Mauritius Minister of Tourism on the China Challenge

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Anil Gayan, Minister of Tourism on Wednesday, delivered this speech on what he called the “China challenge.” It was during a brainstorming session held last month held at Hennessy Park Hotel, Ebene:

All the senior staff of Air Mauritius,

All the representatives of the Hotels,

The stakeholders of the China Tourism Trade,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to you all!

Let me first of all say, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I regret that I have not having been able to be with you during this very important working session on what I will call the “ China Challenge.”

I am also sure that you have addressed all the issues which have adversely affected tourist arrivals from China.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The history of our experience in China Tourism is unfortunately disappointing. I do not wish to embark on a blaming and shaming exercise as this will be pointless. But my presence here this afternoon is to explore the following issues:

Is the  existing model of our promotion to China the right one? If not, why did we start on the wrong model? What must we do now to undo all the damage that has already been caused?

I said at the beginning of my statement that I am disappointed by the performance of China because you are aware that not very long ago we had almost 100 000 Chinese tourists coming to Mauritius. Today we are under 50 000. So what happened?

Are we marketing our tourism product right? Are we still comfortable to market Mauritius in China as a green destination? Or are the Chinese tourists looking for something else?

Is it at all possible to remedy the situation? Is Air Mauritius and I am happy to see all the big shots of Air Mauritius present this afternoon? Is Air Mauritius which is the sole carrier to China committed to the development of this market?

I keep hearing that the costs of Air Mauritius to fly to China are very high. And they need to address that issue. Are the costs of flying to China realistic? Can we have an honest appraisal and a breakdown of the cost to ascertain whether what Air Mauritius is telling us compares to the costs of other airlines flying to China.

I am raising these issues because I am sure that you must have addressed them in the course of the day. I keep telling all the tourism stakeholders that price sensitivity is a concern for all and we must never overlook the fact that travelers have choices. We must be humble in what we offer and what we offer must be reasonable and affordable.

But first of all let me give you my own personal views on this. I am a friend of China, I have been to China on  many occasions and I believe that China is a very close friend to Mauritius. And among friends we must be able to work together to see how we can improve on the friendship and see how to get more of our friends visiting us and more Mauritians also going to China. So this is the basis on which I am operating today.

So, first of all, Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe in China being an important partner of our tourism industry. But the question that we need to address are we ready for the Chinese?

Do we systematically make the Chinese feel at home on our flights, on Air Mauritius flights and also at the hotels? As you know China has the largest number of outbound tourists and this number will keep rising. Can we afford to ignore China and, if we do ignore China, will it be in our national interest to do so?

I am informed that only 10 % of the Chinese are holders of a passport and that is already 130 million Chinese. If that number is doubled in the next few years, then you can just imagine the potential.

We have had a Chinese presence in Mauritius for decades and, by virtue of that history and also by the determination of the Mauritian government to preserve Chinese culture, values, traditions and language, Mauritius should not have difficulty in attracting Chinese tourists. We have a Chinatown which the Seychelles does not have, Maldives do not have. So we have a problem if we fail to attract the Chinese tourists.

We are a very secure, disease free and epidemic free destination. Security is not an issue. We have excellent communication and IT services. Mauritius celebrates the Chinese New Year as a public holiday. We have had pagodas ever since the first Chinese immigrant came to Mauritius. We have members of the Chinese community participating in all spheres of public and private life in Mauritius.

We have the clean air, the sun, beautiful landscape, we have tea and all these are top selling points. Mauritius has a banknote with the picture of a Sino-Mauritian figure and Chinese cuisine is found everywhere. We have had a Chinese Embassy for decades and Mauritius also have its embassy in Beijing.

We have organized roadshows in several cities of China regularly. We have had social media campaigns, we have had celebrities coming after have been invited. So what is the problem?

Is it a Visibility/ Awareness issue? Are we not doing the right thing wrong or are we doing the wrong thing when we promote Mauritius in China? Are we lacking in advertising?

What is the economic model that we must have to attract the Chinese? This is why I am happy that my friend the Ambassador of China is here because we need with the Chinese authorities to try to find answers to these questions.  And I am sure that if we do it right, the Chinese authorities will be by our side to get even to get their personnel travelling to African countries to use Mauritius carriers. We can capture part of that businesses but we need to talk to the authorities. We can no longer work in silos, we must be open to new possibilities, we must be open to suggestions, no one is always right. And this is why I believe that we need to have a complete overview of the way that we have been doing things.

Let me go on again on highlighting those issues.

Do we need to review our air access policy for this purpose?

Are Air fares too high? Because I keep hearing that air fares are problematic.

What about air connectivity? Do we have an adequate number of reliable and regular flights? Are we satisfied about  schedule integrity from our carrier?

What cities should we concentrate on?

What type of accommodation are the Chinese tourists looking for? Do we have accommodation that suits all the needs of the Chinese tourist?

Is it a fact that Chinese travel only during some specific periods when they have their holidays? We need to find out because we want to market Mauritius as an all year round destination. Can we attract them with a product all year round?

Should we target special interests groups in China? Have we been doing the wrong things or doing things wrong?

Can we target retirees? Soldiers? Parents with kids? Honeymooners? Sports people? Golf? Hunting? Fishing? Casinos?

Let me also say something  in the presence of the captains of the hotel industry. I go to the fairs all over the world and I hear things and I consider it my duty as the minister of tourism to share what I hear with all the stakeholders. The Chinese tourists love going to hotels with brand names. Are we doing the right things in terms of branding of our hotels? I am flagging this issue for the captains of the industry. If they are serious about going to China, then this issue must be addressed.

Should we have more shopping facilities and shopping for branded products?

Can we organise Shopping festival for Chinese just like Singapore does?

I am not saying that we are there yet but can we have a roadmap for 5 years? 10 years? We can attract different kind of business to Mauritius.

Can we organize holiday camps for kids to learn or to be exposed to other languages? And I am sure that parents will be happy just to leave their kids to a teacher and enjoy their holidays. But these are things that we need to do.

Should we also , Ladies and Gentlemen, think of twinning Mauritius and Reunion as a holiday package? Can this be done within the Vanilla Islands organization under the concept of complementarity?

Do we also need to attract other carriers? From China? Or maybe not exclusively from China?

Can we get one of the Gulf Carriers to undertake to bring Chinese tourists to Mauritius?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My interest is not to lose interest in China. There may still be difficulties but we cannot forgo or forget all the investments already made over several years, in terms of human capital and other resources, and we must develop a strategy to be present and to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we do not lose any more of market share.

For this purpose Air Mauritius must engage with everyone and cannot carry on doing things on its own without consultations with all relevant stakeholders, specially the Ministry of Tourism and the MTPA.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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