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Mauritius: the rising star of the Indian Ocean keeps shining

New airlines, diversification of clientele, development of its hotel supply: the island is definitely riding the wave. Zoom in on this increasingly popular destination.

Mauritian tourism is following quite an impressive trend. Close to 1.2 million tourists had the opportunity to visit this destination in the Indian Ocean last year: almost the equivalent of the country's population. This represents an 11% increase over 2014, confirming the island's surge in popularity beyond its traditional source markets.

One of the main strengths of its tourism industry resides in the diversity of its offer, which consists of luxury resorts along the beach, excursions to discover the island's natural riches, aquatic activities, and a vast array of products in terms of wellness and relaxation. Mauritian hotels have managed to make the most of these many assets in order to seduce new clientele over time and diversify their offer, for example by developing sustainable tourism in the upscale segment. The island now welcomes visitors from around the world to explore its 330 kilometers of coastline and its unique culture, at the crossroads of civilizations of the Indian Ocean.

The share of the tourism industry in Mauritius's economy almost doubled within ten years: its revenue now represents more than 50 billion Mauritian rupees, or 1.3 billion euros. It now accounts for 7% of the island's GDP, and an equal share of employment. Last year, it reached historic heights with 1,152,000 registered tourist arrivals, for a total of 12 million overnight stays - a 6.7% increase from the previous year. For a destination such as Mauritius, which is geographically remote from traditional tourist source markets, and generally requires a long-haul flight to get there, Mauritian tourism naturally distinguishes itself by the length of the average stay - close to 11 days. But the island has enough to offer and has diversified its supply to welcome and accommodate different types of clientele, whether for a relaxing holiday or a more exotic kind of experience.

The national hotel capacity is now reaching close to 13,500 rooms, not to mention some 6,800 rooms through alternative sources of accommodation. Hotels across the island boasted excellent results in 2015, with "average occupancy rate around 70%," according to Jocelyn Kwok, President of the AHRIM (Association des Hôteliers et Restaurateurs de l’Île Maurice). "Although behind that number hides a very visible seasonality, with almost twice as many tourists in December as in the month of June. That said, we are doubling our efforts this year to reduce this gap, especially by creating opportunities to visit the island between May and October, and developing initiatives such as Mauritius 365. In the long run, growth in arrivals will probably slow down in favor of added unit value, which should grow according to the law of supply and demand."

The Republic of Mauritius has 115 officially-licensed hotels. The Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) recently implemented a classification of accommodations by stars - up to five, similar to systems that are prevalent worldwide. Almost half of them, 55 hotels to be precise, boast capacities of more than 80 rooms. These large hotels alone represent 76% of the national supply, or 10,378 rooms. This confirms the Island of Mauritius's status as a resort destination, with offers similar to those of other pearls in the Indian Ocean, such as the Maldives, Seychelles, or Sri Lanka.

Mauritius's tourist assets naturally drew the attention of hotel chains, which deemed the destination particularly adapted to the development of leisure and multi-service facilities. In 2014, RIU Hotels & Resorts invested close to 80 million euros to buy and renovate a complex of three hotels on Le Morne Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Altogether, these new addresses have more than 500 rooms, and provide a generous offer in terms of F&B and entertainment. The operator chose diversification through specialization, with an "Adults only" policy at the hotel RIU Le Morne, whereas RIU Creole and RIU Coral offer a wide range of activities and a kids' club to cater to the preferences of the whole family. This is one of the island's particularities, allowing it to seduce different profiles of visitors - and not just honeymooners, although most of the hotels offer specific packages for their enjoyment.

For its two resorts opened in the north of the island last September, The group Carlson Rezidor adopted a relatively similar strategy, the hotel Radisson Blu Poste Lafayette Resort & Spa (100 rooms) being specifically dedicated to adults and couples, whereas the address Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, with a similar capacity, displays a "family-friendly" orientation. The operator also opened a 60-villa complex for long stay vacationers, demonstrating the diversification of accommodations on the island. It must be said that the average length of a stay in the Republic of Mauritius favours this type of vacation: in 2014, close to one out of five visitors chose to stay two weeks or more in one of the hotels of the island.

