Morocco IIP: Week 1 in Marrakech

By Cassandra Hendricks, Global MBA student 2012-2013, USA

The International Immersion Project is an integral part of the ESSEC Global MBA experience.  Other than that, we didn’t know anything about our projects or their locations for most of the academic year.  There was much speculation amongst the students about the locations, the topics and the teams.  I secretly hoped for an interesting project in a warm location that was new to me.  That’s not too much to ask, right?

I was thrilled to learn that I was selected for the project in Morocco along with three of my classmates.  Our mission was to develop a marketing strategy for introducing ecotourism to Mirleft, a small village along the southern coast.  We would work in close collaboration with our sponsors, Union des Franco-Marocains pour le Développement (UFMD), and the Mayor of Mirleft.  We would visit Marrakech, Agadir, and Mirleft to obtain an in-depth understanding of the different types of tourism and opportunities for development in Morocco.

The first leg of our trip brought us to Marrakech.  I visited Morocco years ago so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and I was looking forward to escaping “summer” in Paris.  But I didn’t visit during the summer… or during the holy month of Ramadan.  Temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius every day and we found that our schedule was often calculated to enable us to be on time for iftar (breaking the fast).

During the first week, UFMD arranged a full itinerary for us.  We started with seeing the sights of Marrakech where we enjoyed a guided tour of Jemaa El Fna souq in the medina, the famous Koutoubia Mosque and garden, and the Majorelle Garden.  The next day we had the first of many meetings with key actors in the government and tourism industry.  Hours later, we were happy to escape the board room and embark on a tour of the most luxurious hotels in Marrakech.  In my opinion, Le Royal Mansour Hotel was the most opulent.  More like a palace, it was commissioned by King Mohamed VI and sets the tone for luxury hotels in the city.  Guests do not rent rooms or suites; they rent entire riads with private pools and 24 hour butler service.  Also high on my list were La Mamounia and the Taj Palace, where many scenes from Sex and the City 2 were filmed.  We managed to remember that we were on a mission and we treated each visit as a company trek.  Each hotel representative was met with questions about visitor demographics and spending habits, changes in the tourism industry, and financial data.

Our last day in Marrakech brought us to the Université Privée de Marrakech which has a specialized program in Tourism and Hospitality.  We toured the university and spoke with administrators where we learned about many of the problems that Morocco’s tourism industry faces.  Rising competition from neighboring countries, infrastructure, cultural perceptions, and changing demands of tourists are some of the challenges to overcome.  Despite these issues, we discovered that Marrakech is on track to reach the targets set out by the government in the Vision 2020 plan aimed at increasing tourism in Morocco.

After four days, we felt like we had gotten into the rhythm of Marrakech life and started to understand their delicate balance between modernism and tradition.  We were sad to leave but looked forward to the adventures waiting for us in Agadir and Mirleft.  Yalla!


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