Island business

350

It’s difficult to look past the picture-perfect beaches, stunning climate and ideal swimming and water sport conditions, when assessing just what makes Mauritius the destination it is. But those who trade in the currency of Mauritius as their primary product believe there’s more to the country than sun and sand.

“The country is much more dynamic than people realise. It’s so much more than just an island holiday destination,” says Rolph Schmid, Managing Director of Indigo Hotels.

Economy

Since independence from the United Kingdom in 1968, Mauritius has quietly gone about the important business of growing its GDP and reducing income inequality. Today, it’s one of the most prosperous economies in Africa, growing steadily at around 5% per year. The government has also taken bold steps – such as export processing zones – ­to diversify the economy away from the historic mainstay of sugar cane production, and today the island attracts international investment in financial services, textile manufacturing and information technology.

Tourism, though, remains a key driver of the local economy. Further enhancing the travel appeal of the country, there’s no malaria on Mauritius, so unless you’re planning on getting off the beaten track, there’s little to worry about.

Port Louis – in the island’s north-west – is the capital city and home to most business headquarters. Commercial activity is focused around the large harbour, where the bulk of Mauritian exports are processed, although views on the capital are mixed.

“Port Louis used to be where it all happened, but the area has logistical and infrastructure problems,” says Richard Robinson, President of the South African Chamber of Commerce in Mauritius. “It’s become too busy and the traffic tends to bottleneck the main arteries into and out of the city.”

As a result, the Mauritian government has made a concerted effort to de-urbanise business from Port Louis. Business parks are springing up in the west and north and there is some development around the airport in the south-west. One such park is Ebene Cybercity, 15 kilometres south of Port Louis. Construction began in November 2001, with the city being promoted as a new information technology hub and a link between African and Asian markets.

The new government, which has been in power since December 2014, has identified various locations that are experiencing growth, and it is creating smart cities – a mix of residential, commercial and industrial for middle to high income earners. This is an effort to develop the island as a whole, and not just in certain areas. In this way, it hopes to avoid isolated pockets of extreme wealth at the expense of the local population.

Doing Business

With all of that in mind, what of Mauritius as a business travel destination?

According to investmauritius.com, “the business environment and the investment climate in Mauritius are constantly being enhanced with a view to strengthening the image of Mauritius as an attractive investment destination.”

The website goes on to state that, “sound economic policy and good governance have made Mauritius the most business-friendly destination in Africa.”

No arguments there, with the latest World Bank Doing Business Survey putting Mauritius at the top of the African pile in its rankings and 28th globally, in terms of ease of doing business.

“There’s a big push to attract corporates to Mauritius that want to do business in other countries,” says Robinson. “Africa is the place people want to be right now, and the island’s proximity to the continent makes it very well placed to do that.”

South African Mike Gray, the Mauritius-based CEO of Uniglobe Travel SA, believes the government is due all the credit it receives.

“Mauritius has a socialist government and it really looks after its people,” he says. “People get free schooling, free health care and transport costs are subsidised. In return, the government gets a highly-skilled, healthy population that is extremely productive. What 300 employees achieve in South Africa is accomplished by 100 people in Mauritius. This pool of resources is attractive to foreign investors. Who doesn’t want skilled, happy, healthy, productive staff?”

The Mauritius business landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade. Robinson maintains that certain practices were questionable 10 years ago, but that the current government is making a strong push to reduce corruption.

“In the 12 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never been asked to pay a bribe to do business,” he says. “And I don’t know of anybody who has paid a bribe. It just doesn’t happen.”

Mauritius wasn’t immune from the 2008 global economic downturn, with GDP dropping from 10% to 5%, and many locals losing their jobs.

“Call centre staff were affected,” says Gray. “Many French companies outsourced their call centres to Mauritius, and when money was tight they chose to cancel contracts for outsourced labour as opposed to cutting the local staff complement.”

However, Gray has seen a gradual uptick in business as the world recovers from the effects of the downturn. Mauritius is not a tax haven, but the laws are incredibly simple in this low-tax jurisdiction. You pay personal and corporate tax to a maximum of 15%, with no tax on donations, capital gains, or inheritance.

“If you’re operating in the offshore environment, you get an 80% rebate, making your effective tax 3%,” says Robinson. “People don’t try to hide from the tax man, because there is no need. It’s a fair tax and you’re getting value for your money.”

As long as you’re exporting your business, Mauritius will welcome you. But if you’re aiming your business at the domestic market, you have to put up a business case as to why it can’t be done by a Mauritian, particularly if you want to bring foreigners in to run it.

“Upskilling through training and development is as important as hiring a local force,” says Graham Sheward, Managing Director of Cim Global Business.

