A ‘Guest Performance’ by Fouad Diouman, VP Planning and Marketing at Arik Air

The Indian Ocean Islands – Our travel and tourism sector: the perfect cyclone

Fouad Diouman a Mauritian by birth and today the VP Planning & Marketing for Arik Air Limited based in Nigeria. He published an interesting article in the L’Express Newspaper of Mauritius and we are reprinting the article with permission of the Fouad Diouman .

Fouad Diouman writes:- Despite the recession, the World Travel andTourism Council (WTTC) still consider this sector to be the fastest growing for the world economy. For the Mauritian economy, the Travel and Tourism sector is obviously critical – and some have commented about its current dire state. We used to be the jewel of Africa. However, this monograph starts by highlighting the surprisingly strong intent of an emerging African country, Tanzania. Do we have a strategy? And do we have the right people in the right decision-making positions, with the right processes? We give the example of the Seychelles, which just won the ‘Best Tourism Campaign’ award last week in Abu Dhabi before concluding on the remedies – if it is not already too late for Mauritius.

Last week, I visited the impressive Tanzania stand at World Routes, an aviation conference, in Abu Dhabi. Merely a few years ago, this country would not even dream of competing with Mauritius, the highly sought-after island destination. With some vague ideas about safaris in my mind, I enquired about what exactly was on offer. They replied, without any hint of arrogance: ‘we have everything – but it is only now that we are starting our Marketing, people know more about Kenya’. But how can they have ‘everything’? Surely that is Marketing hype? They patiently explained to me that they have a beautiful country of 945,000 sq km (500 times larger than Mauritius), 40m people who speak the same language (Swahili), a 1,000km-long coastline harbouring endless beautiful beaches, better safaris than Kenya, vast nature parks and the Kilimanjaro (in all modesty), of course, with its snow. Their brochure of the Serengeti Park and other attractions was the classiest Marketing collateral I had ever seen out of Africa. But Mauritius is an exclusive island destination, I hear some say. Forget about it, they have Zanzibar, more magical, mysterious, out of this world. Tanzania does not even have to deploy the heavy artillery of its mainland to compete with Mauritius! Complacent as we usually are, we may ask if they have the resources to develop all this? They have oil and gas. We have our dwindling textile industry. We know which commodity is in greater demand: countries do not go to war for t-shirts. Tanzania is also opening up structurally. Fastjet, a low-cost airline set up by Stelios (the Greek billionaire who launched easyJet) for Africa will start operations from its first African base in a few months. It is, you guessed it, Dar-es-Salam. It is not only Mauritian tourism that is threatened, it is our whole economy. And that is only one competitor. Have our decision-makers seen the writing on the wall? We cannot even solve the street-hawkers problem.

What is our tourism strategy? Do we have one? Let us not even talk about alignment among hoteliers, airlines, the environment, infrastructure, etc. to monitor and keep up with safety, capacity and quality, let alone improvement. We were flogged with a Flic-en-Flac fiesta, the tourism highlight of the year … for locals. The perfect oxymoron. For more than 20 years now, the hotel industry has been constantly blaming airlines which, they claim, are not offering enough seats. This is merely a symptom of their lack of strategy and innovation. It is true that they are well placed to talk about over-capacity, since we are currently witnessing a glut of hotel rooms on the island! If it is not the airlines, then the euro or the recession is to be blamed. Are they interested to modernise their entrenched practices? A list of all hotel managers in Mauritius, by name and by nationality might be quite revealing…

Yes, there is a recession. But why is Seychelles witnessing a steady increase in tourist arrivals? Too small to go it alone, they have welcomed Etihad as an integrated partner to their development. Rightly or wrongly, only the future will tell, but their aviation policy is aligned with their tourism. They have taken a hard look at the strategic issues they face, made the required decision and are implementing them without looking back. I was one of their guests at the Africa Routes Conference last July. The hospitality, with genuine kindness and humility, was jaw-ping. The Tourism Minister was personally present on the tarmac to thank all delegates upon their boarding the aircraft on departure. The Seychelles Tourism Board point out that the award is for ‘ … recognizing the importance of the golden triangular approach of airlines, aviation authorities and tourism boards in advancing tourism’. With the egos we have in Mauritius, getting people to sit on the same table for a constructive discussion is in itself a major challenge.

The remedies for Mauritius are quite obvious but their implementation does require vision and political clout, two of the rarest commodities:

a) for such a small country, we have a Ministry of Tourism, the MTPA and the Tourism Authority: instead of three costly organisations staffed with political appointees, we need only one lean organisation with qualified incumbents
b) the hotel industry need to show more transparency and meritocracy, they are an island within the island
c) whether through privatisation and/or foreign investment and partnership, the ‘national’ carrier should stop its decay due to political interference
d) the above three essential parties (hotels, a tourism body and airlines) need to talk amongst themselves to develop a coherent strategy, not for the personal survival of the incumbents (or to see who can steal a larger share of the pie) but for the country
e) last but not least, the arrogance that Mauritius is unique is moronic – maybe it was but, on the one hand, what was an exclusive destination is being squandered (overcapacity, safety, lack of planning) for short term gains and, on the other hand, we now have to compete with new or much improved destinations. And they have more resources than us and/or they have a strategy.

As witnessed by the state of our renowned ‘nenuphars’ at the Pamplemousses Garden, our tourism industry is now – or soon will be – in a decrepit state. We are in the midst of a perfect cyclone, mostly self-inflicted. It may well be too late for Mauritius.