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How to Avoid the Tannery Scam in Morocco

How to Avoid the Tannery Scam in Morocco

It might be the most common and loathed scam visitors complain about when they visit Morocco – the tannery scam. You’re walking along minding your own business when someone “helpful” advises you that the street you’re walking down is closed, and that he can help you. You accept, grateful that this stranger has saved you time and the embarrassment of getting lost. Quickly you’re passing through streets and alleys until ever so carefully he brings you to the…tannery. Not your destination. He says that he wants to show you something very interesting and you’re lured deeper in.

Tannery Vats in Fez_How to Avoid the Tannery Scam

The pungent smell of curing hides attacks your nostrils and you’ve had enough. You turn to leave, explaining you never wanted to come here in the first place. But the pressure is on. You should buy a bag here, or at least a wallet. You won’t find a better deal anywhere. This is the time. Reluctantly you give in, not wanting to cause a scene and you did want to get something, at some point right? Why not here? You pay and get ready to leave, expecting your guide to get you to where you were going to begin with but he turns, becoming hostile and wanting payment for having “guided” you around the tannery.

What??!?!

You didn’t sign up for this!!!

This scenario is really common and unfortunately too many tourists end up feeling taken advantage of and ripped off – for good reason. The entire plot is a complete scam.

It’s easy to become jaded and untrusting of people especially when scams like this exist and permeate the “medina culture” but I’m going to give you some information to help you get around this.

First, Here are the Things You’ll Be Told That Aren’t True (most of the time):

  • that street is closed.
  • if you want to see the tannery you need to hire a guide.
  • there’s a special market day/celebration today – and I can show you.
  • the place that you want to go is closed.
  • “I can show you the way, no charge”
  • I’ll help you get a good price.

If you hear any of the above phrases it’s a good indicator that things are going to go downhill quickly. The first phrase is false nearly 100% of the time. People still say this to me and MarocBaba when we’re walking in the medina. So don’t feel bad if they say it to you too.  The streets here don’t randomly close, and even if they do there are ways around it. People are already nervous in the medina because it is so confusing, and they easily believe this myth. If you really do think a street is closed to go an actual shop and ask them.

How The Scam Works

In order to avoid this scam you need to know how it works. The streets between the Ben Youssef Medrassa, Maison de Photographie, and souks are prime real estate. You’ll find older teenagers and young adult men loitering in this area. They’re all working together on this scam. One guy will see someone coming and will try the scam, if that doesn’t work the next one will, and so on. They’re all working together with the same goal.

But how do they get away with it?

You know how the mafia works? (I’m Sicilian, I’m allowed to talk about this) You’ve got a city block that members of “the family” run. They visit all the shop owners and say, “listen you give us $20 a month and we’ll make sure your shop is protected,” and so on. They also pay off the police to look the other way and in reality “the family” is the one running the block and the economy. It pretty much works the same way albeit with a bit less violence and money changing hands.

Avoiding a visit to the tannery

How to Avoid It

From the Beginning

If you’re able to, try to completely avoid getting into the situation. If someone tries to tell you they can take you to the tannery or that a road you’re walking down is closed, or they can help you get “unlost,” don’t take their offer. Just keep walking. If you really do need help, go into a restaurant or a shop and ask for help instead. Asking someone who is loitering in the street = bad idea. If they try to talk to you, you can a) completely ignore them or b) say no, often and forcefully. If you are being followed, or they won’t leave you alone, you can threaten to call the police.

(The number is 190 or 112 – program it in your phone)

If you really do feel threatened you should make a lot of noise to draw attention and then get your phone and call the police. There are undercover police officers in the medina and if you make a fuss, chances are they’ll be close by. Then walk the opposite direction.

