Kasbahs, ancient medinas, stunning arts and crafts, rich culinary traditions, sea, sun, mountains, the desert and a sweet cup of mint tea. Morocco has long been a favorite destination for world travelers, attracting over 9 million visitors in 2010 alone. While many tourists come to soak up the sun and sea in the coastal towns or visit the historic imperial cities of Fès, Marrakech, Meknès and Rabat, more and more are discovering the rich natural and cultural treasures of the rural countryside.
Often a short distance and easily navigable from the country’s better-known tourism destinations, many rural tourism ventures give tourists a window to learn about Morocco’s rich culture and traditions in a natural setting.
Rural tourism is a vital piece in Morocco’s national tourism makeup, especially for social and economic development outside of the increasingly overpopulated urban areas. Visiting rural tourism destinations spurs growth in the local economies, creates jobs and supports diversification of the country’s largely agriculture-based economy.
With the increasing importance of rural tourism in the country, stakeholders from across southern Morocco came together in May 2011 to form Morocco’s first rural tourism association. The Réseau de Dévelopement Touristique Rural (RDTR) was developed to strengthen institutional capabilities, develop rural touristic circuits, support capacity-building and staff training in rural areas, create a rural tourism eco-label, and enhance the promotion of rural tourism products.
The objectives of RDTR are timely and relevant in today’s tourism marketplace, where small and medium-sized businesses have a greater chance of success by collaborating and sharing resources to compete with mass tourism goliaths. And the good news for RDTR members is that the market is shifting. Tourists are beginning to demand travel that is slower, more authentic and respectful of the people and places they visit.
We have visited and invite you to learn about five rural tourism projects in the Souss Massa Draa Region of southern Morocco — Amina’s desert riad and wellness centers, Jamal’s hotel set amongst the waterfalls of Imouzzer, Abdelhakim’s hotel along the honey road, M’hand’s open invitation to his dinner table and Hassan and Helene’s hopes for ecotourism in Morocco.