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Morocco earthquake: Is it safe to travel?

On September 8th, the serene landscapes of Morocco were disrupted by a force of nature that has since reshaped its topography and human lives. An earthquake, centered near the town of Ighil in the High Atlas Mountains, sent shockwaves throughout the nation, touching the very core of its historic and cultural edifices.

Epicenter: Ighil's Trial: Situated near the heart of this seismic disturbance, Ighil bore the brunt of nature's wrath. The sudden jolt led to an overwhelming count of over 2,800 fatalities and countless injuries, turning the town into a ground zero of rescue and rehabilitation.

Marrakech: A Heritage Wounded: Merely 70 kilometers from Ighil lies Marrakech, a city that’s synonymous with Morocco’s rich tapestry of history and culture. Its iconic Medina, a bustling center representing centuries of Moroccan evolution and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, faced devastating structural damages. 

Aftershocks: The Continuing Ordeal: The tremors that began on that fateful day continued to unsettle the region. Over 25 documented aftershocks have rattled the already traumatized populace. Reports from bodies such as the US Geological Survey project more seismic activities, suggesting that residents and tourists remain vigilant in the weeks to come.

Tourism in the Balance: Autumn months usually witness a surge of tourists flocking to Morocco, with many heading towards the hiking trails of the Atlas Mountains. This year, however, the situation is fraught with apprehension. While the Marrakech airport still operates, the scenes are reminiscent of an evacuation, with large swaths of tourists anxious to depart.

Is every hotel still operational? The majority are, but there are noteworthy exceptions. Several establishments, particularly those in the earthquake-hit Atlas Mountains, have temporarily suspended their operations.

For instance, Kasbah Tamadot, a prized property owned by Sir Richard Branson, issued a statement prioritizing the well-being of their staff, guests, and neighboring communities. They articulated: "The recent seismic activity has affected Kasbah Tamadot, prompting a thorough assessment of its condition. As a precautionary measure, we've decided to shut our doors and halt reservations until November 2023. Affected guests have been presented with alternative accommodations at our other Virgin Limited Edition locations."

Similarly, the luxury Kasbah du Toubkal, founded by Mike McHugo, is temporarily closed. Nonetheless, McHugo remains optimistic, sharing his conviction that the tourism industry in the area will rebound: "It's imperative for the community to regain a sense of normalcy, and they will. Reconstruction will happen, and the region will thrive once again.

I'm apprehensive about my upcoming trip's safety and enjoyment. What can I do? If these concerns are weighing heavily on you, it's advisable to initially reach out to your travel agency or service provider to discuss the possibility of rescheduling or changing your trip details.

In terms of travel insurance, it's generally tough to make a claim based on personal hesitations. Insurers typically categorize abrupt cancellations or not showing up as a "reluctance to travel," and won't cover the associated costs.

However, an exception exists: If you can provide evidence that your intended destination or accommodation has become unreachable, you may have a valid claim.

Global Reactions and Travel Advisories: The international community, cognizant of its nationals in Morocco, acted swiftly. The US Embassy in Rabat was quick to issue directives emphasizing the importance of caution, potential transportation bottlenecks, and the strained state of healthcare facilities. The UK Foreign Office echoed similar sentiments, advising British nationals to liaise with their travel service providers.

Aviation Sector’s Response: The aviation industry, being a critical conduit during such crises, adjusted their operational dynamics to the situation's gravity. Leading the charge, airlines like British Airways, Ryanair, and Air France introduced flexibility in their policies, allowing affected passengers some respite. Air Canada, serving as a key link between North America and Morocco, took empathetic measures, offering rescheduling options to its travelers.

Nature's unpredictability, as demonstrated by the Moroccan earthquake, presents both challenges and lessons. As the nation grapples with its aftermath, it remains a beacon of resilience, aided by global solidarity and a shared commitment to overcoming adversity.