Under Mauritian law, you have to use a local company to set up your business, which is where the likes of Cim Global Business come in.

“We are regulated by the government,” says Sheward. “The main point of contact for the regulator for the company is us. We take the risk when we establish your company and we represent the company when we manage its affairs. We are accountable directly to the regulator.”

Airport and Airline

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport is the country’s main entry point, 48 kilometres south-east of Port Louis. The drive will take you approximately an hour, with the possibility of a two-hour trip if traffic is heavy.

A new passenger terminal opened in 2013 and was fully operational from September of that year. The project took three years to complete and is equipped with five boarding gates with aerobridges, including one compatible with the large Airbus A380, check-in desks for departing passengers, immigration counters, and baggage carousels.

“This new facility, with a total area of 57,000 square metres, has doubled the capacity of the country’s international airport,” says Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius Regional Manager for Africa & Latin America. “The new terminal supports the country more effectively in being the only tourist gateway to connect Mauritius with the rest of the world.”

Despite the new facility, the generally-accepted view is that travellers should arrive well in advance of their flight times, as processing times can be lengthy, as is the case with passport control on arrival.

Located in the left wing of the boarding area, the Nénuphar Lounge is open, for a fee, to all passengers irrespective of their airline or class of travel. Passengers can expect a varied snack buffet, an open bar, free wi-fi, showers, a baby changing room, local and international TV channels, and relaxation areas.

Passengers travelling on Air Mauritius have access to the Amédée Maingard Lounge, which is open to business class passengers and Kestrelflyer Elite members free of charge. Economy class passengers wanting access are required to pay an entrance fee and can be admitted if capacity allows. Amenities include local and international books and magazines, TV screens, a business centre with computers, wi-fi, a children’s play area, as well as a bar and buffet area offering a selection of food and beverages.

Like any good national airline working closely with its government, Air Mauritius views itself as a “partner in the Mauritian economy”. The airline serves 20 regional and international destinations, with direct flights to three African countries in the form of South Africa (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town), Kenya (Nairobi), and Madagascar (Antananarivo). It also flies to London, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Perth, Reunion and four cities in each of India and China. Further to that, Air Mauritius enjoys codeshare agreements with the likes of Air France, South African Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Emirates, and Virgin Australia, which give it even further access to other destinations around the world.

Business Hotels

With a historical focus on leisure travellers, Mauritius is liberally peppered with beach resorts, but hotels with more of a business focus tend to be found around Port Louis.

Indigo Hotels has a significant presence on the island with four properties in the form of the 5-star Labourdonnais Waterfront Hotel, the 4-star Le Suffren Hotel & Marina and Le Suffren Apart’hotel, the 4-star Hennessy Park Hotel, and the 4-star The Address Boutique Hotel, the group’s most recent addition.

Labourdonnais opened in 1996 as the country’s first business hotel and the first hotel on the island with an open door policy allowing the public to dine at the restaurant. Schmid says that there was a lot of scepticism from the locals with regards the idea of a city hotel when the project was proposed nearly 20 years ago.

“However, after 18 years in operation, Caudan Waterfront and Labourdonnais have become icons of the island,” he says.

Along with a convenient location from which to reach the city centre, Labourdonnais offers conference facilities, an executive lounge, and ocean views. If you book into one of the executive rooms, someone will even assist in unpacking your suitcase and press any wrinkled clothes.

Once Labourdonnais had established itself, Le Suffren Hotel & Marina followed in 2004, catering to the business traveller who preferred – or who could only afford – a 4-star establishment. That was followed in 2011 by Le Suffren Apart’hotel, which fulfilled the need for longer-stay accommodation. With Hennessy Park located in Ebene Cybercity and the group adding The Address Boutique Hotel in Port Chambly – 10 minutes from Port Louis – more recently, Indigo now boasts a variety of properties for the business travel to choose from.

“Indigo aims to provide a smart, progressive business experience – ultimately this is what any business traveller requires,” says Stéphanie Fischhoff -de Froberville, Indigo’s Group Sales and Marketing Manager.

There are smaller bed and breakfasts available. Alternatively, if you prefer a resort-type property, there is plenty to choose from, with international groups such as Carlson Rezidor, Starwood, Accor, Hilton, Four Seasons, Kerzner International, Constance, Club Med, InterContinental, Shangri-La and LUX Resorts all enjoying a presence on the island.

MICE

With so many internationally-branded hotels, stunning beaches, inviting golf courses and a host of activities at your disposal, Mauritius is a popular meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) destination, and is particularly popular with the South African market, which is just a four-hour flight away.

“Mauritius has always been a drawcard for the MICE market,” says Charmaine Appenah, Project Manager at Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority – South Africa. “Many South African companies are repeat visitors to Mauritius for conferences.”

