Thank you for taking the time to speak with us all the way from Morocco, Hassan. First off, how did you discover your passion for guiding?
Growing up in the Sahara desert, I often encountered lost people, be they from Morocco or afar (note: there are no road signs out there, so it was easy to lose your bearings!). That, or their vehicles would get stuck in the sand on the their way to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes and I’d have to come to their rescue. After a while, I decided to tackle the root of the problem, and thus started to offer guiding in the desert for a few Dirhams in return; this way fewer people would find themselves in one of the aforementioned pickles, and I could not only start to make a living, but meet a variety of people from all over the world, something that I think is crucial when you are young. My passion for guiding grew from then on out, and I get more and more satisfaction from introducing people to my beautiful homeland. One thing’s for sure: I would not choose any other location or profession.
You have a very interesting past. Tell us what it’s like to be a native Berber from the Sahara desert of Morocco?
My childhood was not necessarily easy – we didn’t have many material goods – but we, the Berbers, have very close families and communities, and I learned from an early age how to be resourceful and resilient.
Your family is admirable for trading in their nomadic lifestyle in order to educate their children, and they must be incredibly proud of how far you’ve come. What’s it like to be a small business owner?
Working with big name companies helped shape my experience in the industry, but my small business is great because it fills larger companies’ gaps. Small tour guiding businesses like mine offer more flexibility and individualized attention, two key components to success in the tourism industry that big guiding companies are unable to provide.
I hear you’ve also made America your home. What inspired you to buy property in the States?
Thanks! My other half and our children were born in America, so we feel it’s part of our identity. We call both Morocco and the USA “home,” and we travel frequently between the two. We’re fortunate, indeed!
In founding Under Moroccan Sun, what has been the biggest highlight?
Without a doubt, helping travelers make the most of their trip by personalizing every aspect of their itinerary. This includes locating specific destinations to visit and finding accommodations that meet their specific needs; ultimately, I’m driven by making people happy, so everything I do has my clients’ best interests in mind, and, at the end of the day, knowing I’ve impacted the lives of others for the better, be it through Morocco’s picturesque landscapes, bustling markets, or stunning landmarks, is deeply gratifying.
What are your three favorite things about Morocco?
- Watching the sun set or rise from the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Here, everyone feels at peace.
- Sipping a cup of mint tea and people-watching at a cafe off the main square of Marrakech. The sounds and smells are so comforting.
- Getting a Hammam body scrub; they leave you relaxed and glowing.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I spend much of my day interacting with my clients, responding to new inquiries, writing each tour’s unique itinerary, and arranging accommodations. I also, of course, then guide my clients on their individualized tours. The bottom line: a typical day is always a fun day!
What is the most memorable trip you have ever lead?
I thoroughly enjoyed guiding a client who visited Morocco 40 years ago. It was fascinating to learn how certain things have changed while others have not. It was very rewarding, albeit a bit emotional.
Have you ever had a bad guided trip?
In general, no, but there are times when snow or sand storms interfere, making traveling extra challenging!
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve ever had on a guided tour? Ever had any odd requests from clients?
Once, three months prior to their trip, some clients insisted on knowing if it would be safe to cross the 7000-ft-high Atlas Mountains. I thought their impassioned query was a bit bizarre, but, sure enough, on the day of their trip, there were heavy rains and thick fog, two conditions that I experience occasionally, but never at quite the same intensity. It was as if the people could sense something was going to happen!
Since we all know no job is perfect, would you mind sharing some of the downfalls of guiding in Morocco?
Since Morocco is a third world country, things don’t always go as planned. For example, sometimes places are closed off due to weather interference or broken infrastructure. This means I always have to double check my regular destinations are open, and I always have to embark on trips with a degree of flexibility. Flexibility is a must when traveling.
As an experienced guide, can you think of any tips people should know before going on a guided tour?
Ask questions galore, no matter how foolish they may seem; your guide is there as a host for the country, and therefore he or she will happily answer anything you wish to know. The only other piece of advice I have is to try new things: be adventurous, and be courageous.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
As of now, I’m attracted to the action and excitement of New Orleans!