Interview with Lhoucine Boufassi, Head Market Access and Competitiveness of the Sustainable Tourism Switzerland Morocco programme.
The owners of the lodgings all agree that collaboration with all those involved was amazing. Particularly the participatory approach was held in high regard. What worked especially well, and to what can this success be attributed?
Actually, the participatory approach helped us already during the diagnostic phase to determine the expectations of the homeowners. It also allowed us to compile these expectations and prioritize them for their positive impact on clients and feasibility using available resources.
In hindsight, we can say now that the “local development” approach selected was crucial to the pilot project’s success. The choice fell on local service providers (businesses) familiar with the lay of the land and who have more knowledge of cultural attractions (customs, traditions, etc.). This rendered communication and consequently collaboration easier.
Good coordination with all those involved, availability of architecture experts, and their ability to react made it possible for us to tackle certain difficulties. Furthermore, the signed agreements with homeowners and businesses helped to govern relations effectively. In its support of DAMA, the two tourism officials, and SMIT, Swisscontact understood well the role of facilitator between homeowners and businesses, which helped find effective solutions for individual bottlenecks that had arisen out of different understandings of certain aspects.
Which parts of the home were given priority in the renovations? Which criteria were decisive?
Every part of the home, such as living and sleeping areas, sanitary facilities, and common spaces constitutes its own case with specific requirements. The requirements were very high for the budgets allocated and often difficult decisions had to be made. The most important criterion in the prioritization process is the potential positive effect on the customer experience in consideration of safety, hygiene, and sustainability. So it’s about using the available budget intelligently to achieve the maximum possible impact on the client and subsequently also on the providers of the lodging themselves.
Did homeowners have any unrealistic expectations?
As said, it was possible to avoid “exaggerated” and unrealistic demands by applying the participatory approach and close project guidance in determining needs and prioritizing initiatives to be implemented. Still, it is important to point out that due to the limited budget, there are still many unfulfilled needs.
In construction work there are often delays and budget overruns. Were you able to stick to the time plan and budget?
In this (initially unplanned) pilot phase there were some delays for different reasons, which included:
The homeowners themselves had to contribute to the renovations. Were they able to make this contribution?
The contribution share of homeowners in the introduction of the technical and financial support mechanism was contractually stipulated. This constituted 1/3 of the budget, of which at least 50% was to be paid in cash into a special account set up by Swisscontact for the lodging renovations. The homeowners knew what they had to contribute and signed an agreement. These agreements were performed in full, but in certain cases there were delays. The homeowners often exceeded the in-kind materials and labour component.
This must have been an unusual job for the local construction foremen, because otherwise they would have been involved in constructing new homes and infrastructure. What was the greatest challenge?
It was in part an unusual job, but nevertheless they were familiar with certain aspects (such as sanitation and electrical installations). However, in other areas they needed to be supervised closely by the architects, because it involved renovating different types of buildings (rammed earth homes –known in French as Pisé, local stone, etc.) featuring various installations (traditional roofs, wood structures, etc.). The architects’ close supervision of the foremen ensures high quality of execution. The foremen carried out his work with great enthusiasm, because it allowed them to learn and apply new construction practices with local materials.
How did the renovations take shape with the use of local materials?
In this pilot project, cement tiles known in French as carreaux de ciment were used to design certain rooms (bathrooms and terraces) to preserve the rural character of the house. Local stone was used for floors and wall coverings inside the homes. The builders used rammed earth (pisé) to build up the walls; this material creates a pleasant room climate and offers good energy efficiency. The unavailability of certain materials locally caused some difficulties and additional burdens, especially in terms of costs and dates.
What surprised you the most in the renovation work? What pleases you the most?
Every structure is its own unique example. For that reason, it is difficult to make comparisons. Nevertheless, we were surprised at how rooms can be transformed from uninteresting to real highlights of guest houses. Examples include the terraces at the Chez Saadia et Mustapha and Tissente guest houses, as well as the kitchen at the Aoujdade guest house.
As a team we are quite pleased in being able to improve the infrastructure while preserving the character of the lodgings within the available budgets. During our last trip to the area, we had the opportunity to gather statements from loyal guests of Chez Saadia et Mustapha, and these confirmed to us that the renovations are quite significant, though they did not destroy the “soul” in the process. An English guest, a rock-climbing guide staying at Aoujdade, conveyed the same opinion.
The pilot project with six guest houses is now finished, and now the planning phase for the renovation of further guest houses has started. What have you learned from this whole process?
The purpose of the pilot was to test tools and processes for the renovations. We came to the following conclusions:
The diagnostic tools (including benchmarks) allowed us to identify the initiatives with positive impacts. The implementation process was confirmed, and we can use the evaluation to further improve efficiency.
The most important success factors include partner involvement, the participatory approach, frequent communication, and flexibility. Nevertheless, the possibilities to adaptation the experience to the planned renovation work on the 34 guest houses will be limited.
Also important is the local approach with access to local service providers. The contractors were closely supervised and benefited from skills transfer in sanitation work.
In contrast, there are challenges such as the long distances and remote, even difficult to reach lodgings. This has put us under some scheduling pressure. It was precisely during the COVID period that transport costs of materials got quite high, and qualified labour was not always available.
Available resources were limited, consequently we had to dispense with some important implementation activities in the interest of prioritisation.
What expectations do the homeowners have for tourists visiting their guest houses in the future?
Essentially, the needs are very high. The property owners being assisted are well aware of the need for investment and want to expand their lodgings even further. Expectations are more or less realistic. They focus on aspects that are very important for sustainability (environmentally-friendly heating solutions, solar power, saving water, vegetable gardening, etc.).
Will the lodgings be able to create jobs?
These are typically family jobs and seasonal employees. Family members at the lodgings and the food service businesses around them will benefit, especially women.
How are the renovated vacation homes marketed to the tourism market? Do the homeowners receive any assistance?
There are plans to help them out with various issues as part of a coaching programme. In particular, this will involve management tasks, including accounting and marketing. Additionally, the guest houses are posted on the regional marketing and advertising platform www.visitbenimellal.ma