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DO NOT USE Morocco earthquake September 2023 2 RTECAB Credit Alamy M Preview
byGary Noakes
onSeptember 25, 2023

A quick glance at the arrivals board at Marrakech airport is enough to convince you of the destination’s importance to Morocco, with budget and charter flights arriving from all corners of Europe.

The city is a popular winter break destination and gateway to the Atlas Mountains, which are as attractive to trekkers as they are to those staying in the region’s luxury riads.

It was in these mountains the 6.8 magnitude earthquake – the country’s strongest for a century – struck on 8 September, its epicentre around 70km (45 miles) south of Marrakech. An estimated 2,800 people were killed and, according to the Red Cross, 300,000 affected, with pitiful TV scenes of villagers clawing through the remains of mudbrick houses to reclaim possessions. Tremors were also felt in the winter coastal sunspots of Agadir and Essaouira, while the aftershocks continued for days. It took just over a week before the media’s attention – perhaps understandably – was diverted from the earthquake to the flood disaster in Libya. However, relief and fundraising efforts continue, with the travel industry playing a major, albeit largely unseen, part.

Some travel brands operating in the area have charitable foundations, meaning they can legally take donations from sympathetic clients and former visitors to the region. This, coupled with their on-the-ground knowledge, has made them vital players in the rescue and reconstruction work.

The Intrepid Foundation, which draws on worldwide support, has now raised nearly £220,000 for its long-term partners in Morocco, the High Atlas Foundation and Education for All.

“While relief efforts have provided families with supplies like food, tents, and blankets, tens of thousands of people are still displaced,” said Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid’s managing director EMEA, who is herself from Marrakech and lives in Casablanca.

“Warm and secure shelter is now a priority with winter on its way – temperatures can reach well below freezing in affected areas.”

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Intrepid's fundraising effort has raised more than £200,000 (Credit: Intrepid Travel)

Explore launched its own foundation in July, and the earthquake was the first incident to which it responded. “Our initial effort was to donate £10,000 to the Red Cross,” said Hannah Methven, Explore’s sustainability specialist.

“We then contacted customers, and within 36 hours we had £20,000, which we match-funded.” The total has now risen to more than £61,000, with funds paid to the Red Cross. “It speaks of how precious Morocco is to our customers,” said Methven.

Explore is now examining what it can do in the affected communities its itineraries touch. “We plan to fund something more personal and long-term,” Methven added.


The Eve Branson Foundation, named after the mother of Sir Richard, has first-hand experience of the affected area. It was set up in 2006 to improve the lives of villagers near Virgin Limited Edition’s Kasbah Tamadot riad, 45 minutes south of Marrakech. The property was damaged in the earthquake and will remain closed until March.

The foundation’s earthquake appeal has so far raised nearly £340,000. Charity spokesperson Naomi Moreno-Melgar said: “We are hoping it will go towards long-term rebuilding of the infrastructure in the areas around Kasbah. We sent teams from the UK with tents and sleeping bags, and Richard [Branson] flew out on a flight full of supplies. There’s a huge amount being done.”

She added: “Enabling employment as soon as possible is vital too, as is ensuring long-term tourism in the Atlas Mountains, which plays a critical role in the livelihoods of many Berber villages.”

Virgin com Morocco 3 Credit Virgin com

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson flew in on an aid flight (Credit –

However, until the infrastructure and buildings are repaired, some mountainous regions and communities will be off limits. “We talked to our local partner about what we should do for the rest of the season,” said Methven. “We decided to cancel the trekking season – most treks were in affected areas, and we couldn’t re-route them."

Intrepid has altered its itineraries, avoiding the Atlas and reducing time in Marrakech while it is rebuilt. Bencheikh sums up the conundrum: “I’ve heard first-hand from our local guides and partners in Morocco that their biggest fear right now is that tourism will come to a halt.

“September, October and November are peak travel seasons in Morocco and will be essential for millions of people whose livelihoods rely on tourism. Agents can help by continuing to promote and sell Morocco as a destination to clients. The country needs our support to rebuild.”


There may be some hesitation among travellers – and agents – about the destination as it enters peak season, but as usual, the mantra to agents is “sell it to support it”.

“Our message is that if you’re not a burden to the people, go, because tourism is massive to the country and there is so much of it that is unaffected,” said Methven.

Even those staying within Marrakech’s city walls will be doing their bit – many who work there are from affected mountain villages and send money back to families. Moreover, damage to the city needs to be repaired and tourism will help fund it.

As the nights draw in, Marrakech’s souk and bustling Djemaa El Fna main square, plus the mild climate, make it the perfect pre-Christmas getaway. The best way you can help Morocco is to send people there.