- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

RABAT, Morocco, Feb. 20 (UPI) — Morocco is preparing for the effects of a possible U.S. war against Iraq on its economy, especially the tourism sector, a major earner of national income.

Minister of Tourism Adel al-Doueiri announced Wednesday that his ministry has set up a crisis department to deal with the impact of the looming war on the tourism sector, including a projected sharp drop in visitor arrivals.

He said the new department's main duty would be helping tourism institutions overcome the effects of any war.

Visitor arrivals fell 3 percent in 2002, with heavy declines in the cities of Marrakesh and Agadir in the south, which usually attract more than two-thirds of Morocco's tourists.

Tourism expert Munir al-Baqali said: "The fears of those working in the tourism sector are legitimate and justified due to the losses suffered during the 1991 Gulf War, when the number of tourists dropped dramatically, forcing many institutions to close down and dismiss thousands of employees."

Finance Minister Fathallah Oualalou said earlier this month that Morocco could cope with a short, limited war as it has an estimated $10 billion in foreign currency reserves. This would cover imports for a few months.

He said the direct war impact on Morocco will be higher energy bills and a drop in exports and tourism income.

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