Mohammed VI’s cousin, Princess Lalla Noufissa El Yacoubi and her family are looking to establish themselves in the hotel business in the Dakhla area, where there is enormous tourist potential. Their investment is reinforcing the “kitesurf diplomacy” that Morocco has been testing with a view to normalizing its presence in the contested Western Sahara.
The Westpoint Eco-Lodge, which is due to open on the Atlantic coast of the Dakhla peninsula on March 10, is owned by Moulay Abdelaziz Sennoussi, Lalla Noufissa’s son. The 23-year-old businessman was previously best known as the organiser of the “Team Car Chaser” luxury charity automobile parade frequented by the Moroccan jet set. The 140-bed Balinese-style surfers’ hotel, which has cost him 22 million dirhams, will enable him to catch the wave already being surfed by his mother and father Driss Senoussi. They own the Dakhla Attitude hotel a few kilometres away. Sited on the lagoon, this relaxed boutique hotel, which has been designed to suit lovers of kitesurfing, was honoured by a visit by crown prince Moulay Hassan a year ago (MC 1198). Lalla Noufissa owns the establishment in her own name and via her company Dakhla Kids. The company seems to have expansion plans: its capital was increased from 100,000 dirhams to two million dirhams in November.
These investments exemplify the “new development model for the southern provinces” introduced by the king in 2015, which favors investments in the tourism industry. They also fit in with Morocco’s kitesurf diplomacy. Since the 2013 launch of the Dakhla Kiteboarding World Cup by Virgin Kitesurf World Championships, owned by British billionaire Richard Branson (MC nº1149), Moroccan diplomats have understood the advantages to be gained by turning Dakhla into a shop window. Thanks to the worldwide distribution of images of the competition and the presence there of young, switched-on visitors,
Morocco’s presence in the Sahara can no longer be attributed solely to the OCP’s phosphate mines and intensive fishing. The message is being expertly relayed by Morocco’s lobbyists. Jean-Paul Carteron, whose Forum Crans Montana (FCN) stages an event in Dakhla ever year, referred to the city in February as the “world capital of windsurfing”. FCM has already given large-scale publicity to the Rio de Oro golf development inaugurated in March 2016. It is owned by Nicolas de Vahia, a French investor who already owns the Bab Al Bahr hotel.
Lalla Noufissa, a low profile business princess
Lalla Noufissa El Yacoubi, daughter of the late Lalla Aicha, sister of Hassan II, is one of the least-known members of the royal family. Her last official appearance was for a family photo published by the royal palace in 2005 and her public activities since then have been largely limited to the presentation of trophies at the Lalla Aicha Tour School golf tournament. A Columbia University graduate, she is not known to be a shareholder of royal holding company SNI, a privilege of the king and his brothers and sisters, but she is nevertheless active in business. She is a shareholder in automobile concession holder Auto Hall (Nissan, Ford, Mitsubishi ), which belongs to the Guerraoui family and has a large stake in leading cattle feed producer Cicalim alongside former banker Youssef Alaoui. In the early 2000s, Alaoui bought a controlling stake in Cicalim from the AKWA group, co-owned by agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch and Ali Wakrim. AKWA itself had just acquired it from ONA, forerunner of the SNI. Under Alaoui, Cicalim has become a leader in the poultry industry and plans to convert its Ain Sebaa complex, near the railway station, into a hotel.
As for Driss Senoussi, Lalla Noufissa’s husband, he is one of the heirs of Badreddine Senoussi, Moroccan ambassador in Washington under Hassan II and then head of the Atlantic textile group. In 2010, the collapse of one of its subsidiaries, Legier Maroc, resulted in several banks, including the BCME, losing a total 1.5 billion dirhams.