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25/12/2017 - 07:00hs

Brazilian couple run tour operator in Morocco

Morocco Imperial Tour offers customized services intended primarily for Brazilian tourists. It started as a cycle tourism company in 2013, and now 75% of its clientele is made up of women.

São Paulo – Morocco Imperial Tour operates out of Marrakech and São Paulo, offering regular, adventure and cycle tourism packages. It also holds sports events, weddings, business meetings and social gatherings. The tour operator started out by supplying cycle tourism services to Brazilians, and now it caters mostly to a female clientele.

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Hadi and Lilian Akkouh in Morocco

Journalist-cum-entrepreneur Lilian Haddad Akkouh moved to Marrakech with her husband Hadi Akkouh in January 2016. A Syrian and Lebanese descendant born in Santos, São Paulo, she met the Moroccan-descendant athlete and advertising professional in 2008, while covering adventure sports as a reporter.

The agency was established in 2013 as Hadi decided to invest in a sports-related business. Along with his Moroccan-born father Abdelhadi Akkouh, they started a cycle tourism agency in Morocco, which they ran out of São Paulo.

In 2014, the Akkouhs saw business boom as Morocco’s government carried out advertising actions in Brazil. “Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc added flights to Brazil, and the Moroccan government is still working on advertisement, since tourism is the number one source of revenue for Moroccans,” said Lilian.

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Lilian tells her stories in blog Pra Lá de Marrakech

That was when the Akkouhs decided to plan their move to the Arab country. “Hadi knew Morocco, he’d go with his parents as a child and a teenager,” she said. Lilian joined the company as a partner and they moved in January 2016. She found adapting a bit challenging. “Even though I’m an Arab, it took some getting used to, being a woman and a Catholic in a Muslim country.”

Now living in African land, Lilian started Pra Lá de Marrakech, a blog relating her new life experiences and telling of the beautiful things she saw in Morocco. Her work commanded attention from women who aspired to see Morocco. It also dispelled lots of myths about the country.

“I got many messages from women who’d like to visit Morocco, but weren’t sure they could go alone without a man.” The blog brought new customers to the tour company, and now Lilian accompanies women groups on leisure and cycle tourism tours. “I’d say women account for 75% of our business. I guess they feel more comfortable being with a Brazilian woman who knows her way around,” she said.

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A group of women bikers with Lilian (R)

Pedalling along

A group of eight women from one family that Lilian travelled with took a 12-day bicycle trip from Tangiers to Marrakech, covering some 250 km on bikes and over 1,000 km driving. “We custom-design routes to match each client’s profile. We also have backup vehicles, a truck to haul the bikes, and over 30 bikes available.”

Morocco Imperial Tour is the official representative in Brazil of Titan Desert, a biking event covering 600 km in the desert. It also represents Ultra Trail Atlas Toubkal, a mountain race on 12 km-to-105 km tracks that’s considered one of the most challenging in the world.

What Brazilians want

The most popular destinations with Brazilians in Morocco are the Sahara Desert, Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca. “Many want to see Casablanca because of the movie, which wasn’t even shot there. But Hassan II mosque, the biggest in Morocco which accepts non-Muslims, is a major local tourist attraction,” said Lilian.

“We always recommend that people visit the imperial cities: Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, Meknes and Casablanca.” The biggest challenge for tourists, she says, is being able to see each and every place, since the Sahara is far from Casablanca and Marrakech and the trip can be tiresome, so having time on your hands is a must.

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Tourists in Blue City

Brazilians thinking of going to Morocco are advised to seek information and support, and being cheap here doesn’t pay off in the end. Hiring an agency and services from people who know the ropes is key in order to avoid getting in trouble. “Oftentimes people want save up, and because they travel a lot, they think they can work it all out by themselves. But once they get here, they need to take a 30-minute hike to get to their hotel near the souk (market),” Lilian explains.

The language barrier can also be an issue. Moroccan Arabic, Berber and French are all spoken in the country. “I and Hadi speak French, English and a bit of Arabic, and we have our local guides. This means our clients can be at ease.”

Lilian finds that what sets her boutique tour operator apart is the fact that it’s able to show Brazilians what they wish to see in their trips to Morocco. “Morocco has it all: beaches, desert, mountains, snow, amazing cultural heritage, and we provide the most interesting bits of it to our clients with unique services. We work to maximize the experiences of Brazilian tourists with comfort and safety,” she said.

For more about life in Morocco, check out the blog www.pralademarrakech.com.

For a trip to Morocco with Lilian and Hadi, go to www.moroccoimperial.com.

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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