How about a beach resort in the Sahara? It’s not quite what you think. The western Sahara extends to the Atlantic coast of Morocco and offers interesting possibilities for development of beach resorts. The King of Morocco is pushing hard to develop some of these areas, especially near a town called Dakhla in the extreme south. I heard about it this week at a special briefing here in Hawaii.
What are the Moroccans doing in Hawaii, you might reasonably ask? There have been increasing ties for both culture and business going back for about fifteen years, culminating in a sister state agreement in 2012 between Hawaii and the Moroccan province around the capitol, Rabat. Business between the two is not large, but could easily grow. A Honolulu architecture firm is currently working on a 200-room seaside hotel near Rabat. And Morocco wants to draw on Hawaii’s demonstrated expertise in resort development. One facet of the sister state agreement is a memorandum of agreement with the hospitality and culinary schools at Honolulu’s Kapiolani Community College (KCC). Initial tourism development trips have focused on the Dakhla area.Dakhla already has some tourism, but is very early days. Word is out in the surfing community that Dakhla is a jewel for both board surfing on the Atlantic coast, and for kite surfing in a large protected inlet. Accommodations, however, are bungalows and so-called surfers camps that don’t generate a whole lot of revenue. There are no modern hotels, just bungalows. Dakhla does have the advantage of a new modern airport terminal and a long runway. Flights are currently limited, but the infrastructure is there for considerable expansion. Visitors currently tend to come from Europe, given proximity, but Morocco has hopes of attracting Asian visitors once hotel infrastructure is in place.
The king of Morocco is personally putting millions into projects – and there are strong hopes for attracting foreign investors, especially from the Middle East. Algeria has staked a claim to the part of Morocco that contains Dakhla, but Morocco is clearly in possession and says that action by the Algerians is unlikely. Hope so.
KCC has provided detailed recommendations for Dakhla, but the short version is that Dakhla needs to keep its current surfing and kite surfing image, but expand beyond that into water sports more suitable for entire families, so-called “soft adventure” water-sports. KCC, of course, noted the need for family-oriented hotels and resorts, and the imperative of getting more air service into the area. It seems likely that KCC will participate in developing a water-sports school to teach Dakhla residents and entrepreneurs about offering and managing modern water-sports, such as diving, boating and more. Morocco has asked that one emphasis of the school be on water safety training.
Morocco has huge plans for Dakhla, currently proposing to build several resorts with all the amenities, including nearly 9,000 beds, marinas, conference centers, restaurants and everything else. Plans, of course, include infrastructure projects like wastewater treatment plants, desalinization for fresh water, and large-scale solar farms for electricity. Assuming sufficient investment is found, all this development is going to take years. In the meantime, Hawaii’s architects, engineers, water-sports companies, zip-line operators and more are lining up for possible contracts.