CHRISTIAN LEFEVRE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF COQUILLE BONHEUR (TOUR OPERATOR):
WE ALREADY KNEW THAT OUR INDUSTRY WAS FRAGILE, BUT NOT SO PRECARIOUS!
A few days before the complete reopening of the borders of Mauritius, Afm.media takes stock with one of the pillars of the country's tourism sector, Christian Lefèvre. The director of Coquille Bonheur (Tour operator), talks to us about the impact of the pandemic on tourism, the repositioning of the industry to adapt to new demand, and his objectives.
First of all, can you give us a picture of the impact of the border closures due to Covid-19, on Mauritian tourism?
Christian Lefèvre: The Covid-19 pandemic will remain in our collective memory for generations to come due to its devastating impact at different levels on the national and global economy. The heavy shortfall will be felt for a long time to come, especially in foreign currencies.
The closure of our borders, for 19 months already, health measures and movement restrictions have forced the sector to experience its worst results in recent history. The financial losses and closures of some receptives are frightening, creating a level of uncertainty that the majority have never experienced.
Tourist arrivals were 1,383,488 in 2019, 308,980 in 2020 and 6,966 as of August 31, 2021.
Fortunately, with the continued help of the government and the support of financial institutions, some jobs have been preserved. Hotel groups in particular have benefited from financial aid and several tax reductions from the government. All this means that the tourism industry will continue to move forward and overcome the crisis.
Do you think that this break has highlighted the limits of this sector? Or was it rather an opportunity to rethink our offer?
Christian Lefèvre: We already knew that our industry was fragile, but not so precarious! Those directly or indirectly dependent on tourism have suffered terribly.
One of the good things that came out of this situation was that the tough days brought us closer together. Now, the real challenge is not to do like everyone else! We need a democratization of this sector with the sharing of wealth!
We must leave it to the much-desired tourists to make their own choice! We must encourage them to go out to help our artisans and locals! We must encourage meetings with the inhabitants.
The challenge of Mauritian tourism is clear! All players must now take into consideration: new technologies, the development of the community tourism offer, the development objectives of sustainable growth, the development of tourist sites, the future of work in this sector, the improvement of the visibility and competitiveness of the destination, promotion of the destination, safety, security and health, public-private partnerships on the expectations of each other.
You, as the manager of a tourism business, have you redesigned or reinvented your services to better meet current expectations?
Christian Lefèvre: We know how much we are evolving in a sensitive sector, hence the need for us to redouble our efforts. We must do everything to return to the source and give our tourism industry its letter of nobility and demonstrate even more our legendary hospitality and our know-how. We must all adapt to new rules, rigorous hygiene protocols and improved standards to better welcome customers.
Our new mode of operation has been changed to a new health security regime. A new work plan has been put in place. We offer an authentic and responsible experience to our customers throughout their visit to the island. Our responsible approach to tourism is what makes Coquille Bonheur unique. We aim for a luxury that resides in simplicity. Like the Hummingbird, we do our part.
In a few days, there will be the complete reopening of the borders. However, there are still some skeptics about this decision. Can you share your opinion?
Christian Lefèvre: We are indeed on the eve of the reopening of borders and we recognize that the recovery of international tourism will remain fragile and uncertain due to growing concerns about the Delta variant of COVID-19 and other variants that are gradually developing. However, we are very confident!
I am personally very optimistic and I firmly believe in the resumption of our tourist activities, since travel remains in our customs and is today strongly attached to cultural values. We can only love Mauritius and Mauritians!
Moreover, we have the strategy we need to restore pre-crisis conditions and consolidate our reputation for legendary hospitality. There are plenty of opportunities on the horizon, both conventional and digital. With the lifting of the quarantine, we can expect an increase in bookings.
In addition, we remain positive given that the country has one of the highest rates of complete vaccination in Africa, more than 60 percent of the total population (about 82 percent of the local adult population), and that the Contamination rate remains relatively low compared to other countries.
What are your objectives for this last quarter of 2021?
Christian Lefèvre: Tourism is one of the largest industries on the planet and has once again proven to be the most vulnerable and fragile. Health and safety factors will continue to have a major influence on travel consumers' destination choice and vacation planning in the future. The price will be more important than ever!
Coquille Bonheur will celebrate its 15th anniversary in October and as a result we are working hard to consolidate our foundations, our strengths and restore our team's confidence in this sector and to invite tourists to come and stay with us.
The main areas of future development will certainly be in new technology, sales and marketing strategies, sanitary protocol for health, safety and sustainability while maintaining flexibility to adapt to any eventuality.
The 5-star trend is confirmed and there is a strong demand for individual villas. The demand is there, but our success will depend on connectivity, the number of seats and Air Mauritius.
Read More: AFM Media