Stephanie Ackland tracks some of the fast changes helping turn Casablanca into a conference hub.
Like many cities in Morocco, change in Casablanca is happening fast, with a booming business hub, new hotels, business parks, multi-use marina, public venues. The economic heart of Morocco clearly has ambitious plans.
For business, congresses and events, Casablanca has many inherent advantages. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Atlantic Ocean, it is a natural gateway to Morocco and to Africa and a strategic meeting point for delegates coming from the US, Europe, MENA and Asia.
Recent redesign and expansion at Mohammed V International Airport and increase in international flight operators has strengthened the city’s position as the region’s most important hub.
Casablanca is a corporate home to over 150 international manufacturers and is particularly strong in aeronautics and space industries, which are housed in Aeronautic City, one of Casablanca’s Free Zones.
Anfa City, a 315-hectare park located on the site of the old airport is home to the new Finance City. Casablanca has one of the best performing stock-exchanges in the MENA region.
Hicham Tahri, director of Moroccan DMC, Activ Travel, says: “With a must-see air and financial hub and future cruise port, Casablanca is fast becoming a true business destination.”
Casablanca is a city of contrasts with new office blocks, luxury accommodation, international restaurants and high-end shopping. Yet dotted around the city are symbols of the golden age, Art Deco buildings, hidden gardens, and architectural gems.
All sit alongside another face of Casablanca, a lively corniche, with laid-back, funky beach restaurants, relaxed cosmopolitan bars and Atlantic Ocean. A further ingredient to the mix is California, Casablanca’s Beverly Hills, where architects offices and luxury villas are knitted together with palm trees in the more affluent side of the city.
For visitors looking for old Morocco, the narrow streets of the old medina are worthy of exploration, as too the central market.
The Habous, the new medina, is an architectural treat with arches, narrow stoned streets, timeless ambiance and Kings Palace. Add to this, a visit to the Hassan II Mosque, with its shore-line position and Casablanca offers a fascinating delegate excursion.
Recent events hosted in the city include the Hewlett Packard Wi-Fi solutions conference for hoteliers at the Four Seasons Casablanca, and the International Maritime Technologies Conference.
New venues include the Grand Theatre in the centre of the city and California Country Club in the nearby Bouskara Forest, while the highly-anticipated Marina development promises a state-of-the-art convention centre.
“Casablanca is on the wave of a gigantic and ambitious development programme, with a number of large-scale projects preparing the ground for a flagship destination for MICE,” says Tahri.
Other hotels include the Hyatt Regency close to the port. It has the city’s largest hotel meeting space, 2600sqm indoor and outdoor and 255 guest-rooms.
There is a Sheraton nearby with 11 meeting rooms and able to accommodate 650 theatre style. It also offers 309 bedrooms; wile Sofitel’s Tour Blanche offers 171 bedrooms and four meeting rooms.
The Moroccan chain Kenzi Hotels offers a further 482 rooms in total and a variety of meeting space. Properties include the iconic Kenzi Twin Towers and Kenzi Basma located downtown, and boutique hotel Kenzi Sidi Maarouf in the business district.
A deluxe option is Four Season’s Casablanca on the Atlantic coast, with meeting rooms and 185 guest-rooms. Other business hotels in the city include Le Casablanca Hotel, Barcelo, Movenpick, Novotel, Grand Mogador, Casablanca Le Lido Thalasso & Spa and Hotel & Spa Le Doge.
Within a one-hour drive of Casablanca, delegates can access two well equipped conference venues. To the south, the popular MICE venue Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort; with 500 guest rooms, 2,000sqm of meeting space and 40 on-site incentive activities.
To the north, the International Convention Centre Mohammed VI also a one-hour drive from Casablanca and 40 minutes from the capital, Rabat. Host to major government conventions, diplomatic meetings and economic forums, the venue is on the preferred list for the Global Forum on Migration & Development, whose roster includes the United Nations building in New York and the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Other clients include the World Bank, UN and the European Reconstruction and Development Bank. The centre has a 528-seat auditorium and is served by the adjacent five-star Amphitrite Palace hotel.