The island of Mauritius, flung in the Indian Ocean some 800 miles from Madagascar, is the perfect tropical paradise. It’s synonymous with bleach-white sandy beaches and luxurious resorts, but there’s also rugged mountain peaks, teeming wildlife and enough activities to keep the pulse racing. The island responded early to coronavirus, thankfully resulting in low case numbers and fatality figures. We spoke to Arvind Bundhun, Director of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, to find out more.
Q: Mauritius responded well to the coronavirus pandemic, locking down early and implementing strict restrictions. This strategy clearly paid off: Mauritius has recorded fewer than 350 cases of Covid-19, and only ten deaths. What was the experience of coronavirus like in Mauritius, and have you been proud of the government and population’s reaction?
A: It is the responsiveness of the Mauritian authorities and the effectiveness of the country’s health system that are the core reasons behind our low death rate. On 22 January, the Government of Mauritius started screening passengers on arrival at its airport, introducing body-temperature checks and separation of at-risk passengers a week later. It also set up a fast-track system for suspected cases to minimize contact with other passengers and staff, all before the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a global health emergency.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius has been addressing the nation regularly while key stakeholders, including ministers and high officials from the ministries of health, commerce and the police, hold daily press conferences to provide the public with the latest COVID-19 statistics as well as keep them informed on the measures being taken.
The local community has really banded together to respect the rules, follow guidelines and forward plan for the destination to reopen and we are very proud of how we have, and continue to, overcome this challenging period in our history.
Q: As of 13 June, all lockdown restrictions in Mauritius have been lifted. What’s it like on the island now things are “back to normal”? What’s the mood like?
A: People are cautiously optimistic that the situation is under control. The safety of visitors to Mauritius and staff working in the leisure, tourism and hospitality sector is of utmost importance to our organization, and so we are working closely with our private sector and stakeholder partners to prepare for the return of visitors so that we are ready to welcome them back to Mauritius as soon as they are able to return. As tourism plays such an important role for the local economy of Mauritius, we are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to support our local businesses.
Q: The #MauritiusUnwavering campaign has been a great way to keep in touch with visitors virtually, showcasing the island’s beauty for when it’s safe to return again. Could you tell us a bit more about the campaign – what exactly does it offer and what are its aims?
A: The #MauritiusUnwavering campaign aims to showcase the destination’s natural beauty and stunning landscapes during a time when the whole world has been forced to pause and reflect while mother nature has breathed, healed and regenerated.
The campaign video, which can be viewed on Youtube, encapsulates a spirit of healing across the country as it conveys that while “Human activity came to a halt…the sounds of nature took over prompting us to take a deep breath. Opening our eyes…to the colours surrounding us…this sweet reminder, that some things must come to a conclusion, for others to blossom and thrive”. We felt this was an important message for Mauritius to convey to the global community as a remedy for the effects of being in lockdown.
Q: No date has currently been set for lifting border restrictions. When do you expect flights and international travel to return to the island?
A: The Mauritian government is currently assessing the situation and ensuring all the required guidelines and safety measures are fully embedded among other factors before we can receive visitors. We hope to be in a position to open borders and resume flights soon and we welcome the UK Government’s decision to include Mauritius on its exemption list so that British travellers to Mauritius will not be required to quarantine on their return to the UK.
Q: The Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority has released sanitary guidelines for tourist attractions and outfits when they reopen, as well as launching an official safety certificate for businesses implementing the guidelines. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
A: The release of the guidelines document – which is available for all tourism partners to download online – forms a key part of Mauritius’ recovery strategy to adopt a uniform approach to health and safety across the destination as businesses begin to reopen their doors and tourism prepares to return.
The solutions provided in the guidelines document, which have been endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), are tailored to the different operational needs of a variety of businesses connected to tourism, from car-rental companies and golf courses to restaurants and guest houses. Measures include recommendations on cleaning and disinfection, social distancing, providing contactless options and protocols to follow for suspected cases of COVID-19. Regular inspections will be carried out by the Authority to ensure the implementation of these measures is being applied correctly and failure to comply may result into license cancellation.
In addition to these guidelines, the Tourism Authority has partnered with Mauritius Telecom to introduce a “Safe Travels” Web App, which all tourism operators under the Tourism Authority Act are required to download. The app breaks down tourism businesses into different categories by operation and clearly outlines the protective measures each business category needs to follow when providing services. The app, which can be accessed here, then generates a “Safe Travel Certificate” bearing the seal of the WTTC and the Tourism Authority to act as an official accreditation to assist consumers in identifying tourism suppliers they can trust.
Q: What plans do you have in the pipeline for the rest of the year and into 2021?
A: Mauritius already had a green-focused sustainable tourism strategy in place to promote the interior of the island that included outdoors activities and sports such as golf. Given the trend towards open spaces, wilderness exploration, slow travel and getting back to nature that we expect to see in a post-pandemic travel world, we will definitely further pursue this angle in our marketing and consumer approach.
We are already preparing awareness campaigns to accentuate the visibility of the destination and to remind consumers that we remain the dream holiday destination. We will focus on Europe with an “Above the Line Campaign” called “The Colours of Mauritius” and will continue to support tour operators, the airline industry and B2C operations with a special focus on the UK, French and German markets.
Q: What can we learn from the pandemic, and what lessons can we take forwards with us into the future?
A: We anticipate travellers will be looking for ways to be responsible when they travel and will opt for companies and brands that can offer them the opportunity to do this. Slow travel, giving back to local communities, and respecting local guidelines will be more and more relevant than ever before.
Travel experiences will tend to be more nature-oriented and focused on open spaces and the great outdoors, consumers will crave more off-the-beaten-track trips with a focus on self-improvement, wellness and re-discovering oneself.
It is also important to underline the solidarity that prevails between all industry players and the government, who have successfully worked together to protect our citizens, our future visitors and our economy to ensure we emerge from this period stronger than ever. We have therefore learnt of the positive impact an integrated approach like this can have and aim to continue to work together and support each other in this way.
Top image: Mauritius reef © Myroslava Bozhko/Shutterstock
If you are planning to travel, visit our up-to-date article with the latest news on Corona virus and travelhere. And check out how to make sure that your travel insurance covers Corona virus.
Helen worked as a Senior Travel Editor at Rough Guides and Insight Guides, based in the London office. Among her favourite projects to work on are inspirational guides like