There’s probably no place in the world where the term “redefined luxury” is more applicable than Morocco with its growing upscale product inventory – all with the kind of diverse application possibilities that sprawl across the luxury market segment like a royal Moroccan wedding feast.
It is, after all, a country where privileged travelers dodge donkey carts and snarling motorbikes, hurrying past the poor toward a luxury boutique straight out of “Arabian Nights” buried deep in the bowels of a dusty, winding medina; where the royal family turns its one-time opulent home into one of the world’s best and most exclusive hotels; and where five-star clients vacation happily in a basic desert tent camp with Berber hosts.
Certainly, there’s little doubt and it’s no secret Morocco is developing into one of the world’s premier luxury destinations. But it’s more than its growing inventory of unique, five-star accommodations, shopping and dining experiences—it’s a marriage of a luxurious lifestyle with the opportunity to experience a unique culture firsthand and savor a true life experience without having to step too far out of the comfort zone.
“The luxury traveler is looking for life experiences, true life experiences. You can’t just send them anymore. Years ago, you could just send them to a destination and they’d come back and say, ‘Wow, that was just wonderful.’ But that’s not good enough anymore,” explains Ashish Sanghrajka, president, Big Five Tours & Expeditions. “People have to have a truly life-changing experience and that’s what we’ve focused on, changing people’s lives.”
Which is exactly what Big Five is seeing in the marketplace—its ultra-luxury clients going even farther and going even more upscale searching for that life-changing or life-enhancing vacation, while their mid-luxury clientele are coming down a bit in product and pricing, but immersing themselves more in the destination’s culture. To meet that demand in these two segments, they redesigned their new 2010 brochure.
“What we’ve done in the brochure is give kind of a sketchy itinerary, but then we give descriptions of all the different areas and suggestions on what to customize,” Sanghrajka explains. “We’re giving them a base itinerary to start with and customizing from that base,” Sanghrajka explains. “The other thing we came up with is what we call the Coveted Collection,” he adds, pointing out that it’s a collection of the very best properties in the world, listing the relatively new Royal Monsour in Marrakech—the former residence of the Moroccan royal family that’s now a hotel that includes several riads within its walls. “The one we’re actually using is the 4-bedroom riad—it’s the best room in the house. It’s completely isolated and just for your exclusive use. It is absolutely stunning. It’s not for everybody—it’s for that ultra-luxury client who went higher, not the middle luxury who went down a little bit…. But the middle luxury is not going down because you’re giving them the life experiences, but then, for somebody who really has the means to put some time in this 4-bedroom riad, all of a sudden it puts Morocco in a completely different light.”
cox & kings Nicole Beattie, Arabia & North Africa program director and Indian special interest program director for Cox & Kings—the first tour operator in the world—takes a similar approach for her Morocco clients, 99 percent of whom, she says, opt for customized programs in the 7- to 9-night range. As a result, she says, she avoids or limits regular hotel stays in favor of the ever more popular riads.
Riads, for those who don’t know, are generally refurbished one-time homes—some of which can be many centuries old—that had at one time been owned by prominent Moroccans. Many are located in the oldest medinas in the cities with the living quarters built all around an open-air primary courtyard, most with a fountain or a shallow pool in the middle. Many are quite opulent and all are unique.
“You know, two people, three people, they want to be in the midst of everything so being in the medina in the old city areas and being in some of these wonderful small boutique properties—they just eat it up,” she says. “We’ve been very successful with selling high-end boutique riad properties throughout Morocco. Most of my clients love the idea of those small, off-the-beaten-track kind of places. But that’s what our market is, mostly.”