Moroccan Tour Leader Mohamed Bennacer was named our top Tour Leader for family adventures in our 2013 Tour Leader Awards. As well as a cash prize for both himself and a charity of his choice, he was also given the opportunity to visit the UK. In between visits to London, Bath and Stonehenge, he came into the Explore office for a day and we got the chance to have a chat with him about his experiences as an Explore Tour Leader.
To start with, how long have you been working as an Explore Tour Leader?
I began working for Explore in 2007 so it’s been almost seven years. I worked in the travel industry in Morocco long before that though; it’s been about 13 years in total.
How did you become a Tour Leader?
I come from a village in the mountains and in the summer, when I was younger, we would see a lot of walkers pass through which is what gave me the idea. When I was old enough I went to guiding school which is what you need to do to work in the tourism industry in Morocco. I found I enjoyed being outside and close to nature so being a Tour Leader for Explore made sense – I get to be outside in a variety of locations across the country and help others to appreciate it all too.
What do you like most about being an Explore Tour Leader?
From a ‘behind-the-scenes’ point of view, there is a lot of contact from the office. We get all the support we need and I love that so many of the people in the office have worked as Tour Leaders so understand us and our job. I also love meeting new people and getting to show them my country. I have worked for a few different companies now – from the UK, USA, France, Switzerland – and Explore are definitely number one, both in terms of support from the office and the people who come on the trips!
What can Explore customers joining a tour in Morocco expect? Do you have any advice for them?
After spending this time in England I now have a new perspective on what it is like for a visitor to Morocco! There are big differences in the food to prepare for and Morocco has extremes in weather – it can be very hot in the cities and also very cold in the mountains at night so people should be prepared for that. I think the hotels are more basic than in England and shoppers should remember to haggle! I tried that in the UK and it didn’t go over very well! I think people in Morocco are also very friendly – when you’re on public transport strangers are happy to talk to each other so don’t be alarmed if that happens – chat away! Moroccans are also not best known for their punctuality – the 3pm public bus could quite easily not arrive until 3.30pm and no one really minds. When I caught a train here in England we missed it by one minute - that would never happen in Morocco; if you got there a minute after it was due you’d probably be too early! So, yes, this visit has been very useful in better helping me understand how different the Moroccan way of life is to what the groups I lead are used to!
How did you feel when you heard you’d been named one of our top Tour Leaders?
Simply, it made me feel really happy. When I lead groups I want them to have a great time and take home really good memories. I feel like holidays like this should give memories which last a lifetime, especially the family tours. I want the kids to remember the experiences they had so I feel I must have acheived this if the families voted me as their favourite Tour Leader. I’m just really, really happy.
Aside from our family tours, do you have any favourites that you lead?
All of them! I think I’ve led all of the many tours Explore have in Morocco – cycling, walking, family, winter treks, all of them! Imperial Cities and Desert is a classic one, taking in a big part of Morocco so I love leading that one. I get to show people the Sahara, mountains, Essaouira on the coast, the cities – there’s so much to see and do! I find that people join this tour and then come back for a more in-depth look at the area they enjoyed the most.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you love to visit?
I would love to go on a safari in Tanzania and Kenya – you can’t do that sort of holiday in Morocco. Of course, while I’ve been here in the UK I’ve been spending time with Whitey and Su so visiting them in Tanzania and Nepal is now also something I would like to do.
Finally, how do you enjoy spending your downtime when you’re not leading tours?
I’ll sometimes help out in the local office with the tour logistics or training new Tour Leaders. I’m one of I think four leaders in Morocco who have worked for Explore for more than six years so we all tend to help the newer leaders with any questions they have or advice they need. When I’m not working at all I enjoy spending time with my family, helping out with the kids. Sometimes we’ll go and visit family and friends up in the Atlas Mountains, or we’ll take them out to the beach at Essaouira. I like playing sports too – going cycling or playing football with my friends in Marrakech.
Find out more about all our tours in Morocco. Also visiting the office were winners Sudarshan KC and Julius 'Whitey' White. The other 2013 winners, Firat Solak and Aungko Ko Win, were sadly unable to visit the UK at this time, though we're hoping to get them over sometime in the future.