Mauritius Tourism minister Michael Sik Yuen continued his interview to AfricaMoney by elaborating on how a deepening relationship with Emirates was gradually resolving air connectivity woes. He also commented on the visibility of Mauritius in the Middle East, stating that closer ties with Dubai’s premier airlines was also helping Mauritius gain greater visibility in the Gulf Council Countries. To conclude, the minister also gave his views on untapped markets such as Japan and Korea, expressing confidence that the Mauritius tourism industry is flexible enough to adapt to them in terms of language and cuisine.

  • Poor air connectivity is often stated as a major obstacle for tourism in the Indian Ocean region. With Emirates deepening its ties with Mauritius, how is the island economy planning to leverage it for increased tourism opportunities?

There are already 14 flights by Emirates to Mauritius, at the rate of 2 flights a day. So, yes, the deepening ties with Emirates are helping us reach out to a lot more destinations than we can independently hope to connect with. From as many as 130 countries, a tourist can connect to Dubai and then come down to Mauritius. Also, our network with Gulf Council Countries is especially at an all-time high on the back of our strengthening relationship with Dubai’s premier airlines. During the recent Middle East roadshow, we met around 100 from each of the six countries visited, with at least 600 tour operators covered in all, and 120 members of the press in these six countries.

  • How does Mauritius have an edge over other destinations in the Indian Ocean tourism space, such as Seychelles, Maldives and Madagascar?

We have more to offer in one single place than any of the other destinations. If you want to compare Mauritius with Seychelles, Maldives and Madagascar, we offer an array of attractions such as sightseeing, shopping and golf. Maldives for instance, does not offer much by way of shopping, while Mauritius scores over Seychelles and Madagascar with golf-based tourism. Moreover, many people come to Mauritius to get married and the island is famous as a honeymoon destination. Incidentally, Mauritius was awarded the Best Honeymoon Destination in the Indian Ocean for the last three years and followed it up last November with the World’s Best Honeymoon Destination award.

[blockquote style=”2″]Liverpool will be coming down to play in Mauritius. It will give us great engagement with UK tourists. The UK-based team is expected to play off against a German team, so it will take care of our visibility on the German circuit.[/blockquote]

  • Mauritius was one of the top 3 destinations Indian travelers searched for, according to Google’s Zeitgeist list for 2013. How is Mauritius poised to maintain its position among Indian tourists, especially in the popular wedding and honeymoon segments?

We must be present in India and our visibility must be high. Agent tours for travel agents as well as members of the press are essential to create greater awareness of the offerings of Mauritius in the tourism space. Last year, I visited India and ensured higher visibility for Mauritius as we sponsored an important event – ‘The Lakme India Fashion Week’.

On the wedding and honeymoon segments, we have a scheme under MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events). We provide Rs 100,000 for a group of 150 visitors travelling to Mauritius and the group gets to decide what to spend it on and where to spend it. The only condition is that the money must be spent in Mauritius itself. This spurs consumption in the island economy as the money is spent within the country and is a further incentive to travel operators to organize large groups of visitors for Mauritius. We have a good pipeline of gala weddings for this year, lined up in May, June and August, and can expect large groups of visitors to Mauritius for these months.

  • UK is another source market that appears to be focusing on Mauritius, with the island destination making it to the top 10 ‘trending’ travel places for British tourists in Google’s year-in-review list. How is Mauritius planning to leverage the opportunities offered by greater British footfalls?

Liverpool will be coming down to play in Mauritius. It will give us great engagement with UK tourists. The UK-based team is expected to play off against a German team, so it will take care of our visibility on the German circuit as well and will be a great opportunity to bring down the media for these countries to Mauritius. Other than the impact on tourism, the football match will also enthuse the local population as Mauritians love football and they especially follow British teams such as Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. Besides, to gain visibility in UK, we are also doing a lot of agent tours and joint campaigns.

  • Japan is one market that is currently untapped. What do you think of the potential of this Asia-Pacific island, given challenges posed by high air fares and language barriers?

Besides Japan, Korea is another market that offers great potential. We did agent tours in these circuits last year and have also invited travel agents and the media to come to Mauritius. In 2013, Korea saw 5% growth to 2,778 tourists while Japanese visitors grew 8% to reach 1,768 footfalls. However, awareness campaigns are key to keeping the numbers coming.

Besides, connectivity is to be taken care of but as of now, the market is not large enough to be considered seriously by airlines.

As for language barriers, our tourism industry can overcome such issues. It is important to remember that a decade ago, there were just a handful of Chinese visitors to Mauritius. But now that the Chinese have started coming to the island in greater numbers, Mauritius tourism industry is fast adapting to them, whether in terms of language or in terms of food. For instance, Chinese cuisine is fast catching on in the Mauritius hospitality circuit. Just to give an idea of its popularity, mini-bars in hotels now stock cup noodles and the staple hotel breakfast buffet is increasingly featuring food from the Asian economy. So, I believe that if Japanese and Korean visitors are to come to Mauritius in greater numbers, our industry is flexible enough to adapt to them.

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