Research studies

Decentralized Decision Making Through Territorial Specificities (Tourism in Marrakesh as an Example)


Prepared by the researcher  : Salma EL GHIOUAN [1]& Hicham SALIM[2]

  • [1] Researcher in the doctoral program in Cadi Ayyad University / arts and human sciences faculty. Laboratory of studies on resources, mobility and attraction (LERMA), Marrakech, Morocco
  • [2] Master’s degree in Planning and Territorial Development, in the Geography Department of the Arts and human sciences Faculty, Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech, Morocco

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of African Studies and the Nile Basin : Twentieth Issue – June 2023

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN  2569-734X

Journal of African Studies and the Nile Basin

:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link


Marrakech is a Tourism destination that benefits from several geographical advantages along with significant historic and cultural heritage that put the Red city in the forefront of Tourism in Morocco. Given the potential, Marrakech Should rank amongst the most visited cities in the world. Despite the major efforts by the local and national governing entities on the sector, and the attraction of investors and major players in development, as well as infrastructure and surrounding destinations, it cannot reach the top twenty destinations worldwide. This article will attempt to link between a territorial specificities approach and sustainable development using tourism as the specificity that identifies Marrakech.


Territory development is the process of following several steps set previously in a plan, to achieve the goal of ensuring the population’s prosperity and easy living. This is by far the simplest definition of the term, and it helps us establish a basis upon which we can explain the importance of territorial specificities to promote territory development in the commune of Marrakesh.

The most important specificity that the “red city” has in its disposal is touristic attractions. The city keeps ranking amongst the top 100 most visited cities in the world over the past 10 years. This is important in order to promote the city and create sustainable development in order to help create a sufficiently prosperous society. The reasons why Marrakesh is a well sought-after touristic destination are varied among them there is: Historic monuments, diverse landscape, rich culture, hospitable people, traditional crafts and industries, and proximity to every other major touristic attraction in Morocco.

This allows to establish a solid background for territory marketing in order to propel the city as a pillar of development for the entire nation. However, in order to properly market the city, there necessarily should be a strategic territorial plan put in place. This plan must incorporate the territorial specificities including the touristic value of the city in its projection.

Review of literature

  “The interaction between locally based actors and agencies with those at regional, national, and international levels frames the debates surrounding sustainable development policies and practices. Thus, implementation of sustainable development practices is subject to a wide variety of external cultural, political, and economic pressures at every level.” (HEBERLE & OPP, 2008)

The locally based stakeholders and agencies play a significant role in shaping the local specificities, and therefore are relevant points in any conversation about sustainable development on the local level.

This applies to Marrakesh especially with the multitude of stakeholders involved in the tourism sector which is the most significant specificity available to the city. Therefore, in order to plan for sustainable development through tourism one must take into account these actors and agencies.

“When there is will to involve stakeholders, getting them to actively participate in the process seems to be a challenge, which stems from different reasons communication channels used inappropriately for certain stakeholders, access to planning documents is not always easy, feedback taken from stakeholders is not reflected in the final documents and overall management and coordination of multiple stakeholders are difficult.” (Hintea, Profiroiu, & Țiclău, 2019)

As a counterargument, participation even if important is not always efficient, as opinions ideas and solutions vary from one individual to another and finding common ground and agreeable starting points for a plan can be a difficult and sometimes fruitless task.

“It is now widely acknowledged in the contemporary tourism literature that community participation is crucial to sustainable tourism development, the latter of which emphasizes local participation in the decision-making process. The rationale for resident involvement is that it helps minimize the negative social impacts of tourism development, it increases the level of buy-in into tourism projects and it creates an environment for the host community to receive optimal benefits from the industry.” (ROBERTS, 2012)

Public participation is a crucial missing step in the decision-making process of planning for the sustainable development of the Red City. It is however replaced by a simple and rather  inefficient process of public inquiry, which entails putting an announcement on the municipality, and letting those who wish to register a remark, or a complaint know.

