I had a fam in Africa, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, to rework Karen Blixen’s famous opening to her autobiographical classic, Out of Africa – the familiarisation trip to Marrakech being hosted by Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi and the destination management company (DMC), Exclusively Morocco.
Literary references aside, the imperial walled city of Marrakech does not disappoint. The snow-capped High Atlas mountains provide the stunning backdrop; Jemaa El-Fna, the main square in the medina, the focal meeting point; and the Kotoubia minaret, the city’s iconic landmark.
Marrakech is vibrant and cosmopolitan. It boasts a refurbished conference centre run by 5-star Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi, a range of high-end hotels and restaurants, and an airport 15 minutes’ drive from the centre.
As a prospective MICE destination, therefore, the Red City as it is known, ticks many boxes, a view endorsed by fam trip participant Laura Warner, a venue coordinator at event management and venue finding company DeSouza Associates: “Marrakech is an up and coming destination for corporate events. From all the indoor meeting facilities we viewed, no matter what size the room, I could see the detail that goes into providing everything a delegate would require – from modern AV technology to comfy seating. Then of course there are the outside facilities – with the warm weather, there is so much scope to use outdoor spaces for events. There are also many different types of location and terrain just a short drive from each other. Within the hour you could go from a rock desert to a mountain region, to a palm grove.”
It would be disingenuous to deny that there are concerns about security in Morocco, given terrorist events elsewhere in North Africa, which have put much of the region off limits for foreign travel. However, compared to elsewhere in the region, terrorist incidents have been rare – Marrakech and Morocco have a good safety record, and the country is stable politically.
Tourism is Marrakech’s biggest industry. According to Bloomberg, it accounts for 10% of Morocco’s US$105bn economy, second only to the agriculture, and employs 400,000 people – so the authorities are sensitive to public perceptions of safety Mövenpick’s marketing team stresses there are a number of levels of security in place: national, local and a third-party international security companies.
Warner adds that initially she was dubious about the safety of Marrakech before visiting. “But I was proven very wrong. There was not one time I felt unsafe. There is quite a misunderstanding with the rules and regulations – it is, in fact, very relaxed.”
Located in Hivernage in the centre of the city, the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi was closed for three and a half years while it underwent a US$100m refurbishment and reopened in October 2016. Set on an 8-hectare plot, the hotel offers 503 rooms, an Ô de Rose spa centre and its own convention centre, the Palais des Congrès, the largest not only in Morocco but in north-west Africa.
The Palais des Congrès can host major congresses, exhibitions, festivals, theatre performances and gala dinners.
With an area of 5,600sqm, the venue offers exhibition space of 2,700sqm, a 1,754sqm Royal Ballroom, two auditoriums (the Ministers, which is on four levels and seats 1,489, while the smaller Ambassadors seats 432), 20 meeting rooms (including 10 breakout rooms) and outdoor event areas.
The congress centre has its own external entrance, but, importantly for delegates staying at the Mövenpick, the hotel is connected via its own entrance.
Close to the centre, there are beds for up to 5,000 people, and Mövenpick works together with the likes of Four Seasons and Radisson Blu to accommodate delegates when staging large conferences.
A recent event at the Palais des Congrès was the International Fertiliser Association’s 85th annual conference, which ran from 22-24 May. More than 1,400 delegates attended, including leading international phosphate producers (Morocco is the world’s third largest phosphate producer).
Upcoming events include a luxury travel show, PURE Life Experience, in September with 1,200 expected to attend; the 30th World LPG Forum, which will run from 3-5 October; and ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), which will be held from 13-21 November.
Mövenpick and the Palais des Congrès helped host COP22, the UN climate control conference, in November, although the main sessions were held at the Bab Ighli conference centre and saw more than 2,000 delegates attend, including African heads of state, former French president Hollande and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon.
Marrakech film festival
The Palais des Congrès also stages the Marrakech international film festival, an annual event held in the autumn/winter showcasing the best of Moroccan and world cinema. More than 2,000 people attended last the festival in December, which closed with a farewell dinner at the Mövenpick for 1,500 people.
MICE at play
Whether you want to organise a teambuilding exercise, stage a corporate event, hold pre-dinner drinks or plan an exclusive gala dinner, Marrakech and its environs are rich in possibilities.
In the centre of the city, Jemaa El-Fna teems with life – where hustlers, snake charmers, story-tellers, water sellers and henna tattooists ply their trade. DMC Exclusively Morocco is one of many specialists that can arrange events and challenges for groups in the labyrinthine souk alongside the square.
Under the sheltering sky
If you’re keen to impress and organise pre-dinner drinks with the wow factor, then Marrakech palm grove, north-east of the city, might be the place to go when the sun goes down – a bespoke area illuminated by braziers and back-lit palm trees where you can relax in the open air or under canvas.
See where the smart set relax and head to Bo & Zin, Dar Sukkar, a sugar refiner in a former life, Le Comptoir Darna, which offers a memorable floor show, or perhaps Suleiman Palace, which can be hired out for gala dinners.
Spirit of adventure
Outside Marrakech, consider the desolate charm of the Agafay Rock Desert and experience Morocco’s countryside on a Jeep safari. Alternatively, head up by mule to Kasbah Toubkal in the High Atlas for lunch – at 1,800m, it provides a stunning view (on a clear day) of Mount Toubkal, at 4,167m, Morocco’s highest mountain.
If you’re still feeling adventurous after lunch, why not zip along to Terres d’Amanar, an adventure park 45 minutes’ drive from Marrakech, which boasts the longest zip line in Africa.