Not only is South Africa in close proximity, but the Mauritius hotel capacity – both in the 5-star and more mid-market ranges – infrastructure and value-adds are all in place and well established, with the hotels now adept at offering different, innovative packages to meet all budgets. The fact that there are no visa requirements for South Africans and no malaria concerns further add to its attractiveness. Mauritius is also able to offer different activities in terms of incentive travel, strategic sessions and team-building, over and above the standard beach experience.

“You can book a conference for 2,000 people, or a meeting for 10 people,” says Gray. “There are even expo facilities and a well-developed transport infrastructure to move large groups. Unlike the Seychelles, Mauritius has the infrastructure for conferences – good bandwidth for one thing, and a government that promotes the island for more than just tourism.”

Mauritius is also attempting to take advantage of the business traveller who is able to tack on a few extra days to his or her trip and explore what the island has to offer. The term ‘bleisure’ is catching on around the world, and Mauritius is no different in wanting a slice of that action.  

“Bleisure is Mauritius’s aim of the destination, and with several conference centres, business travel has definitely grown,” says Appenah.

Whilst South Africa may be the Mauritius ‘bread and butter’ in terms of MICE travel, Gray believes the island is attractive to markets further afield, due to its location.

“The island has always been the centre of trade between Asia and Europe, so the MICE market is a definite target for the Mauritian government,” he says.

Leisure

Mauritius possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, enjoys a tropical climate with clear warm sea waters, and boasts attractive beaches and tropical fauna and flora, all of which is complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population that is friendly and welcoming.

For many visitors, particularly those looking to sun themselves during the European winter, it’s the island’s beaches that are the biggest drawcard.

“The water is calm – no massive waves – and thus safe for children,” says Gray. “There’s also an absence of large sea predators and stunning coral reefs not far from shore.”

Most beachside resorts offer a wide variety of beach and water sports, from big game fishing and snorkelling to kayaking, windsurfing, pedal boats and glass-bottom boats. If you’re more into land-based activities, there are a number of mountain bike and hiking trails. The golf offering is also extensive, with courses such as Heritage Golf Club, Anahita, Le Touessrok, and the two courses at Bel Mare Plage.

Animal lovers will enjoy Casela Nature Park, an animal sanctuary in the south-west that is home to over 1,500 animals. The park offers a multitude of activities and environments that will bring you closer to lions, tigers, antelope, giant tortoises and rare bird species.

“Port Louis offers a kaleidoscope of cultures, with the influences of India, Africa, Europe, China and the Middle East all coming together to create a unique metropolis,” says Fischhoff -de Froberville. “The bustle and clamour of the streets and the wonderfully-preserved colonial buildings make Port Louis a must to explore on foot. Discover Chinatown, the Blue Penny Museum, the famous central market in Port Louis, and, if you fancy a bet, don’t miss Champ de Mars, the second oldest racecourse in the world.”

“There is so much to explore in Mauritius – the cuisine, the back streets, the mountains – not to mention the beaches,” says Gray. “But Mauritius is more than just its beaches. There’s a lot more to be experienced, like rum tastings at the rum refineries!”

FACT FILE
Population:
1.3 million
Time zone: GMT +4
Plugs: Two-pin, British three-pin
Dialling code: +230
Currency: Mauritian rupee – $1=36MUR
Language: English, French

Card acceptance

The major hotels and resorts are happy to accept credit and debit cards, but if you plan on spending money in the markets or in the smaller towns and villages, it’s advisable to carry cash. ATMs are available in the city and most hotels offer a forex service if you’d like to exchange your local currency for rupees.

Visas

The following African countries do not require a visa: Botswana, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Travellers from Mozambique and Namibia are granted visa-free access to the country with a time limitation. Madagascar passport holders are given a two-week visa on arrival. All other African countries are required to apply for a visa before travel.

Connectivity

With a focus on the future, connectivity on the island, particularly in Port Louis and the business parks, is very good. Many hotels offer wi-fi as part of the room rate, with access in-room as well as in the lobby and restaurants. Speeds are decent and connecting to the network is usually very simple.

Mobile communication is fairly well-developed, with services provided by Emtel and Orange. Sim cards and pre-paid airtime are easily available and advisable if you intend making many international calls, as call rates are much more reasonably priced than roaming call rates.

Travel notes

Mauritius has a tropical climate and is warm and sunny year round. Summer temperatures regularly reach into the mid and upper 30s, while in winter you can expect more comfortable mercury readings – around 25°C. Light cotton clothing and sun protection is recommended if you’re spending any time outdoors, especially in summer. Although the majority of Mauritians are Hindu, the country does not have an official religion. The ancestral melting pot of cultures that make up the population allows for the freedom of religious expression without fear of persecution.