Courting India, Morocco-style: Bollywood, business and luxury travel

In Morocco, “India” immediately conjures up pictures of “Bollywood” stars to the locals. But that’s not the only connection between the two countries. In fact, ever since the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Morocco in 1957, the ties between the two countries have grown stronger to encompass diverse areas. Morocco considers India as its top trading partner in Asia and the third largest globally. Bilateral relations have expanded beyond trade and supply of phosphates, a key ingredient for fertilizers of which Morocco holds two-thirds of global reserves, to investment in services and a slew of other segments. Home to over 70 pristine tourist destinations Morocco, the North African country, is proactively seeking investments from India in the hospitality sector as it courts Indian travellers to come and explore its natural beauty.
The Tata group is perhaps the only Indian chain to have opened a luxury property, Taj Palace Marrakech, a 130-acre resort that overlooks the Atlas Mountain, last November. Following the Taj’s entry would be a host of brands like Banyan Tree, Mandarin Oriental, among others, who are literally making a beeline in Morocco. Now, home-grown brand like La Mamounia, an iconic property that seldom needed much marketing for its sheer popularity, is left to venture out of its comfort zone seeking a new market. Considered a destination in itself, La Mamounia has been the favourite of people like Winston Churchill, who stayed there through many winters. So did the legendary Franklin D. Roosevelt. With a beautiful landscaped garden dotted with trees and plants, the resort has never been large enough to satisfy all the guests who wanted to be accommodated. Until the end of thirties, the hotel had only fifty rooms. But it was expanded in 1946 to include 100 rooms, then refurbished successively in 1950, 1953, 1986 and finally in 2006 for a reopening with 210 keys on September 29, 009. Seeped in history, the property which dates back to the eighteenth century is a true monument combining the traditional Moroccan architecture with the Art Deco style.
Didier Picquot, the affable General Manager, La Mamounia, who has played a pivotal role in entrenching the hotel’s global reputation, recently visited India, wooing new clients to come and experience his property. In this interview with Hoihnu Hauzel, Picquot speaks about cultural connections between India and Morocco and how Morocoo’s hospitality industry is looking at the growing market for luxury travel anew.
(Excerpts from the interview)

Q) You have a very negligible percentage of guests from India, particularly in your property. Now, what makes you think that India is a potential market for your hotel/country?

A) Indeed, India is currently considered a niche market for La Mamounia and Marrakech in general; we have ended in 2012 with less than 1 per cent. Being the official partner of the Marrakech Film Festival during the last edition of 2012 when India was the country being honoured, we believe it is a great platform for us to work on penetrating this market with high potential. The Indian market is becoming very mature for the European destinations and it will show a bigger interest for Marrakech in the upcoming years.
In addition, we thought that the opening of a new Taj property in Marrakech will also generate media focus on Marrakech as a lifestyle and leisure destination.

Q) Would the opening of Taj Palace Marrakech in some ways be considered a competition for your brand? In what way will it impact your occupancy?

A) Taj is a landmark brand in India and La Mamounia is the landmark hotel in Marrakech; the future opening of Taj Marrakech will definitely help us to stir an interest toward the destination and introduce our property to the Indian high-end travellers. Taj will be a competitor as it is a strong luxury brand which has very high quality standards. It will also attract a new kind of travellers, and thus further strengthen the position of Marrakech as an upscale luxury destination.

Q) During your recent trip to India (through Rajasthan), what are the cultural affinities between India and Morocco that you noticed?

A) As in Morocco, there is in India a very strong family bond. There is also the delight to display and share the various food of the country as well as enjoyment of music and dance. There is respect for ancestral rites and legacies and concomitantly a great interest towards modernity. Tradition and modernity — which is also the equilibrium which La Mamounia straddles.

Q) How would you make your property or the destination appealing for Indian customers?

A) La Mamounia is one of the most iconic hotels in the world. This year, we are celebrating our 90th anniversary. La Mamounia is a lifestyle destination in itself, combining a unique sensory experience with handcrafted architecture and decoration, gastronomy from Morocco, France and Italy, Spa and Wellness, personalized service. We are also a children-friendly hotel. The location of La Mamounia is ideal to discover Marrakech as we are located just five minutes away from the most famous square in Marrakech: The Jammaa El Fna square. In addition, our legendary gardens of eight hectares are silent witness of our long and fabulous history.

Q) What kind of tourists are you targeting from India?

A) We are targeting all travellers who are luxury-sensitive and looking for a one of a kind experience.
Q) How is Indian culture perceived in Morocco? What do you think connects us?
A) Indian culture is well known and loved in Morocco! Moroccans are big fans of Bollywood. Movies are the way to export culture so you will find lots of Moroccans, who are very familiar with all the customs you have in India as weddings, family celebrations or food, culture, familiar habits, food are the biggest connections between us but they are also some small similarities like the way women are dressed in Morocco and in India: for instance, the traditional Indian wear, sari, is very popular in Morocco and is used to make traditional women Moroccan dress: Kaftan.
Q) You (your hotel) has played host to our top film stars during the recently-concluded international film festival. In what manner can Bollywood be used as a ticket to further connect our cultural bond?
A) Celebrities are always a way to attract people as they are considered as opinion leaders. When we were in India we realized how film stars like Shahrukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan are adored and respected. We sincerely believe that having welcomed them in our hotel is a ‘plus’ for La Mamounia and will certainly play a big role in attracting travellers who wish to visit Marrakech.
Q) What are you specific plans/strategies for Indian market? How do you plan to reach out?
A) As we do in all our markets, we focus on direct contact with travel agents, the media and consortia. We do believe that a direct contact and a close relationship with our partners is the best way to strengthen and reinforce our presence in a market. We will definitely return next year and will keep in touch with our partners and new contacts we have met during this visit.
Q) Would you at any time consider introducing Indian cuisine as a part of the menu in your coffee shop or any restaurants in your property?
A) Not for the moment….we do believe that offering Moroccan food is a good way to introduce the Moroccan culture. In addition, we do offer two gastronomic restaurants “Le Français by Jean-Pierre Vigato” and “L’ Italien by Don Alfonso”; both are two stars Michelin chefs. We propose vegetarian recipes in all our restaurants and room service.

Author Profile

Hoihnu Hauzel
Hoihnu Hauzel is a Delhi-based freelance writer. She writes on travel, food and lifestyle.