Marrakesh is a major city of the Kingdom of Morocco. It is the fourth largest city in the country, after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi. Located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh is situated 580 km (360 mi) southwest of Tangier, 327 km (203 mi) southwest of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, 239 km (149 mi) south of Casablanca, and 246 km (153 mi) northeast of Agadir.
Marrakesh is a vital component to the economy and culture of Morocco. Improvements to the highways from Marrakesh to Casablanca, Agadir and the local airport have led to a dramatic increase in tourism in the city, which now attracts over two million tourists annually. Because of the importance of tourism to Morocco’s economy, King Mohammed VI has vowed to attract 20 million tourists a year to Morocco by 2020, doubling the number of tourists from 2012.
The city is popular with the French, and many French celebrities have bought property in the city, including fashion moguls Yves St Laurent and Jean-Paul Gaultier. In the 1990s very few foreigners lived in the city, but real estate developments have dramatically increased in the last 15 years; by 2005 over 3,000 foreigners had purchased properties in the city, lured by its culture and the relatively cheap house prices. It has been cited in French weekly magazine Le Point as the second St Tropez: “No longer simply a destination for a scattering of adventurous elites, bohemians or backpackers seeking Arabian Nights fantasies, Marrakech is becoming a desirable stopover for the European jet set.” However, despite the tourism boom, the majority of the city’s inhabitants are still poor, and as of 2010, some 20,000 households still have no access to water or electricity. Many enterprises in the city are facing colossal debt problems.
Despite the global economic crisis that began in 2007, investments in real estate progressed substantially in 2011 both in the area of tourist accommodation and social housing. The main developments have been in facilities for tourists including hotels and leisure centres such as golf courses and health spas, with investments of 10.9 billion dirhams (US$1.28 billion) in 2011 The hotel infrastructure in recent years has experienced rapid growth. In 2012, alone, 19 new hotels were scheduled to open, a development boom often compared to Dubai. Royal Ranches Marrakech, one of Gulf Finance House’s flagship projects in Morocco, is a 380 hectares (940 acres) resort under development in the suburbs and one of the world’s first five stars Equestrian Resorts.
The resort is expected to make a significant contribution to the local and national economy, creating many jobs and attracting thousands of visitors annually; as of April 2012 it was about 45% complete. The Avenue Mohammed VI, formerly Avenue de France, is a major city thoroughfare. It has seen rapid development of residential complexes and many luxury hotels. Avenue Mohammed VI contains what is claimed to be Africa’s largest nightclub: Pacha Marrakech, a trendy club that plays house and electro house music. It also has two large cinema complexes, Le Colisée à Gueliz and Cinéma Rif, and a new shopping precinct, Al Mazar.