECO-CAMPS FOR YOUTH LEADERS consists of activities for young adults and student leaders of various local schools who are interested in sustainable development and to get more hand-on demonstration lessons or experiences about environmental conservation measures, including ecological waste management.