Marie-Claire Tze: The Mauritian segment is a segment which cannot be ignored

Avec le soutien de
Marie-Claire Tze, Managig Director, Le Jadis Beach Resort & Wellness Mauritius.

Marie-Claire Tze, Managig Director, Le Jadis Beach Resort & Wellness Mauritius.

The tourist industry is struggling to pick up but is getting there slowly but surely. On the backdrop of the rebranding and renovation of the new Le Jadis Beach Resort and Spa, we talk to its Managing Diretor, Marie-Claire Tze, about Le Jadis, her experience as a woman in a man industry, the issues plaguing the industry and our lack of competitiveness on the international market. A frank and casual discussion…

Angsana has just made way for the freshly rebranded Le Jadis Beach Resort & Wellness. First, what was the aim of the rebranding?
The 10 years we have spent in the hotel industry have taught us things about ourselves and about the hospitality industry and to also led us to know the market better as well as guests’ expectations. What we have found out is that we have to be able to match the product to the expectations of our niche market. We are a hotel built on a relatively small plot of land and we have to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the hotels. So we have brought in a unique design, original aspects and enhanced the attention to detail and favoured noble materials.

How long did this rebranding and enhancing exercise take?
Two exhausting years, during which we were closed. It was important to respond to the expectations of our target market and also have a sense of place. This is why we came back and thought about Le Jadis. It all boils down to the same thing: who we are, where we are located and what we want to be. So when you look at the cut stones, it is a reminder of colonial times, the civilisations that were there before and which evolved to what we have today. In the process, we have also tried to redefine the resort lifestyle and take it to the next level to meet the maximum needs of our target.

And who is your target clientele?
Those who are looking for a small, luxurious boutique hotel with large living areas, a personalised service and attention to detail.

How big are the living areas?
We have 54 villas and one imperial villa. Our entry level – the lowest category – is 72 square metres, with private pools, some also with hammams and some with Jacuzzis.

Where do your clients come from?
It’s a mixture. Some come from Europe and because of our private villas, there is a lot of interest from the Middle East too.

The pool available for work is very small now. Many trained workers are now working on cruise ships or have recycled in other areas when they were laid off during the Covid and lockdowns. So we need to realise the danger and wake up.

Now that the rebranding has been done, what is your involvement in the hotel?
We have a general manager and a team who look after the hotel. I help and support them. Having been involved in the construction and the concept, it is not enough to just build and move away. There are many ways in which we can help the team. For example, in the understanding of the concept, knowing the suppliers, equipment etc. It is also very important to keep reminding them of our positioning.

And what is your positioning?
We are a boutique, luxury hotel. We accept families but they are not our main market. Our main market is those who look for an intimate hotel where they can breathe. They leave the children with the grandparents and come here for a break. We have to meet their expectations and make sure they get that break.

Is the hotel currently full? I can’t see a soul around?
(Laughs) Because of the large living areas and the facilities integrated, clients generally like to stay in their suites. Some also go out and visit the country. But it is true that even when the hotel is full, you can’t see the clients or hear them.

What is the occupancy rate right now?
We are at about 50%.

Is that enough to keep you afloat?
No, we intend to move up. Since we were doing the rebranding and the enhancement works, we didn’t know when we were going to be ready to welcome clients. So we did not really push to the maximum. Now we are ready to attack.

What is the tourist situation like at the moment?
The tourist situation is picking up for sure.

Is it picking up too slowly for your liking?
Yes, maybe because we do have to realise that there is intense competition from our neighbours like the Seychelles and the Maldives.

What are those destinations doing that we are not?
They probably have better access and cheaper flights.

So according to you, the reason our tourism industry is not picking up fast enough is because of lack of access and expensive flights?
Yes, we need more and cheaper flights. Another major problem that prevents us from living up to the expectations of our guests is the lack of human resources.

What exactly is there a shortage of? Enough trained people or enough people willing to work in the hotel industry?
The pool available for work is very small now. Many trained workers are now working on cruise ships or have recycled in other areas when they were laid off during the Covid and lockdowns. So we need to realise the danger and wake up.

Why don’t you train your own people?
We do! We literally spent the whole of the two years during the Covid and while we were carrying out enhancement works just training workers. But you have no guarantee that the competitors will not pinch your workers after you have spent so much time training them.

I hear you when, as an employer, you lament the shortage of labour. But there is a different tune coming from the prospective employees. They are saying that the jobs you are offering don’t pay enough to make it attractive for them to work the long and unsociable hours the industry is asking for. Do you see their point?
The hotels have a lot of expenses and sometimes they have to bring down the rates substantially as clients don’t always like or can’t afford to pay more. Hotels are businesses. They have to stay afloat and they have to be profitable. For the employees, we have additional charges like providing transportation door-to-door, meals etc. All this adds up. We are reviewing that but, at the end of the day, the business has to be profitable.

Some hotels are now importing workers to replace Mauritians. But isn’t what made our hotel industry so profitable exactly the Mauritian worker himself/herself?
You are right. But there has been a change. The new generation is very impatient. They have to realise that sometimes they have to wait a bit more and be a bit more patient. Today’s generation is the privileged generation. I come from the generation of children whose parents have been through the war. The privileged generation is hungry and impatient. What I mean to say is, “Wait a little and learn more”.

