By Zainab CalcuttawalaRabat – Morocco was Italy’s favorite non-European vacation destination in 2015, according to new data released by Italy’s National Institute of Statistics.Though Italians preferred to vacation domestically – 81 percent of trips were made to other cities in Italy – 6 percent of trips were to Morocco and 3.2 percent to the United States. However, Italians preferred to stay in the European Union during a majority of their trips abroad. The institute noted the effect of Milan’s International Expo in May 2015 on travel patterns, adding that 72 percent of trips made to participate in a cultural show or exhibition were made in relation to the mega-event, themed “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”A short ferry-ride away from Spanish shores, Morocco’s historical architecture and natural beauty attract millions of tourists every year. The country’s popularity amongst foreigners seeking a ‘desert experience’ has garnered the attention of the Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.“There’s no doubt that Morocco is among the leading countries, if not the leader, in desert tourism,” Prince Sultan said during his open remarks for a workshop examining the Moroccan desert experience earlier this week. “The similarities in the Saudi and Moroccan experiences are in terms of the rural population, villages and communities. In both experiences, there’s originality and hospitality, which are the most important components of tourism.”The workshop was part of an initiative by the commission to grow Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry and aid desert villages by providing them with an additional source of income.Prince Sultan said the push will lead to the preservation of heritage sites; a welcome effort, as the desert Kingdom has been widely criticized for ramping up the destruction of historical sites in Mecca and Medina due to doctrinal differences and capacity issues related to high numbers of Hajj and umrah travelers.