A man sleeps next to his donkey in Fez

Morocco's tourism receipts are expected to grow even faster this year than in 2010 despite regional unrest and a deadly bombing last week that targeted foreign visitors, the tourism minister said.

In an interview with Reuters, Yassir Znagui said sovereign wealth funds from Gulf states which are planning to take part in a 10 billion euro ($14.5 billion) fund to develop new resorts had not been discouraged and would sign a final deal this year.

Tourism is the top foreign currency earner and has been the main pillar of economic growth plans for the past decade.

But the April 28 bombing in the tourist city of Marrakesh which killed 16 people, most of them foreigners, compounded concerns over tourism growth prospects. Those have also been dampened by unrest in the Arab world and local protests.

“The resilience of our tourism sector will be tested this year,” said Znagui, but he was upbeat on prospects for a sector he said employed 450,000 people directly and accounted for 10 percent of gross domestic product.

“The data we have so far and the response plan we have designed make us comfortable about the industry's prospects... An 8 percent receipts growth in 2011 is achievable based on what we see today.”

Last year, tourism brought receipts of nearly 57 billion dirhams ($7.3 billion) - almost 40 percent of exports - versus 53 billion dirhams in 2009. Tourist arrivals until the end of April were more than 10 percent higher than the year before.

Znagui said that 15,000 holidaymakers had cancelled planned visits to Morocco after the attack - around three percent of the total.

“But not one tour operator has abandoned Marrakesh as a destination after the attack,” he said, adding that his department was planning an “I love Marrakesh” campaign with former world soccer stars to promote the ochre-red city.

Unlike Tunisia or Egypt, Morocco relies less on package tourists than independent visitors. Znagui said the average tourist spends $800 in Morocco - which he estimated at more than three times the amount spent by those in Tunisia.

Before this year's turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, three Gulf Arab sovereign wealth funds and UAE-based property developer Al Maabar had agreed in principle to raise 15 billion dirhams for a tourism fund in Morocco.

Bahrain's Mumtalakat, the Kuwaiti Investment Authority (KIA), Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Al Maabar of the United Arab Emirates signed the preliminary agreement and Znagui said they still supported it.

“We will sign before the end of 2011 a final agreement for their participation in the fund,” said Znagui, an ex-London based investment banker. “They believe in our country. In the midst of the financial crisis, Morocco was the only country to have been upgraded in 2010”.

Znagui said the United Arab Emirates' Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world's biggest sovereign wealth funds, would also sign the agreement.

The Moroccan fund will raise half its resources in debt, probably through bond issues, and the other half in equity.

Znagui said private equity funds of HSBC and the Monitor Group, as well as investment funds from Brunei and Asia, had expressed interest. - Reuters