Mauritius has not yet opened its borders
Mauritius has not yet opened its borders. How far does this closure affect your business?
I own and manage Susie Freeman Travel, a high end tour operator based in the UK providing bespoke holidays and travel to the best destinations around the Indian Ocean. My business started more than 20 years ago, originally offering holidays only to Mauritius, but it has gradually expanded to the Seychelles, Maldives and the southern half of Africa. I have sent tens of thousands of clients to Mauritius over the years to the best hotels on the island and I can confidently say that we are one of the best known and most respected tour operators in the UK for Mauritius tourism.
Obviously for my business, and all other tour operators and travel agents around the world, the last six months have been particularly difficult. I have had to cancel and refund a large number of booked holidays since March and I have had to ‘furlough’ some of my staff. With the continuing uncertainty about the practicalities of international travel and the unpredictability of changes to the quarantine arrangements, it is all but impossible to accept holiday bookings, although I am holding quite a number of deposits for planned holidays later in 2020 and for next year. Some UK tour operators, including some well-known names, have already gone out of business and I fear that others may follow unless the situation improves.
Mauritius has always had a strong profile in the UK as a safe, well-organised, attractive and popular destination for the most discerning holiday makers but, bluntly, the island’s reputation and profile has waned noticeably in recent years and it no longer has the cachet, which it certainly once had, as one of the top holiday destinations in the world. This is largely because there has been no sensible, balanced and proactive investment in tourism promotion, either here in the UK or indeed anywhere else in Europe.
However, the Mauritian government does not wish to open its frontier so soon in order to avoid new imported cases of Covid-19. Is this explanation justifiable?
I fear that the Mauritian government’s current stance of refusing to allow tourists to return to the island, however well-meaning, will do considerable damage to the island’s long term profile and reputation. Tourism is a precarious and erratic business at the best of times, whilst most holiday makers are fickle, unreliable and easily seduced by alternative options.
I have no doubt that the Mauritius government is not opening its borders in the belief that this is in the best interests of its people but there has to be a balance of risk between avoiding any Covid outbreak on the island against the economic damage that is being done to the tourism sector in the short term and the profile of Mauritius as a popular holiday destination in the long term. If all holiday destinations all over the world were still ‘locked down’, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But the reality is that they are not and many other destinations are ‘stealing a march’ on Mauritius because they have opened up and are welcoming British tourists. And the sad fact is that if this goes on much longer then Mauritius may really struggle in the longer term to recover its position in the international tourism league table. In short, it is very easy to lose potential tourists to other international destinations whilst it is much more difficult to get them back again.
I am sympathetic to the government’s stance but, like it or not, Covid is here to stay and we all need to learn to live with it. Life has to go on and Mauritius needs to find ways to get the tourists back again – safely – as other countries are doing. Simply shutting up shop, as seems to be the current strategy, may do untold damage to the service sector. At the very least, we need a clear plan and timetable from the Mauritian government about how it intends to ‘re-boot’ tourism because the current uncertainty and lack of information is very damaging.
Is there a demand from UK tourists to come on vacation to Mauritius? (If you can mention some figures to indicate)
At present, the demand to holiday in Mauritius is still there but I increasingly sense that patience is wearing thin with my constant prevarication about when or if my clients can actually go on holiday to the island. For example, I have around 200 clients booked to come to Mauritius in November, all staying in 5 star hotels; perhaps around £200,000 of business, not including money which the tourists spend on the island when they are there.
Realistically, if I cannot confirm their holidays in the next month or so, then I know that most of them will decide to go elsewhere. And I simply don’t know what to do for holidays already booked for September and October. The last communication from MTPA was received on 27th June stating that the borders would be opened on 31st August but that has still not been confirmed!
What other countries are they opting for vacation given that the Mauritian destination is still closed?
The Maldives are open, although British tourists have to quarantine for 14 days on return to the UK. Other holiday makers are opting for the Caribbean and destinations all over Europe. But the critical issue is that as a tour operator I know exactly what is happening with all my other destinations in the Indian Ocean because their tourism promotion offices are feeding constant updates and information. The only exception is Mauritius where MTPA is notable only by its silence!