The most common tool of public participation utilised worldwide is certainly the public forum, it has been an efficient format which allowed for a better usage of territorial specificities, because it is a reflection of the local community. Therefore, we believe that it is of the utmost importance that the law incorporates this format of public participation into all projects in all levels of government (from national to local).

Decentralization is an act through which the central government shifts power and responsibility in an official capacity to the institutions and participants on the lower level of political, administration, and territorial hierarchy. Often decentralization is seen as a tool to enhance the central government’s access to accurate information on local or regional circumstances within the territory, to plan pertinent programs and to react quicker and better to unexpected issues in execution of said programs. (MADDICK, 1963)

1-      An overview of public forums

The organizational laws of territorial communes relied on participatory tools of consultation, to organize the participation of the people in communal decision making. The first tool utilized is consultation committees. Each commune has one consultation committee that involves people and associations in preparing and evaluating proposals as well as contribute to development programs. These committees work in parallel with the elected council. The second tool utilized is petitions, which is a people’s demand that either inhabitants or association request of their local governing body (communes, provinces, or regions), in order to add a significant need to the council’s agenda. This request must involve an issue that concerns the territorial commune in question for said request or demand to be considered for the council’s agenda, which the council decides ultimately whether to include the request. These participatory tools give citizens and associations the right to manage their communes. However, in order to develop further ways of participation, there must be other more significant and impactful ways to hold the council accountable, and to allow further participation to pinpoint all local needs that put the council in better position of understanding and therefore tackling the local needs, to gain true efficacy and efficiency of intervention on the territory (local) level.

The Public Forum can be an applicable solution. In its core, a public forum has the one task of transforming people’s views and opinions on a certain topic into actionable steps of a plan. It’s an event organized in a public space, where an organizer conducts the event allowing people to share their views and perspectives on the discussed project or plan, and how it would impact them individually or as a community.

Whether through brainstorming or statistically grouping data in a priority order, public forums often give a general idea on the mindset of people most involved with any given program. These people are referred to as stakeholders.

By including stakeholders, a project planner has a better understanding of the project and its implications and impact on the local community. Thus, making sure that their plan encompasses most of the local community’s needs.

2-      Decentralization

The territorial communes are constitutional institutions that are connected to the decentralization system, which means the distribution of tasks amongst central government and local democratically elected bodies, that are subdivided into three levels which are regions, provinces or prefectures, and communes. These are under chapter nine of the Moroccan constitution regarding the organization of territorial communes, as it draws the broad guidelines on council elections, their role in implementing the general policies of the government in local territorial policies, which are detailed in organizational laws 111.14 and 112.14 and 113.14 concerning territorial communes as well as several Dahers, Decrees, and organizational decisions.

Several communes have attempted to develop their developmental economic sectors, key amongst which is the tourism sector. This was accomplished through usage and valuation of local resources and specificities as attraction capabilities, which had a positive impact on sustainable development. Marrakesh is considered to be the most significant beneficiary of said policies, since the tourism sector is by far the central component of the city’s economy, especially with the vast number of contributing factors (territorial resources, diverse cultural and historical heritage… etc.) that made it the pole of touristic activity and a destination for millions of visitors yearly. Despite these factors many challenges arise from the unforeseen trends and events that impact such a volatile sector, such recent example is the Covid pandemic that sent the tourism sector reeling, and only recently that it started rising from the woes it suffered.

3-      An overview of tourism in Marrakesh

As the following map shows Marrakesh occupies the centre position in Morocco, a crossroad from the green north and the desert south.

The city of Marrakech is the capital of the Marrakech-Safi region. Its geolocation is defined:

+ Its latitude is between 31 ° 37′ North and 31 ° 35′ south

+ Its longitude is between 7 ° 52′ East of Greenwich and 7 ° 59′ west

Map 1: The geographic location of Marrakech

Source: Public data developed through ArcGIS, 2019

The “Red City” is subdivided into five districts, which are MEDINA, GUELIZ, ENNAKHIL, Sidi Youssef Ben Ali (SYBA), and MENARA. There is also a special commune of MÉCHOUAR-KASBAH, which has its own separate municipality.

