Moroccan snake-charmer Youssef watched as long-absent tourists again thronged Marrakesh’s famous Jamaa El-Fna square, ending a long pause forced by the Covid pandemic.
“We’re breathing again,” he said.
The ancient southern city, famous for its views of graceful red buildings set against palm trees and snow-capped mountains, has long drawn visitors including celebrities from Madonna to Yves Saint Laurent.
But it was particularly hard hit by a two-year collapse in tourism that saw arrivals to the North African kingdom plummet to just a third last year from 2019.
For Youssef, taking a break from playing his oboe-like “ghaita” pipe before the seemingly mesmerised serpent, “it’s such a pleasure to be back here after these slow, painful months”.
Tourism — which accounts for some seven percent of Morocco’s economy and creates hundreds of thousands of formal and informal jobs — was battered by Morocco’s tight restrictions during the pandemic.
Today, Marrakesh residents see signs of hope again as tourists have returned to the UNESCO-listed old city’s narrow alleys.
Cafe terraces are full and foreigners browse shops and market stalls for traditional clothing, furniture and souvenirs.
“We’re not back to pre-pandemic levels but the situation has been improving over the past month,” said salesman Abdellah Bouazri, after serving an Argentinian customer in a Boca Juniors football top.
Bouazri, 35, said the coronavirus had forced him to temporarily abandon his shop and find alternative work as a security guard.
The father of two was one of many in the beleaguered industry forced to find an alternative income — including many informal workers without contracts or social security.
But he said he was optimistic about the future: “It has been hard, but today I’m delighted to be going back to my real job.”