When you Realize You’ve Been Scammed

Maybe you thought someone was just being nice and didn’t realize until half way into it that this really was a scam. What do you do? I would end it as soon as possible. Do not worry about hurting someone’s feelings. When you are in a space that has many people (I don’t advise this in an empty alley), look at your watch or pretend to answer the phone and then fiend an emergency and leave. You also can make up another excuse or just say that you’ve decided not to go. Thank the person and then leave.

When It’s Too Late

You didn’t know it but you’ve been trapped and end up at the tannery (or a carpet shop etc). This isn’t where you intended to go and you have no desire to be there. In this situation, get upset. Show the person you are angry and this was not what you wanted. Then leave. Don’t go see anything, don’t take it any further, or wait for the end so that you can leave amicably. In the best case you will pay them nothing. You leave, making a scene if needed. In the worst case they request payment. Give them NO MORE than 20 dirham. They will ask for more. They’ll ask for 200 dirham, or even more. They want to get as much as possible. Give them the 20 and if they keep asking for more you can tell them you will give them nothing, as you didn’t ask for them to take you there. Then leave. Or, threaten to call the police.

babagnou

This tannery scam is one of the worst and I always find myself irritated when another tourist tells me they’ve been had this way. It’s one area the police really should be ramping up their patrols but for some reason (see the mafia example above) they don’t. Hopefully with these tips you’ll be able to avoid falling into their trap!

How to Avoid the Tannery Scam in Marrakech

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Monica

Sunday 19th of January 2020

I fell for the tannery ''scam'' and it helped me discover the tannery which I din't know much about at that time or how to find it. The people offered me tea and I gave them 10 dirhams for it because I would've felt bad otherwise. They did show me around their shop but no one became rude or anything when I said I had no money or space in my bag to buy anything. I think more than anything during my trip to Marrakech I felt bad that merchants were spending so much time showing me their products and I didn't buy anything so I would politely refuse to enter shops from then on. But it's true that in Marrakech, merchants are a lot more insistent than in other parts of the country and it does become a bit tiring when you just want to walk around.

Sung

Thursday 26th of September 2019

Thank you for posting this article! I checked out the tanneries in Fez, which were very cool and I actually only wanted to take photos and not buy any leather products, so just paid 10-20 dirham at each shop just to stand there and take photos, and had one of them take me down to the tannery floor. Almost certainly got scammed but it was worth the $3 USD for the photos in any case, and I didn't feel like getting into a yelling match with the sketchy bastards outside of the shops. I will certainly avoid the tanneries in Marrakech after reading this. I would also add that the medina area of Marrakech is probably the worst in terms of people yelling and scamming compared to Fez, Tangier, Chefchaouen. If you are not caucasian, they add racist insults if you don't take them up on their scams. I had some kid follow me around for yelling "go back to china! China people we no like" for literally about 20 minutes

21 Things to Do and See in Marrakesh

Wednesday 10th of April 2019

[…] DO NOT fall for the tannery scam  –  I didn’t visit the tanneries in Marrakesh, as I went in Fes, but many blogs, sites and Trip Advisor warn to not go to the tanneries as you will most definitely be conned and stuck in a very uncomfortable and unpleasant situation.  If you really want to visit the tanneries, learn how to avoid the scams here. […]

Christine

Sunday 3rd of February 2019

In May 2018 I went to Morocco alone. First stop Marrakech, third day there I got sucked in. Just like u said, road closed, been walking for hours, tired a ride sounded good and I hoped on. Tannery is where I ended up. Felt bad just walking away so I did the tour. Tried to walk away but ended up in the store, and yes ended up buying a puff, which like you said was because I was going to buy one anyway. I did get a good deal tho and I do really like it. But like you said it’s all a scam. Then when I came out the 2 guys that did the ride and tour were waiting for me demanding more money. By then I was ticked off. It ended with me giving one guy about 35 Durham and the other guy a handful of change I hand which was less than 10 durham. They demanded more, were mad because I said take that or nothing. Finally they realized they weren’t getting any more money from me, and I walked away. Took me awhile to find my way back, lots of guys asking if I needed help, was I lost, I just ignored them or told them to get lost. It all left a bad taste in my mouth and ruined that day for me. Up to then I really was enjoying my stay in the Medina, next day I joined up my my tour group, left Marrakech to other parts of Morocco and had a great time. Those men are ruining the tourist industry in Marrakech. Wish I would have seen your article before I left. It sums it up perfectly