The list of groups present along its coasts keeps growing longer, with the recent opening of the addresses Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa (Starwood Hotels & Resorts), InterContinental Resort Mauritius and Holiday Inn Mauritius Mon Tresor (IHG), Ambre Resort & Spa (Sun Resorts), and Outrigger Mauritius Beach Resort (Outrigger Hotels & Resorts). These additions fully reflect the success of Mauritian tourism, which has combined the island's natural assets with a certain sense and culture of hospitality. An achievement all the more commendable that the national supply has seen a tremendous increase, from 1,500 rooms in 1975 to 6,000 in 1995, finally reaching 13,500 keys today. The appeal of the destination for international hotel operators is not likely to loose steam any time soon: building from its experience in upscale resort hotels in the Maldives, Dubai-based Jumeirah just announced the opening of a new property in Mauritius in 2018.

Strongly influenced by seasonality, Mauritian hotels necessarily need to maximize their occupancy rate year-round. Mauritius' current strategy aims to conquer emerging tourist markets by opening new flight routes, a logical obligation for such an island. In December 2015, Turkish Airlines opened a strategic route from Istanbul. The year 2014 saw another significant addition, with the opening of a second daily A380 flight by Emirates from Dubai. This flight increases the company's capacity by 1 890 seats a week, indicating the positive expectations of tourism professionals regarding further developments in the destination.

"The Air Corridor", an ambitious international partnership, ensured the opening of the first direct flight route between Mauritius and Singapore on March 11, 2016. Three direct flights will be operated weekly by national airline Air Mauritius, a significant boost for arrivals of Asian clienteles, more strategic than ever owing to their dynamism. The case of Chinese tourists is emblematic : even though they were only 21,000 in 2012, their number almost reached 90,000 visitors in 2015 - a 41.4% increase from the previous year. This is a key dimension for the country's tourism, all the more so as the Republic of Mauritius is ideally located between the Asian and African continents. According to the President of AHRIM Jocelyn Kwok, "it is essential to stay directly connected to large airports close to our source markets. This reasoning includes non-stop flights, but transit flights in hubs served by super connectors are equally important; that is to say flight routes benefiting from the 6th degree of freedom. The year 2015 was exceptional for Mauritius because the additional supply in terms of seats has just been remarkable, whether from already active routes or through new connections, especially from Europe. In the end, the destination has found its footing and managed to convince the airline industry."

Emboldened by this unprecedented expansion, the island also tries to become a leading regional destination for MICE tourism. It benefits from several assets: a modern and high-quality hotel supply, a calm political and security environment, and a favorable geographical location, midway between dynamic markets representing an increasing share of international exchanges: Southern and Eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the South Asian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. In 2014, 45,000 business tourists visited Mauritius, or 4.2% of total arrivals. As the island simultaneously attracted 969,500 vacationers, it is hard to deny its status of resort destination, first and foremost focused on leisure tourism. However, the sector has seen a steady increase: business visitors were only 30,000 in 2005 - ultimately, MICE tourism has seen a 50% surge within a decade.

Aside from the category of tourists considered, the island seduces an increasing number of new markets. Mauritius now succeeds in going beyond its traditional sources of visitors, Western Europe and neighboring territories (especially South Africa and the Réunion), even though they still remain ahead of tourism figures.

The French are - by far - the most numerous tourists along the island's shores: they were 254,000 coming from metropolitan France in 2015 (+4.4%), not to mention 144,000 citizens from the neighboring island of Réunion. Coming next are British visitors, with 130,000 of Her Majesty's subjects visiting the island in 2015 (+12.5%), followed by some 102,000 South-African tourists (+9.5%). While these major source markets show a particularly positive trend, increase in outbound travellers past this Top 3 is even more impressive: as previously mentioned, +41.4% from China with 90,000 visitors, +21% from Germany with 75,000 tourists, and finally +17.9% from India, as 72,000 of its citizens had the opportunity to discover Mauritius in 2015. As flight routes become more numerous - and frequent - there is every reason to believe that the destination's boom is far from dying down.

Will the current trend convince new hotel operators to take root on the island ? According to Jocelyn Kwok, "some large international groups have been following Mauritius for years already, and recent developments are no surprise for local hoteliers. All destinations are unique, but Maurice is even more unique - If I can put it that way. Its geographical location, its history, its population, its natural beauty, its economic dynamism, its hotel supply and its modernity are all parts of an unusual and astounding combination for the visitor" As the government office Statistics Mauritius just revised its 2016 forecasts upwards, with an anticipated 7 to 8% increase in arrivals, the clientele seems to agree, convinced by a destination that truly has the wind in its sails.

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