Introduction to Tourism in Mauritius
Tourism is regarded as one of the most important foreign exchange earners in Mauritius. The IMF (2012) reports that tourism is slightly over 8 percent of the country’s GDP, making it an important aspect of the island’s economy. The growth in the tourism sector over the past 3 decades has contributed to the overall growth of the Mauritian economy.
The IMF (2012) reveals that tourism has served as a large engine of job creation in the country. The performance of Mauritius’s tourism sector has been impressive with the country experiencing a remarkable increase from having some 18,000 visitors a year in 1970 to some 400,000 visitors in 1994 and an impressive 960,000 visitors to the island in 2012.
The tourism sector in Mauritius is largely homegrown. There are a number of major luxury hotel chains owned and operated by Mauritian entrepreneurs. In addition to this, the Mauritius business community has reinvested part of the proceeds from the sector into the Mauritius economy thereby fostering the country’s economy.
Profile of Mauritian Tourists
Mauritius is marketed as a high-class destination and targeted at up-market tourists. As an expensive tourist destination, the island is out of reach for the standard tourist. Bulcke and Verbeke (2009) reveal that the inflated airfares are an important factor in making the destination inaccessible. Graham and Forsyth (2012) observe that more than 90% of the total number of visitors to Mauritius go to the country for leisure purposes.
The national carrier, Air Mauritius, enjoys almost a monopoly as the main passenger carrier to the island. A key attribute of the airline is that it charges high prices, which help to uphold the high-class destination image that the island has and continues to project. The limited competition faced by Air Mauritius allows the airline to implement price discrimination based on nationality and the origin of the travel.
This discrimination ensures that foreigners are charged significantly more than the Mauritius residents are. Since chartered flights are not allowed into the country, reaching Mauritius at a favourable rate proves to be impossible for many.
European high-spenders make up the vast majority of Mauritius’ foreign tourists. The largest number of tourists to Mauritius is from France and the French island of Reunion located in the Indian Ocean. These two countries combined account for about 41% of the total number of foreign tourists visiting the country annually.
The popularity of Mauritius among the French travellers can be attributed to the island’s long history with France. The island was held as a French colony from 1905 to 1810 when it was lost to the British after the Napoleonic wars.
There is therefore deep history between France and the island with many cultural and language similarities between the two countries (Graham & Forsyth, 2012). The other principal tourist-generating countries include South Africa, United Kingdom, India, Germany, and Italy.
The primary attraction offered by Mauritius is the pristine natural setting of the country. Geographically, the Island has an expansive white sandy beach that extends for more than 140 kilometres. In addition to the impressive sandy beaches surrounding the island, the country has beautiful coral reefs that protect many natural lagoons found within the surrounding waters.
The turquoise sea surrounding Mauritius is a prime tourist attraction. The combination of the splendid beaches, good climate, and impressive sea life has led to Mauritius being presented as a tropical paradise for tourists.
To ensure that all tourists are able to enjoy the country’s physical assets, all tourist hotels in Mauritius have been built on or near the wide beaches or the protected lagoons giving visitors an opportunity to savour the natural beauty of the island.
As a small island, Mauritius is able to market itself as a more attractive and exotic destination for tourists. Scheyvens and Momsen (2008) contend that small islands like Mauritius are able to obtain a much higher than average international arrivals growth rate since tourists travelling to this destination can delight in the fact that “their” island is not shared with any other tourism operators.
This exotic nature of Mauritius makes it a prime tourist destination for high-end tourists.
Mauritius has faced increasing competition in its principal tourist-generating countries from other affordable destination. The island has therefore had to diversify its tourism products in order to maintain its clientele and even attract more. The increase in leisure opportunities to visitors was also prompted by the decline in average duration of stay by tourists in Mauritius.
Graham and Forsyth (2012) explain that the government implemented a policy aimed at increasing the expenditure per day and rising the average duration of stay for each tourist. The island offers a wide range of water-related sports to its visitors. Common water sports include sea kayaking and kite surfing.
Mauritius has a number of cultural and historical sites that tourists can visit. Port Louis offers the visitor an unreserved look into the colonial past of the island. There is a statue of the 17th century French naval officer Mahe de Labourdonnais and Queen Victoria (Mountain & Proust, 2002). The two statues pay tribute to the two powers that colonized Mauritius.
The National History Museum has many artefacts that elaborate on the country’s history and its rich culture. In addition to this, the museum has a wide range of stuffed Mauritian birds offering the visitor a glimpse into the expansive bird population of the country.
Shopping is another activity that tourists in Mauritius can engage in while visiting the country. The island has a number of high-end shops that offer luxury products from all over the world. There are also duty-free goods that tourists can purchase and duty applied to some luxury products has been reduced in order to promote purchasing by tourists.
The island has a number of trendy bars and restaurants that appeal to the fun loving tourists. The island offers a host of nightlife activities including dancing and parties in its vibrant clubs (Mountain & Proust, 2002).
For further entertainment, the country has a number of world-class casinos that cater primarily for tourists. Tourists are therefore able to visit these facilities and engage in gambling in the same way as they would do while at world famous gambling
Bulcke, D. & Verbeke, A. (2009). Handbook on Small Nations in the Global Economy: The Contributions of Multinational Enterprises to National Economic Success. London: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009
Epler, M.W. (2002). Ecotourism: Principles, Practices and Policies for Sustainability. Nairobi, UNEP.
Graham, A., & Forsyth, P. (2012). Aviation and Tourism: Implications for Leisure Travel. Boston: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
IMF (2012). Mauritius: 2012 Article IV Consultation – Staff Report; Public Information Notice on the Executive Board Discussion; and Statement by the Executive Director for Mauritius. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund.
Mountain, A. & Proust, A. (2002). This is Mauritius. Pretoria: Struik.