How do you see this gradual replacement of the Mauritian worker’s smile with a ‘trained’ smile from other countries like India?
Well, it’s happening everywhere. We have no choice. We have to survive and I think what employers need to do is continue to ensure continuity, continue to train about their values and so on.

How is it working for you?
We have had workers from India and some parts of Africa like Nigeria. They are studying and looking for training. My hope is that once trained, they stay here in Mauritius. But that is perhaps idealistic.

Don’t they stay on? Or aren’t they allowed to stay?
(Laughs) First, you have to find them. That is becoming more and more difficult. But the ones we have found have been helping us cope and maintain the standards. Of course, there is a learning curve but we provide them with the right training.

How are the other countries like Seychelles and the Maldives coping? Are there any lessons we can learn from them, apart from the flights you have highlighted?
I think that Seychelles has gone very far very fast.

In what way?
When I first went there a few years ago, I was shocked by the service.

Did you go there to learn from them or just to take a break?
You know, when you are in this field, you have to know what is going on around you, particularly in countries which have become serious competitors.

What impressions did you come back with?
First of all, the rates are very high, much higher than here. To give you an example, I paid €600 a night for a place I would rate here as a four-star hotel. And as soon as I arrived, the lady at the reception told me, “The rules and regulations are like this and that…” There were regulations regarding the time to eat and the choice of food. It was really restrictive for €600. They were trying to control the time I was allowed to eat and what I could eat. The service here is so much better. Then we asked the lady in charge to book the conference room for us twice. She agreed but didn’t do it. The same thing applied to restaurant bookings. A really bad service. But in the last few years, they learnt very fast and improved their service tremendously.

That’s how they caught up with us?
Yes, I think, but they also started importing resources from abroad. When I went again to the Seychelles, I was very surprised by the quality of the food and service. Everyone was so nice. Then I found out that the lady serving us was a Filipina. Another lady came to talk to us and I felt the Mauritian touch and spirit.

And where she from?
Mauritius! This is to tell you how the Seychelles managed to improve in terms of service. They have come a long way and have become serious competitors. Also, they have restricted themselves to upper end tourists and stayed away from crowds.

Isn’t our tourist industry also focusing on high end tourists?
In Mauritius, we have different categories of hotels. We have a place for everyone.

If I understand properly, the Seychelles came from a very low base and overtook us in terms of service and maybe the diversity of the offers they have. Is that so?
(Hesitates for a while) Maybe as a destination, they are seen as the one providing the change the tourist is looking for. They have remained as they were. When you go there, you move from your city to an island destination. The landscape also appeals to some tourists.

How about Maldives? How does it compare to the Seychelles and Mauritius?
Maldives is one island, one resort.

This is to tell you how the Seychelles managed to improve in terms of service. They have come a long way and have become serious competitors. Also, they have restricted themselves to upper end tourists and stayed away from crowds.

So why are they doing better than us?
Because some tourists still see it as the dream place to go to after having lived in a cold country.

This brings us back to the original question: we have a bigger and more diverse island. We have more to offer in terms of cultural experiences and other activities. Why is it that both Seychelles and Maldives are back to their pre-Covid numbers and we are still struggling? Why are they giving us a hard time?
A lot has to do with access and marketing. Selling dreams is very important.

So, are you saddened by what has been happening with Air Mauritius: selling planes, trying to hire planes, fewer flights, exorbitant prices etc.?
Yes. I think what is happening is too bad and a bit too early for its time. Air Mauritius also needs the cooperation of the hotels because the planes can’t go back empty. We need to see what can be done and fast before the hotel industry goes through worse times.

As a boutique hotel, how do you compete with big chains?
We try to shy away from a cookie-cutter approach. At any rate, in any business, you have to be different to survive.

What is your difference?
Our interior layout, design and choice of materials. But also, we offer peace and an environment conducive to intimacy and romance. Besides, we offer an outstanding wellness centre and spa. Our approach is: You have worked very hard, now relax, forget your worries and let us take care of you.

Now, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, how do you cope? Do you feel that it is easier for men?
Not at all. I have never felt any barriers. When there are things to discuss or decisions to take, there is no difference whether the people taking part in those discussions or taking those decisions are men or women. I have always been interested in property development, so when I came back from Canada where I spent 20 years, I was happy to embark on this adventure. What I didn’t expect is the hard work.

What is it that you can’t delegate?
Overseeing the work done is difficult to delegate. That is what keeps me busy.

When do you think the hotel industry will pick up and we can reach our pre-Covid figures?
I think in about two years.

The minister of tourism predicted one million tourists this year. Is that doable in your opinion?
If they address the access issue, yes. More flights at lower costs.

Now a rather embarrassing question: Mauritians complain that hotels in Mauritius were running after them when the borders were closed and that Mauritians responded by keeping the rooms full and the staff on the payroll. As soon as the borders re-opened, the doors shut down in their face. We understand that hotels are businesses and that they want to maximize their profits by opting for tourists but is that fair?
In our case, we have been open to Mauritians from day one. The Mauritian segment is a segment which cannot be ignored. Of course, a hotel would favour high-revenue generation but if someone has booked, s/he benefits from the Mauritian rates even if the hotel is full. We are open to Mauritian either for a meal or a stay. We have four restaurants and two cocktail lounges catering to all tastes and wallets. Our compatriots are most welcome.   

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