Marrakesh is the capitol city of the Marrakesh-Safi region. It is one of three major poles in the country with Casablanca and Tangier.

It’s proximity to all landscapes is considered a major tourism plus that not many cities can boast. Southward contains the Great Atlas peaks that contain snow and beautiful green landscape. Further south or eastbound one could reach arid areas that contain oases, which are the common sought-after destination that give the common tourists that Moorish vibe they seek. However, northbound curious and adventurous tourist might stumble upon forests, rivers, great lakes, and a whole green tapestry. Westbound, tourists can reach the Atlantic Ocean with beautiful shores, some that are raw, and some are populated and developed.

This location is an important element in attracting tourism, as well as several historical and cultural sites within the city as this map shows:

Map 2: The Most Significant Tourist Destinations of Marrakech

Source: Data from Google Maps developed through ArcGIS, 2019

It is a noticeable fact that many of the historical landmarks of the red city are centred in the Medina district. That has a tangible reason, as the city of Marrakesh earlier in its history did not expand beyond the walls of the ancient city where all these historic landmarks are. The other locations except for the Menara were all built during or after the French and Spanish colonial invasion of Morocco (1912-1956).

These landmarks all vary in eras starting from the Almoravid empire followed by Almohad dynasty, then the Marinids, the Wattasids, and the Saadiens. The Alaoui dynasty has moved the capitol of Morocco from Marrakesh to Meknes then to Rabat.

Each era worth exploring for the culture, the architectural style, and the rich history, as many tourists are interested in knowing more about the peak of the western Islamic empires that made progress in several field like science, medicine, architecture, and art, left behind traces of their development and their way of life.

One of the many draws of Marrakech as a city is the architectural design of these landscapes that blends northern Moroccan interior design using carved wooden ceilings and multicoloured tiles for the walls and floors, and Moroccan southern exterior design by using clay walls and kasbah style exteriors, including the ancient Medina walls and towers which are also made using clay.

The rich and compelling history of the city intrigues the curiosity of people from around the world despite the lack of advertisement which we will fully explore later on, yet we had to mention it here due to its relevance.

Getting to these landmarks requires mostly little more than a walk as they are compacted within the Medina district and the Mechouar special municipality. However, some of the other destinations require transport and mobility ways which are well established in Marrakech as the next map shows

Map 3: Mobility Ways of Marrakech

Source: developed in ArcGIS, 2020 through data from

4-                     Opportunities and obstacles

a-       Opportunities

All the mentioned above can be a starting point for the opportunities that Marrakech as a tourism destination can take advantage of. The built-up reputation through the years alongside the free advertisement of the internet does allow a great spread of word.

These beds over the years have hosted Millions of tourists, however data only shows airport arrivals which does not include every visitor to the city but still gives an idea about how much the demand has grown, as demonstrates this chart:

Chart 1: Arrivals in Marrakech-Menara Airport

Source : (2022)

This increasing demand excluding the “Covid Years” have shown a steady growth in demand for Marrakech as a tourism destination, this including the lacking marketing campaign and the less than satisfactory representation of the city. This growth despite those factors is a testament to the true potential of the city. Marrakech continues to grow its Touristic capabilities as the next chart demonstrates:

Chart 2: The evolution of hotel beds in Marrakech

Source : (2022)

The yearly growth (1942,5 beds in average) in beds show the ever-expanding market of tourism in Marrakech. It is not quite the significant growth one would hope for such a destination, however taking into consideration Morocco’s GDP and its infrastructure investment capabilities, one can easily state that it is a reasonably acceptable progress.

a-       Obstacles

One the key challenges facing the city of Marrakech’s tourism growth is the lack of worldwide recognition as a premiere destination for tourists. It is almost but not yet a must see for the casual tourist. That is a significant detractor for the aspiration that Morocco has of becoming one of the world’s greatest tourism hubs. Marketing the prime destination is perhaps the most important component of developing the tourism sector to any given nation, especially for one like Morocco which is a developing nation and does not possess a steady economy yet.

