The death toll is rising following a catastrophic earthquake in Morocco late at night on Friday 8 September. More than 2,800 people have been killed and injured after the 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck.
The epicentre was about 70km (43 miles) southwest of Marrakech – the fourth-biggest city in Morocco, and by far the most popular draw for international visitors.
Thousands of British holidaymakers are in the area, with many thousands more booked to go there in the coming weeks and monthsr. This is the travel picture.
How many British holidaymakers are in the vicinity?
The Independent calculates from flight data that around 5,000-8,000 UK holidaymakers are in the Marrakech area. Many are staying in the ancient heart of the city, or in modern hotels on the outskirts.
Trekking in the Atlas mountains is also popular, particularly in autumn when temperatures start to drop.
Is Marrakech airport still open and operating?
Yes: even in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Marrakech Menara airport continued to operate normally. A handful of flights were cancelled, and airlines including British Airways and easyJet deployed larger aircraft in order to accommodate passengers who wanted to come home early.
All other airports in Morocco are also running normally. The main holiday locations, including Agadir and Essaouira, are unaffected.
What does the Foreign Office advise?
The official travel advice from the UK government has not changed since the day after the earthquake. It says: “Travellers wishing to change their flight plans should liaise direct with their tour operators or airline companies.
“If you are planning to travel to Morocco imminently we advise you check with your accommodation provider/tour operator to confirm arrangements before departure in case of disruption or damage resulting from the earthquake.
“If you are trying to get in touch with a family member or a friend or the FCDO to share updates, be aware that telephone networks in Morocco are subject to outages. Should you require consular assistance please call the British Embassy Rabat +212 (0) 537 63 33 33 and select the menu option for consular services, or call the FCDO +44 (0) 207 008 5000.”
What are the options for British travellers who want to leave the area?
The general assumption is that they wlll travel home as planned. British Airways is allowing anyone booked to fly from Marrakech to London up to 24 September to travel earlier if they wish, and if space is available.
Passengers on easyJet are told: “If you are scheduled to travel to or from Morocco in the next few days and wish to discuss your booking please contact our customer service team.” The number to call is +44 330 551 5151.
I am booked to travel to the Marrakech area imminently. Can I cancel?
Many people are in this position: not wishing to put additional strain on a location enduring a humanitarian crisis; uncomfortable about going on holiday to a scene of such tragedy; or concerned about harm from aftershocks.
More seismic activity will continue. The US Geological Survey says: “It’s likely that smaller aftershocks in the region ... will continue to be felt for weeks to come. In some cases, there may be strong aftershocks.”
Yet in the aftermath of the earthquake, tourism is functioning normally. Tui is selling holidays in Marrakech for immediate departure.
British Airways is allowing postponements if you are booked to travel any day up to 24 September; customers booked on BA Holidays can switch destination subject to any price increase.
Booked easyJet passengers due to travel in the next few days may be be offered flexibility allowing them to postpone or to change destinations.
The presumption is that almost all other holidays will go ahead as normal.
But are all the hotels still open?
Almost all of them. The main exceptions: trips based at specific properties which are currently unable to receive guests due to the earthquakes, such as those in the Atlas Mountains.
Kasbah Tamadot, Sir Richard Branson’s property in the mountains, is telling guests: “Our primary concern at this time is ensuring the safety and welfare of our team, their families and our guests, as well as the local communities.
“We are currently assessing the impact of the earthquake on our beloved Kasbah Tamadot and we are temporarily closing the property whilst we inspect the damage and we will not be taking any new bookings until November 2023.
“Guests unable to stay have been offered alternatives stays at our other Virgin Limited Edition properties.”
Mike McHugo, founder of the luxury lodge Kasbah du Toubkal, has closed the property until further notice. But he told The Independent that tourism will resume quickly in the region: “Life needs to go back to normal, which it will. They will rebuild and come back.”
I don’t believe I will be able to have a safe and enjoyable holiday. What are my rights?
If you are really concerned about your trip, the first line of action will be to contact your travel company and ask if you can switch or postpone it.
You are most unlikely to be able to claim on travel insurance. Travel insurers will treat a last-minute cancellation or a no-show as “disinclination to travel” and will not reimburse you for losses.
The only exception is if you can demonstrate the place you intended to stay and/or explore is inaccessible.
Is Morocco an earthquake-prone area?
Not especially, but when they occur they tend to be deadly. The most devastating was in Agadir in 1960, when between 12,000 and 15,000 people died. The town has now been rebuilt and is a popular resort.
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