Morocco hopes for Israeli tourism boost when flights resume

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Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morocco, Africa. The airport is the busiest airport in Morocco with approximately 8 million passengers passing through the airport each year. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morocco, Africa. The airport is the busiest airport in Morocco with approximately 8 million passengers passing through the airport each year. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Morocco hopes its improved ties with Israel and centuries-old Jewish history will help it offset some of the tourist trade it has lost to the global pandemic by bringing a surge of Israeli visitors once flights restart next month.

The two countries agreed in December to resume diplomatic ties and relaunch direct flights, part of a deal brokered by the United States.

“I was quite afraid to go previously, because it’s an Arab country, even though I was told that tours there were fine. Now that there is peace, I think I can go without fear,” said retired Israeli teacher Rivka Sheetrit, 69, who wants to see where her parents once lived and her forefathers were buried.

“When the skies reopen I plan to go,” she said.

Morocco was home to one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in North Africa and the Middle East for centuries until Israel’s founding in 1948. As Jews fled or were expelled from many Arab countries, an estimated quarter of a million left Morocco for Israel from 1948-1964.

Though the numbers of Israeli visitors are likely to be small compared to the total pre-COVID-19 tourist flow to Morocco, it could help a sector battered by the pandemic.

Tourism minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui has said she expects 200,000 Israeli visitors in the first year following the resumption of direct flights. That compares to about 13 million yearly foreign tourists before the pandemic. Tourism revenue fell by 53.8% to 36.3 billion dirhams ($3.8 billion) in 2020.

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