A highly ambitious development programme is currently under way in Casablanca’s port district. The challenge is to gradually transform this interface with the city, and its obsolete port functions, into a vibrant living space and a major international destination. But how? The question goes to the heart of Goal 8 of the AIVP 2030 Agenda, which is why were keen to talk to Mr Imad BARRAKAD, CEO of SMIT, the Moroccan Agency for Tourism Development
La SMIT has been a member of AIVP since 2016.
AIVP – In the spring of 2014, the King of Morocco unveiled the Wessal Casablanca-Port programme, aimed at radically transforming Casablanca’s port district. A year later, he launched three of the major components of that project: a new shipyard, the creation of a fishing port, and a new cruise terminal.
AIVP – What at the main features of the project?
M. Imad BARRAKAD, CEO of SMIT –
The Casablanca Settat region is home to very diverse cultural and natural resources, enabling us to offer a variety of different tourist experiences. The region is aiming to develop a dual offering built around city-breaks based on business tourism, cultural tourism and leisure on the one hand, and nature tourism on the other.
The city and surrounding region are now among the leading national tourist destinations, and the prospects for tourism growth are highly promising. Casablanca is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city where tradition and modernity exist side by side. In 1942, it was truly put on the map by the eponymous Hollywood film, giving the city’s name legendary status. Today, the historic centre of the city is rather like an open-air museum, with beautiful buildings and priceless architectural heritage, with superb examples of Art Deco and Avant Garde style dating from the 1920s through to the 1950s.
The overarching objective for Casablanca is to share the experience of a cosmopolitan, avant-garde destination – with everyone from residents and international tourists to anyone with an appreciation of the Casablancan atmosphere: “Casablanca: the Business, Culture, and Leisure Promise“.
The port of Casablanca is the focal point of the city’s waterfront, and the main gateway for cruise passengers. However, its initial state was somewhat anarchic, which made it less appealing to tourists. The outlook for the cruise business in Casablanca was gloomy, and the port zone did not provide a sufficiently attractive shop window for visitors to a big city like Casablanca. It was vital to reconquer the port and restructure its interface with the port.
On the High Instructions of His Majesty the King, a project was put together to turn Casablanca into a tourist destination taking full advantage of its port. One of the essential aims was to gradually transform the port zone’s obsolete functions, open it up to the city, and introduce new development and spatial planning arrangements to suit the current requirements of the urban community, tourists, and the economy.
The upshot is that a new City of leisure and culture is set to be developed in the zone, anchored around the port. The new City will allow us to roll out new functions that will generate new uses, reflecting the fast-changing nature of Casablanca and the desire to retake possession of the waterfront.
This project will pave the way for a complete redevelopment of a maritime and port territory that was previously unappealing and unattractive. The aim is to address the needs not just of Casablancans, by improving their living environment and making their city a more vibrant place, but also visitors and tourists, by creating a leisure and events hub. This will be achieved by reconfiguring the space available, ensuring that the architectural approach is both well landscaped and of high aesthetic quality, and putting in place recreational and leisure functions, to make the port space more pleasant to use and more suitable for contemporary pursuits.
The new functions created by this ambitious project are part of a Public Private Partnership approach.
The development of cruise activity would transform the port into an open tourist space, with new and improved facilities that will ensure tourism in Casablanca can be scaled up and diversified. Thanks to the combined efforts of the partners involved, namely the ANP (National Ports Agency) for developing the necessary cruise infrastructure (new terminal buildings, facilities for passengers, docking facilities, etc.), SMIT for suggesting ways of improving hospitality and passenger facilities in the terminal and additional tourist services, and local partners for improving the port environment and safety conditions, the cruise industry in Casablanca is set for a new lease of life.
A bustling centre will gradually take shape in the port zone, creating an essential destination with a shopping experience that will add to Casablanca’s existing retail offering (i.e. The numerous malls and shopping areas in the city), but will remain concentrated in the downtown area. Retail outlets on the waterfront will ensure the area remains attractive and enjoys high footfall all year round. There are also plans to create a leisure and culture hub, with new leisure facilities including the large Aquarium, the Cité des Sciences, and a research library open to the general public, which will enhance the recreational and cultural offering not just for the port zone, but for the destination as a whole, and will generate increased tourist activity throughout the year.
