Drop in tourist arrivals: Who to blame?

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Tourists at SSR International Airport. Compared to 2018, arrivals have decreased by 1.2% for the first quarter of 2019.

Tourist arrivals have decreased by 1.2% for the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period of 2018. This underperformance is particularly observed in arrivals by air (down by 4.5%). Statistics are there to show that the first three months of the year have always been historically better than the second quarter. This is an indisputable fact.

Is it some sort of selfcomplacency and the past success of our tourism (which is no guarantee of a future success) that have made some believe the world tourism scene would be an easy ride rather than a tougher and tougher drive? In fact, more and more hungry competitors and emerging destinations are around to bite our market share. The winners are countries which remain attuned to changes in market trends and consumer demands; the losers are those which do not adopt aggressive and well targeted marketing strategies.

Are our policymakers taking full account of the quality side of tourism whereby an increasing number of environmentally conscious visitors prefer green and cultural tourism products? Why is it that Mauritius is absent from the list of top 100 World’s Sustainable Destinations released in March this year?

In April 2017, Government organised les “Assises du Tourisme’’, which came out with some good proposals like the need for the rejuvenation of Destination Mauritius. Most of the sub committees which brain stormed were chaired by very competent senior officers of the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) with active participation of tourism stakeholders.

Two years have lapsed. It would be interesting to know whether any policy measures have been initiated by Minister Gayan and if there has been any follow-up on the proposals made at the same “Assises du Tourisme’’.

One of the things urgently needed is effective consensus building with tourism professionals who are out there and know the trade in order to spare us such “catastrophe” as the famous air Corridor. More wisdom from self-proclaimed experts in aviation would have saved the country considerable resources and energy.

I hold no brief for Air Mauritius (MK) which may have real deficiencies and needs to improve its efficiency and management, but the Minister of Tourism needs to have a serious look at his own house more especially the performance of its marketing arm, the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) and its overseas representatives.

I am proud to have set up the MTPA with an innovative governance structure consisting of a Board of Directors with half of its representatives being tourism stakeholders. The national airline had a seat on the Board. The Executive Director and overseas representatives were all employed on performance based contracts, monitored by Key Performance Indicators. Unfortunately, this is no more the case.

The composition of the board as set out above ensured a privileged line of communication not only between MK and MoT but with other operators of the sector. Today, MK, our flag bearer, is no more a full member of the Board of the MTPA. And surprisingly, Minister Gayan has recently voiced his frustration for not being able to have regular and frequent exchanges with the Top Management of MK.

Who is to blame for this serious breakdown of communications? Anil Gayan is holding the national airline responsible (or rather has pinpointed MK as the culprit) for the bad performance in tourist arrivals. As a matter of fact, all main source markets are underperforming. Airlines have overall carried fewer tourists with MK reporting a load factor of 79% in 2018 (1.7 million seats offered), roughly the same as in 2017. Moreover, new carriers have systematically brought additional capacity. It means that the problem is somewhere else because there is indeed no shortage of seat capacity currently.

Quite surprisingly, Anil Gayan has started advocating an “open sky policy”. It is not sure whether before going public he has discussed this important subject of air access policy with the Minister of External Communications who happens to be the Prime Minister. Mauritius has Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) with some 40 countries. These BASA provide for the following by the respective contracting states: designation of airlines, flight frequencies, capacity entitlements, etc. Minister Gayan should be aware of this framework.

On this matter of open sky policy, it is worth noting that in several countries including some friendly island states, the adoption of such a measure has resulted in the collapse of their national carrier. Is this what we want in Mauritius?

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