If you believed everything you saw in the media, you’d think North Africa was made up purely of glamorous riads, dars and luxury hotels. But the bedrock of the market is family- friendly three to five-star properties.
But do North African hotels deliver in terms of quality and facilities – or do they scrimp on luxury?
Cadogan Holidays product and commercial director John Riley agreed the quality of accommodation was as good as its nearest neighbours and said a visit to the region provides a great educational experience.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of family bookings for North Africa, particularly Morocco.
“All of our hotels are four and five stars – and many are newly built with fantastic facilities for kids.”
Egyptian Tourism Authority director Khaled Ramy said: “Most hotels on the Red Sea Riviera have their own private beach and house reef. Since the Egyptian pound was devalued in 2003, the hotels are excellent value for money. Hotel rooms in four and five stars tend to be bigger than those in Europe.”
Egypt’s Red Sea resorts including Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are well established in the family market.
Olympic Holidays product manager Neil Garner said: “Egypt is well priced and has a reputation for natural and cultural attractions. Sharm el-Sheikh has excellent hotels and water sports for families.”
In spite of three terrorist bomb attacks in the Naama Bay area of the resort in July 2005, Sharm el-Sheikh has seen a boom in visitor numbers.
Upmarket tour operator Classic Collection Holidays reports that Egypt is its best-selling destination, with figures up 123% year on year.
But is it now a safe destination for families to visit?
“With heightened security in Egypt, it’s as safe as you can get,” said Riley.
Like Morocco and Egypt, Tunisia’s guaranteed sunshine and short flying time – less than three hours from the UK – appeals to families.
The new Tunisian beach resort of Yasmine Hammamet is popular with families with 80% of its hotels are in the four and five-star bracket.
Even though Tunisia doesn’t attract as many tourists as Morocco and Egypt, its hotel facilities are of a good standard.
Tunisian National Tourist Office director Leila Ben Hassen said: “For a long time we have been promoting Tunisia as a safe destination for families with children.”
North Africa represents value for money and stepping out of the eurozone stretches the pound further.
“Prices for holidays to the Greek Islands and North Africa are on a par, but Tunisia and Egypt are better value for money as you get a high quality hotel for a reasonable price. Eating in resorts is not expensive,” said Garner.
The benefits for families go further than just saving money, however.
Moroccan National Tourist Office trade and media officer Aziz Mnii highlighted the educational potential of a visit: “In Morocco, children will see things they would never see at home, such as snake charmers and camels.
“Hotel standards are comparable with any five-star hotel in the UK and many have children’s clubs and nurseries, so parents can unwind.”
For Classic Collection, the majority of family business goes to Agadir, where a six-mile stretch of sheltered sandy beach coupled with a coastal climate makes an ideal resort for families.
Attractions and activities include boat trips, camel rides, a small zoo, a waterfall and the Coco Polizzi Medina, an education centre which offers workshops with demonstrations of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts.
Top five ideas for families
- Aside from the legendary Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, Cairo has a Dream Park with Disney-style rides, and Aquapark which has water chutes, playgrounds and wave pools.
- The bustling central square Place Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh is appealing to visitors of any age. Children will be mesmerised by snake charmers, acrobats and storytellers.
- It’s not as big as Disneyland but there are plenty of rides at the theme park Carthageland in Yassmine Hammamet, Tunisia. A fun day trip for families, the park has a historical theme so children can learn about Tunisia’s past. There is also a small zoo and five restaurants.
- A flying trapeze and a circus school are just some of the varied activities on offer at Club Med in Hammamet, Tunisia. There are also tennis courts and the chance to learn windsurfing and kitesurfing. Kids’ clubs cater for children of all ages and facilities are open to non-guests for a daily fee.
- Take the kids for a walk or a camel ride in the beautiful Atlas Mountains less than an hour’s drive from Marrakesh. It is possible to spend the night in a Bedouin village, or view it all from above by taking a hot air balloon ride from Marrakesh.
Classic Collection Holidays offers seven nights at the Mövenpick El Gouna Resort and Spa in Egypt from £459 for adults and £357 for children aged two to 11, including flights, breakfast, transfers and entry visas for British passport holders. The hotel has duplex family rooms and interconnecting rooms, as well as a children’s club for five to 12 year-olds and babysitting services.
Families Worldwide offers an eight-night High Atlas Adventure in Morocco from £599 including flights, some meals and accommodation in a mix of hotels, a mountain refuge and village houses. Families can explore Berber villages, walk in the Atlas Mountains and discover atmospheric Marrakesh.
Club Med offers seven nights at its holiday village in Hammamet, Tunisia, in June from £635 per adult, £328 for four to 11-year-olds, £260 for two to three-year-olds and £126 for infants. Prices include all meals, unlimited drinks and snacks, flights, transfers, insurance and water sports.