To strengthen the existing MICE offering (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions), a business centre will be built to the standards of the top international business centres. This will enable us to attract an international MICE clientele, who will come on “Bleisure” trips (a new travel concept combining both business and leisure).
The project also includes measures to modernise the various existing infrastructures and facilities in the port zone, notably by redeveloping the fishing port by creating a space open to the public and tourists, renovating the fish market, and creating specialist restaurants that will ensure a lively atmosphere in all seasons. The current marina will also be expanded and modernised, in order to spearhead efforts to promote visits by pleasure sailors.
The shipyard will also be prepared for tours, with visitors invited to explore this important part of the working port.
Another aspect of the project will see the creation of tourist accommodation facilities (hotels) offering the highest standards of hospitality, with an emphasis on comfort, wellness and quality service.
Given that there is a historic environment in the immediate vicinity of the port, measures to promote Casablanca’s heritage with tourists represents a crucial plank of the project. Casablanca’s medina will be renovated and made more attractive to visitors, through the injection of new tourist functions intra-muros (tourist trails, heritage interpretation centre, cultural amenities, community spaces, etc.).
This project is part of an ambitious, global vision to raise the profile of Casablanca as a tourist destination. The development plan for the Greater Casablanca region is based around four strategic priorities:
⦁ Improving living conditions for the local population;
⦁ Improving region-wide mobility;
⦁ Consolidating the region’s status as a national and international destination for trade, leisure, and major events. The plan includes the construction of a large theatre, a sports village, upgrades to the Mohammed V Complex, and “La Casablancaise” area, and so on;
⦁ Promoting the region’s economic attractiveness and improving the business climate.
AIVP – The aim is to enhance Casablanca’s appeal as a tourist destination. How will the project do that? And has the initial project undergone any changes?
M. Imad BARRAKAD, CEO of SMIT – The “Wessal Casablanca-Port” project is among Casablanca’s major development projects, and aims to transform the city into an attractive tourist hub by leveraging cultural creativity, architectural innovation, and improved quality of life, to ensure Morocco’s economic capital to rival the world’s greatest metropolises.
This unprecedented, ambitious project will ultimately make Casablanca a more attractive tourist destination by creating flagship facilities and developments with high added value, to consolidate its future tourist positioning as “a leading international destination for business, cultural and cruise tourism“.
This major new development of the port and its environment will draw new customers, make the area more appealing, and generate significant socio-economic benefits for the city of Casablanca and its Region.
This big urban improvement project, combined with the injection of billions in investment in tourism and culture and crucial developments for the city of Casablanca, such as the regeneration of the city’s medina, the creation of a large theatre (architectural icon), the new leisure and culture hub with its new fishing port and cruise terminal, and so on, have supported efforts to transform and showcase the port zone and its environment, with the aim of boosting the destination’s tourist appeal.
The activities and heritage offering the port zone and its immediate vicinity, whether in the form of museums, cultural and leisure amenities, or interpretation trails, will undeniably generate value, meaning and identity, which is certain to improve Casablanca’s visibility as a destination on the global tourist map.
AIVP – This huge programme is intended to support the growth of the port’s activity, while also improving the way it is integrated into the city.
AIVP – What solutions have been adopted to promote City Port integration?
M. Imad BARRAKAD, CEO of SMIT – This project was designed to ensure the best possible integration between port and city, with the creation of a new “city of culture and leisure”, which will strengthen Casablanca’s positioning as a business and city break destination, based around culture and leisure.
Alongside upgrades to the port infrastructures, the port development strategy was a key consideration in the global development projects for the city of Casablanca. This is because cruise activity is the focus around which the port is being truly integrated into the city. The port’s location at the heart of the city, in the urban fabric, allows direct links between the port (and cruise passenger traffic) and the various tourist zones and amenities: the area around Boulevard Mohamed V, the old medina, the Hassan II Mosque, the Corniche El Hank and the new Casablanca marina, etc.
With that in mind, the “Wessal Casablanca Port” programme includes several measures aimed at ensuring a better functional and spatial mix between the port and the city, by eliminating physical and functional borders separating the port from the city, and creating new spaces for people to live, meet and explore in the port city interface.