Religious Jewish tourism: a potential departure of 60,000 people

Since the opening of direct lines between Morocco and Israel, the 800,000 Israelis of Moroccan origin are more tempted to come and honor the saints buried in the country of their ancestors. A dynamic that has the effect of encouraging part of the Jewish diaspora residing in other European and American countries (USA and Canada) to make pilgrimages to Morocco. Serge Berdugo seems visibly moved by the massive return of Jews from Morocco and their descendants, a unique phenomenon in the Arab-Muslim world. The president of the Israelite Council of Morocco says the Hiloula, which brought together 2,000 pilgrims to Essaouira to celebrate the memory of Chief Rabbi Haim Pinto, is just the start. 600 annual opportunities for Hiloula celebration “In the future, Hiloula, which is the equivalent of the celebration of a holy man (salih) in a marabout revered by Muslims, may multiply by the hundreds. “Indeed, there are no less than 600 listed places in Morocco where Jewish saints are buried, barely 20 of which are operated in twenty Moroccan cities,” recalls Berdugo for whom the religious Jews of the diaspora scattered around the world will be more and more people are coming to Morocco. “In addition, these religious events may be celebrated twice a year, namely to commemorate the day of the saint's death, followed by a feast called Lag Ba Omer which is supposed to end the period of mourning and honor the life of the saint. saint”, specifies the president of the Israelite Council of Morocco. On the reasons for his optimism, he asserts that every observant Moroccan Jew has his own saint, and that some of them can mobilize large crowds. 60,000 religious arrivals in 2023 against less than 20,000 previously According to him, there is an incredible emotional bond between the expatriate religious community and the saints buried in Morocco; and some pilgrims are able to come two to three times in the same year. “In the short term, the potential for arrivals of religious tourists with a close connection to the saints is at least 60,000 pilgrims who will come from all over the planet, including, as we have seen recently, members of the community of of Moroccan origin living in the Amazon”, specifies the president of the Israelite Council of Morocco. He adds that tourist operators have become aware of this manna which was largely under-exploited, with less than 20,000 arrivals of religious visitors before the opening of direct lines between Morocco and Israel. Operators will offer religious tours The main change is to offer pilgrims tours to discover holy places in other cities of the Kingdom whereas, in the past, they came to celebrate a single religious event before leaving directly. In order to increase the number of Hiloula which currently does not exceed forty, a committee of experts has been tasked with carrying out an inventory of little-known or untapped holy places. The objective is to give them more visibility with pilgrims, with the support of the Ministry of Tourism and the ONMT. “We are in the process of creating a detailed program of religious circuits throughout the national territory, which did not exist before. It will make it possible to bring in many members of the community wishing to honor the saints of their native region or that of their distant ancestors,” concludes Berdugo. He specifies that Morocco is the only country in the Arab-Muslim world to benefit from the return of the expatriate Jewish community. Moroccan measures that have made it possible to develop the niche of religious tourism Equally optimistic about the Jewish religious potential, the Minister of Tourism recalls that, in 2019, Israeli outbound tourism abroad corresponded to 9.1 million tourists who spent $8 billion. Morocco captures only the small share of 40,000 tourists, while it is in the top 10 destinations preferred by Israeli tourists. According to Fatim-Zahra Ammor, the current situation is particularly favorable to the development of this tourist niche, thanks to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, the launch of electronic visa procedures from which the Israelis were the first to benefit and, finally , the establishment of direct air links between Morocco and Israel. 100,000 Israeli arrivals expected at the end of 2022 “The results at the end of August are positive with 36,000 arrivals, double those of the same period of 2019; and we plan to maintain this trend until the end of 2022, i.e. double the number of Israeli tourists from 2019 (about 50,000 arrivals)”, indicates the Minister “The monitoring of tourist demand in Morocco shows that the Israeli tourists spend on average ten to fifteen days in Morocco and devote less than one day to the pilgrimage, which gives them the opportunity to discover the country. Thus, their demand is more oriented towards adventure and the discovery of new destinations such as Chefchaouen, Tangier and Tetouan. » Creation of a Kosher Morocco label to attract the religious segment « Aware of the development potential of this segment, we are currently working on the implementation of the necessary prerequisites to ensure these tourists favorable conditions of stay, taking into consideration their consumption and travel habits,” emphasizes Fatim-Zahra Ammor. “As such, we have signed a partnership agreement with the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, which provides a global framework for regulating aspects of Jewish life in Morocco, in particular by locking in the control and delivery of kosher services in order to achieve to a globally recognized Kosher Morocco label, and for the enhancement of the national Hebrew heritage”, concludes the Minister. She recalls that the celebration of the Hiloula of Saint Rabbi Haïm Pinto in Essaouira was an opportunity for pilgrims of the Jewish faith to reconnect with their Moroccan roots.