Allyana

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

Hi. I’m in Marrakech at the moment. Someone tried the tannery scam with me. He admired my scarf, said I had put it on properly and that I looked like a Moroccan sister. all pleasant. Walked ahead of me as if he was going the same way. Told me about a special tannery display. It was 11.30am and it would be packing up soon for prayer. I was tired and was looking for almond croissants so I kindly bit firmly said no thank you which he accepted. Close one and now I have read this I am grateful that I didn’t get swept up in it. Still useful to know in case the same thing happens tomorrow!

PETER SMART

Friday 18th of October 2019

How much did you end up paying for the pound? We had the same experience but luckily avoided having to pay. They wanted 1500 to start and 500 by the time we left the shop

Rosco10

Wednesday 26th of June 2019

I had a similar situation when my wife and I visited the Medina. About half way through the scam I realised what was going on and so did my wife. I asked her to keep quiet and we played along right until the end of the 'tour'. When the guys started demanding money I simple refused and told them to f**k off. They were dumbstruck and started to become really aggressive and by now, we were totally lost and there was a menacing crowd of locals watching on. I stood my ground firmly and eventually the ringleader asked "Is this what all you Scottish bastards are like?' while pointing his finger in my face, and I calmly said "yes, yes it is."

I would not recommend this tactic unless you can handle yourself but I'm just too stubborn to give into criminals. Needless to say, my wife hates me at times but if someone doesn't stand up to these scumbags, who will?

Also, my top travelling tip - especially in potentially dangerous places is to keep all your money and cards in a concealed waist belt which fits neatly inside a man's swimming shorts. These type of people, especially in Arabic (often homophobic) countries, will not check inside your shorts for money.

Amanda Mouttaki

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

I agree - I wish there were a way to get these bad guys something more useful and productive to do than this :/

Laura

Thursday 12th of July 2018

Oh man, some of these experiences are crazy. Yikes! I’ve been to Kesh 4 times and luckily haven’t experienced any scams. That being said, shop owners will always see me as a tourist even while I’m with my(Marrakchi) husband. Unfort most of us westerners are seen as walking dollar signs, and when work there is so hard to come by, I can’t blame them for trying. Business is business. I would advise anyone visiting anywhere where they’re not familiar with the place or culture, do a bit of research(France has horrid tourist scams too). If you insist on wandering the medina alone, just do what Amanda suggests and ask shop owners of you get lost. Don’t take “help” from random dudes, or just offer them some money for their help before you take it. Your 20dh probably bought the guy 2g of data for his phone so he can whatsapp his friends lol. Everyone in Kesh wants to sell you something. The sooner you just accept that the better off you’ll be. And one last note to a previous post, Marrakchi locals don’t go into shops unless they plan on buying something. They don’t browse without the intention of buying. It’s rude. That’s why the shop keepers are a bit pushy once you go in. If you go in to look and decide you’re not interested, just say you’ll come back tmrw. It’s the “polite” way to leave without buying. Always ask first before you take pictures. And lastly, if you really wanna browse hassle free, go to Carre Eden in Gueliz. Part of the experience of the medina is the insanity, embrace it and enjoy urself. Just use ur head. :)

Allyana

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

I agree. I am in Marrakech to experience everything and if i am too close-minxes I miss cool stuff. Had a great afternoon. I had decided I didn’t want a pony and trap ride but when a lively man offered to take me this afternoon I had a great time. It cheered me up because my camel ride was cancelled. We had a great chat and I learned much more than if I had refused 👍

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