Interview

Jean Michel Pitot : “Mauritius as a beach destination solely will no more suffice”

Jean Michel Pitot is the CEO of Attitude Hotels / Attitude Group / Attitude Hospitality Management Ltd and the president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Mauritius (AHRIM). He shares with News on Sunday his analysis of the current tourism sector, the major issues affecting us and his expectations for the sector in 2020. 

What is your analysis of the current tourism sector?
The statistics for the destination are not as good as the previous years with double digit increase year on year. We should therefore be more cautious and collaborate efficiently with the government to understand better the dynamics of change that the sector is facing, and thereafter work a plan consequently to make the industry a more sustainable one. It is also very important to better monitor the image and the positioning of our destination and work on a common plan to strengthen same.

Do you believe that the future of our tourism sector is promising or not? Why?
In my opinion, it looks promising as Mauritius has since long been a destination of choice and will continue to be so. We cannot, however, deny that the profiles of tourists who visit Mauritius have altered and will still experience changes in the future. In order to stay competitive, we should double our efforts in positioning our island as a sustainable and quality destination and be an example of sustainable tourism around the world. 

What are the major issues affecting our sector?
Growing competition from new destinations definitely earns the first position. Moreover, the visibility of our country and ease of flying to Mauritius complicate further the situation. 

In addition to the above, the recent change in the Labour Law, more precisely the increase in labour cost, only adds fuel to the fire. Employers are more and more reluctant to hire high numbers of staff, impacting heavily our Mauritian ‘Great Service’ reputation. We run the risk of downgrading our legendary hospitality, with staff putting on a fake smile. Our human touch and our sense of relationships are the key pillars of our tourist industry and the current labour laws are jeopardising that. I am extremely worried about this new legislation that will put at risk the reputation of Mauritius, and therefore put at risk some operators, with negative social consequences.

The people of our country should acknowledge that Mauritius as a beach destination solely will no more suffice.  

Employers are more and more reluctant to hire high numbers of staff, impacting heavily our Mauritian ‘Great Service’ reputation. We run the risk of downgrading our legendary hospitality, with staff putting on a fake smile."

Should we review our target market? 
We still depend greatly on our historical market, that is Europe at large. We did try to attract more Chinese consumers to Mauritius since the last 5 to 7 years, but the economic model to achieve this objective was not sustainable. I believe we should stick to and develop further our initial markets, which include Europe and India. The government could, for example, rely on the budget of the MTPA to facilitate and open more airlines to Mauritius. Once the airlines are here, the rest will follow, as seen in the past. 

Should 5-star hotels and sandy beaches be the only factors on which we focus and market our destination? 
We should lay more emphasis on quality instead. We need to market Mauritius as a whole: Its places but also its people, because it is our people that make all the difference compared to other beach destinations. In addition, we should educate the population about the importance of tourists and not blame them as the source of all our problems, namely, beach erosion, restricted access to beaches, expensive living standards, and so on. 

Ensuring the quality, excellence and sustainability of the hospitality business in Mauritius should not be the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism. The next Minister of Tourism should be able to call upon his or her other colleagues to ensure we are delivering an excellent experience to each tourist."

Attitude Hotels recently obtained the Made in Moris label. How is this a game changer for the group and the tourism industry?
We have been the first hotel group of the country to put forward the authenticity that Mauritius has to offer to our guests. We developed in 2013 our Otentik Experiences (Music, Dinner, Cuisine, Bazar, Discovery) to make sure that our clients get to experience the local culture and the genuineness of our island along with the nice hotel rooms and the beaches. We started with the incorporation of the Creole Language in our communication, continued further with the development of the typical street food concept made available in all our hotels, and today we have created an armada of strong actions geared towards the society, by incorporating them in our mission of boosting the handicraft and musical culture of Mauritius. After 5 years of developing and improving all these actions, and after listening to the feedback of the “outside world” and being praised for all these actions, it is a pleasure and a reward for us to get the Made in Moris label to recognise our efforts of bringing into light this side of our destination and our strong Mauritian DNA. 

Do you trust that we lack leisure activities and parks, museums, among others, to attract tourists?
There is without a doubt a lack of leisure activities for both our local people and our tourists. We do have some great activities but with the increase of tourist arrivals and the lack of leisure places for the local population, we should definitely add more, like parks, galleries and others into our chain of ‘Mauritian products’. The private and public sectors should work hand in hand to create three important public beaches with annex activities around the island. We must build from scratch, as there are no more natural spots available. This is a project that I will propose to the new government later. 

What are your expectations for our sector in 2020? 
First, we must realise that when we talk about the “sector,” it is not just about the hotels but also about the para-hotels businesses such as apartments, villas, and similar properties. This offering has been growing steadily over the past years, designed for a different target market. We must collect and analyse data on those new trends, at national level, to better understand these new dynamics. I call for a closer, cleverer and more harmonious collaboration between Air Mauritius, MTPA and AHRIM, so as to adapt to this paradigm shift. The private sector should have a stronger say on the marketing strategy of the country; AHRIM has a seat on the MTPA board but this is just not enough.

Ensuring the quality, excellence and sustainability of the hospitality business in Mauritius should not be the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism. The next Minister of Tourism should be able to call upon his or her other colleagues to ensure we are delivering an excellent experience to each tourist. Our tourism industry should be supported by a collective governmental action. 

If tourism is to become ‘THE’ great industry we all dream of, which will contribute more than the actual 8% of our GDP, then it must have a stronger Ministry. Hopefully by end of 2020, there will be a growth of + 5% over 2019. 

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