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The world has watched on in shock as disasters have rocked Turkey, Syria, Hawaii, Libya and Morocco in recent months.

Zina Bencheikh, Managing Director, EMEA at Intrepid Travel, is based in Morocco. Here, she recounts her firsthand experience as the quake hit and what Aussies can do to help as the country recovers.

Q: What do you remember of the earthquake and the aftermath?

A: I was in Casablanca at the time. I felt the earthquake hit, but it was much milder than near the epicentre in the Atlas Mountains and in Marrakech.

In Morocco, we are not used to earthquakes so there was a lot of fear and confusion at the beginning.  It was also late at night so there was very little information at first, but most people followed the advice to stay out in the street in case of aftershocks.

It was only in the morning that the impact of the earthquake became clear. It was heartbreaking to see people facing such unimaginable loss. 

Q: What is the situation like on the ground now?

A: The immediate rescue efforts from the government and NGOs were amazing – they ensured people received first aid, food, water and clothing. This was no mean feat, with many of the villages affected being very remote and inaccessible.

However, many people are still living in tents. With winter coming, it’s essential they are rehoused. It’s encouraging to hear that the King has announced a package of measures including financial support for those impacted.

Q: How did Intrepid react to the disaster and what changes have been made to your itineraries and tours?

A: Our team on the ground did a sensational job ensuring our travellers, tour leaders and staff were safe and accounted for. Safety is always Intrepid Travel’s number one priority – and this was no different. 

We paused trip departures for a couple of days to assess the situation. We then took the decision to restart tours again, rerouting from the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech medina.

Q: How can Aussies best support the country and its local community during this time of need?

A: One of the biggest risks moving forward is letting false headlines write the wrong future for Morocco.

Morocco is one of Intrepid Travel’s most popular destinations and we have already resumed travel there. We believe Aussies should support and continue their travel plans as usual.

We have been able to provide immediate relief to grassroots organisations on the ground through the Intrepid Foundation’s Morocco Earthquake Appeal, which has raised more than $400,000 and counting, plus the Intrepid Foundation’s commitment to match every dollar raised up to $100,000.

All the funds will go to two grassroots organisations providing relief to communities in the Atlas Mountains: the High Atlas Foundation and Education for All.

We encourage Aussies to donate to our earthquake appeal if they can. Morocco has always been a popular destination for Aussie travellers, now it’s their chance to give something back. 

Q: How important is tourism to the country and do we need to encourage travellers to return once it’s safe?

A: Tourism in Morocco has surged since the pandemic and it is vital to their economy. In fact, September, October and November are peak travel seasons and will be essential for the millions of people whose livelihoods rely on tourism in Morocco.

Morocco is open, Morocco is safe and Morocco is still an incredible place to visit.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think we should know?

A: The latest amount of Intrepid Foundation’s Morocco Earthquake Appeal is nearing $400k.

Intrepid Travel resumed its Morocco trips from September 13, running 63 trips with 518 customers between September 13 and 22.

Intrepid offers 33 multi-day tours in Morocco and can continue to run the vast majority of those, with some itinerary amendments. Our two tours that primarily visit the Atlas Mountains have been paused and are currently being reviewed.

Morocco is roughly the same size as Sweden and the earthquake only caused significant damage and loss in a few areas. The main impact from the earthquake has been felt in the Atlas Mountains and some parts of the old city in Marrakech. 

There have been no changes overall to foreign travel advice levels for Morocco, with governments advising to avoid affected areas.