ANAËLLE JEAN

We all know that Tourism has, for years now, been a pillar of our economy. Alas, the forced temporary shutdown of our borders owing to COVID-19, feels like an eternity and is slowly killing the tourism sector as we once knew it.

The recent Wakashio saga adds salt to our already so painful wound, as it will most definitely discourage potential travelers from visiting Mauritius despite their love for our well-known hospitality. As a matter of fact, it was found that there was a major decrease in tourists’ interests in the neighbouring Gulf States after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010.

The government, through their actions (or inactions?), has proven to be the gravedigger of the tourism sector. The recent blame game from their part is yet another illustration of this government being off the plate. Is the fact that members of the opposition have dared speak on an international platform, about the situation in Mauritius, which is causing prejudice or the inaction of the government for days, before and even after the oil spill? Any fair-minded and informed observer would come to the conclusion that the latter, which has thus caused bad press on an international level, is a major contributing factor to a decline of interest from the part of tourists to visit our island since a great deal of our economy is based on the reputation of our beaches. I wonder what our tourism sector would look like had it been based on the reputation of the government!

This brings us to a series of questions. What is the future of our tourism industry? During these times of forced solitude amongst Mauritians and private jet owners, isn’t it the perfect timing to find alternatives to sustain our tourism sector through innovative solutions? Be daring instead of hoping for the best? Can’t we rethink our definition of tourism/tourists? What if we were the tourists that we are desperately waiting for? What if all of us as Mauritians, decided to visit Mauritius as tourists? Can’t we practice more domestic tourism and fill the gap in an attempt to keep this Industry afloat?

Despite the reiteration of the government’s effort towards a more sustainable country during the last 2020 budgetary announcements, it seems like the focus remains on the consumption of local products rather than local services. We are known for our hospitality and our people, why can’t we share that same service to our fellow citizens?

I would however be erred to hold solely accountable the government. Our education on the history of Mauritius has been and continues to be very limited and thus is a major hindrance in the development of domestic tourism. The only instance we are taught a few aspects of the history of Mauritius, to say the least, is in primary school. This is a contributing factor to the lack of interest of a lot of Mauritians to learn about the history of their island, the cultures and visit heritage sites. Many prefer to travel abroad and learn about other countries’ history and cultures and visit various places of attractions, without being fully knowledgeable about theirs. Resulting from this is the lack of interest and measures in developing and encouraging domestic tourism.

COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink the tourism industry and in so doing, some hotels have, since the lifting of the lockdown, accentuated on broadening the Mauritian customer base with some interesting packages. But then again it’s winter and these packages are barely available to the locals in summer – where, logically speaking, it is way better to enjoy our sandy beaches on a deckchair while sipping a drink. The initiative of opening some hotel doors to the locals during this time of hardship for the tourism sector is in itself not a bad one. It is however an undeniable fact that along with the special discounts, the quality of services offered have lowered. Isn’t it thus just a facade?

Two major events that took place within less than a month have proved unquestionable patriotism. Firstly, people all around the island, regardless of any demographic characteristics, rolling up their sleeves to give a major helping hand in cleaning our lagoon and secondly a considerable number of people marching on the 29th of August claiming a better Mauritius.  Have the government thus been wrong in focalising, only and for years now, on international tourism by promoting our sandy beaches and our once breathtaking crystal clear turquoise lagoons?  Isn’t this upsurge of solidarity in cleaning Wakashio’s mess a proof that Mauritians do love their island and deserve to be able to enjoy and benefit from the hotel sector, which have for long now been accessible to only a bunch of more fortunate?