The identity crisis that faces Marrakech’s tourism offer as it is not clear whether the emphasis is on modernism or traditionalism. There is a significant rift that splits development focus between strengthening and improvement on one side, and modernization on the other.

 This is not to state that there is no growth or progress or to just cast a negative light on the efforts of developing the tourism sector, but to shed the light upon key issues that if solved could propel Marrakech’s, and therefore Morocco’s Tourism to new heights.

5-      Marrakech’s Tourism offer

Hotels and beds are the center piece of any tourism offer and it is crucial to have a varied and strong bedding infrastructure. Marrakech offers a variety of bedding option that is mainly concentrated at the beating heart of the city, which is the old Medina, as is shown in this Map:

Map 4: Hotels and Bedding in Marrakech

Source: developed in ArcGIS, 2020 through data from

The other key element in tourism offer is Restaurants. Here Marrakech has a major advantage over many other destinations in other parts of the world. That advantage being the renowned Moroccan cuisine which on its own is an attraction of foodies around the world.

Marrakech offers restauration like no other city. Marrakech’s restaurants are better spread through the city than hotels, however they remain mainly concentrated in the Medina as shows the next map:

Map 5: Restaurants in Marrakech

Source: developed in ArcGIS, 2020 through data from

6-      Territorial Specificities and Tourism

Morocco’s ascent as tourist destination is primarily due to its territorial specificity as a historical hub of culture that spans centuries. The cumulative history allows tourists to go on a journey through centuries of accomplishments in architecture, science, culture, art, cuisine, and many others.

Territorial Specificities Approach to Development
Marketability and Tourism Growth
Increase in Quality and Quantity of Tourism Offer
Sustainable Development for the City and tourist destinations linked to it

Figure 1: Impact of Territorial Specificities Approach

Implementing a territorial specificities approach to developing the city of Marrakech will have a positive impact on marketability and will allow the reach of a wider tourism markets that have not been reached yet. The increase in demand in those targeted markets is a catalyst for the increase in both quality and quantity of the touristic offer of Marrakech. The income from this demand, if planned out thoroughly, could provide sustainable development for the city and all linked tourist destinations, through the positive impact of tourism influx. Another way that territorial specificities approach could impact the tourism sector is through the local product valuation as the next figure shows:

Valuation of Local Tourism Product
Created Interest in Marrakech
Growth in Tourism Income
Increase in Hosting Capability
Improved Flow of Tourists
Decrease in Client Dissatisfaction

Figure 2: Local Product Valuation

Local product valuation permits the designated product to gain both value and worldwide notoriety. For Marrakech, even tough, the tourism product has significant value, it is however not enough in comparison with similar markets (i.e., Turkey, New Zealand, India…). There for a development that leads to higher valuation can generate interest in the touristic product, which would cause an income growth. That if reinvested would increase the hosting capabilities of Marrakech.


The city of Marrakech has the untapped potential of becoming one of the leading tourist destinations in the world. This would require a bigger investment in the city’s attractions. What makes the city special are the specificities of Moroccan culture and heritage that infuse the multilayered cultural experience of the city. Capitalizing on these qualities can create sustainable development through territorial specificities and promote tourism for all Morocco and not just Marrakech.


HEBERLE, L. C., & OPP, S. M. (2008). Local sustainable urban development in a globalized world. Burlington: Ashgate.

Hintea, C. E., Profiroiu, M. C., & Țiclău, T. C. (2019). Strategic Planning in Local Communities. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

MADDICK, H. (1963). Democracy, Decentralization, and Development. Lodon.

ROBERTS, S. (2012). An Exploratory Analysis of Factors Mediating Community Participation Outcomes in Tourism. In R. PHILLIPS, & S. ROBERTS, Tourism, Planning, and Community Development (p. 35). New York: Routledge.

Tourism, M. M. (2022, 09 30). Moroccan Ministry of Tourism. Retrieved from Moroccan Ministry of Tourism:

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