First off and now on again – the U-turns of Mauritius’ position on festivals

OFF AGAIN AND ON AGAIN – MORE U-TURNS BY MAURITIUS TOURISM CONFUSE MARKET

In yet another U-turn of sorts has the Mauritius Tourism Minister Michael Sik Yuen over the weekend announced that the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority will after all hold a festival later this year, known as the Festival of the Sea. Only a few weeks ago, as reported here at the time, did the same minister state before parliament that the flopped Carnival plus Shopping Festival last year would not be repeated, as the organization of such events was, or so it was understood by the public, beyond the capacity of MTPA. At the time it was felt by many in Mauritius that such an admission of failure was plain and simple a catastrophe for the hugely important tourism sector, as it, in the words of one ardent critic of the tourism administration in Port Louis was ‘reducing our past standing as the Indian Ocean’s leading tourism destination to ashes. If our tourism authority is not capable of organizing a simple festival, they have no business to be in this business’, a stinging retort if not an outright slap, though not a single incident as the opposition against the institutional fragmentation of the sector is growing.

Only last week did the Maldives take the lion’s share of awards and recognitions during the annual World Tourism Awards, including being named as the region’s best tourism board, considered to be a personal failure by Karl Mootosaamy, the CEO of MTPA, who had vigorously campaigned to have Mauritius, and by prolongation himself, to be crowned the winner. Mauritius also lost the race for the highest number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives, attributed by sections of the tourism industry to the failure of MTPA to develop a compelling new concept of promoting the island and build on the considerable strength of past excellence. ‘MTPA has gone stale, their leadership has run out of ideas. To rescue tourism Mauritius has to do what the Seychelles did between 2008 and 2010, remove the deadwood, inject energetic and inspired new people and make the authority part of all of us, not just a domain for a selected few with the right political connections. Let us copy that revival of the Seychelles Tourism Board, not their ideas on festivals which will look to the market like we steal their ideas and are unable to create our own events’ roared a regular contributor from Port Louis when asked to comment on these latest developments.

Like the ultimately failed carnival idea, the Festival of the Sea in Mauritius concept too appears to be copied and pasted from neighbours Seychelles, which has scheduled SUBIOS, The Seychelles Festival of the Sea, for the period of 22nd to 24th November this year. SUBIOS will this year celebrate its 24th edition and has gained global recognition as one of the world’s foremost underwater festivals, where film makers and renowned photographers come to the archipelago year after year to capture the biodiversity under water. Launched in 1989 as Sub Indian Ocean Seychelles, the event was rebranded in 2011 as SUBIOS Seychelles Festival of the Sea and is one of the Seychelles key dates on their annual calendar of festivals and events.

I think Sik Yuen was frankly stung by the success of the Maldives and how Mauritius was relegated into a distant second. But the lack of capacity at MTPA he publicly stated a few weeks ago in parliament will still be his biggest challenge. There were no changes since then at MTPA. How have they now gained capacity to organize a festival of this magnitude within a few weeks. Will tax payer money again be wasted like it was the case last year with the failed carnival? Will the tourism sector be fully involved and consulted in his new idea? When will there be change at MTPA to relaunch Mauritius tourism? Why did he change his mind now and who is to gain from this and can the public be given a budget estimate of what this will cost?’ contributed another source, like all others wary of the consequences of being named, not unusual considering the stories of the past about a vicious backlash against critics of MTPA’s leadership.

A mindboggling scenario of U-turns, twists in the tail and inexplicable actions, retractions and then more activism. Time will tell where this one is going, so watch this space for what will come next out of Port Louis.

1 Comment

  1. This is an extraordinary announcement and does, unfortunately, add to the impression that those responsible for the country’s tourism industry don’t know whether they are coming or going. The minister’s actions are looking increasingly bizarre and erratic, and it’s hard to understand the thinking behind these decisions. It’s enough to make anyone who loves Mauritius, as I do, despair.

    It may be, of course, that Sik Yuen simply caved in to pressure from hotels and other businesses that were horrified by the sudden cancellation of the Carnival of the Sea. It’s also possible that when the contracts for entertainers, organisers and the like were examined it was discovered that money would have to be paid out whether or not the event went ahead. Short-notice cancellation of a big event of this kind may sometimes prove more expensive than going ahead with it.

    Either way, this now leaves little time to put together a competent team to plan and run the event, and even less time to promote it abroad. Without that publicity and promotion, there really seems to be little point in spending taxpayers’ money on the carnival this year; it would be better to postpone it to next year and buy time to do the job properly.

    And we have to question whether the job will be done properly. Organising a carnival is a complex process and the safety of participants and onlookers must be paramount. Will there be a proper traffic management plan, to avoid the kind of jams that occurred in Flic en Flc last year? Will there be a proper health & safety risk assessment to ensure that, for example, people can be evacuated quickly in the event of an emergency? If there isn’t, and something goes wrong, the effects could be damaging for the reputation of Mauritius as a safe destination. And with such uncertainty, who would want to commit themselves to taking part in, or organising a holiday around, such an event? We still don’t even seem to have a firm date for the festival.

    The MTPA and the ministry may think it’s sufficient to ‘wait and see’. In the meantime, though, the tourists are all heading off to the Maldives and Seychelles…

Comments are closed.