Tourists visiting our country in ever-increasing numbers have become an integral part of our landscape, blending in our daily lives. But where do these Europeans, Asians and other recurring guests retreat to once they are done getting their tan right on our sandy beaches? If you are thinking of hotels, take another guess. Because, as surprising as this may sound, only under 20% of our tourists stay in our one-to-five-star hotels.
Our influx of travellers has been on the high tide for many years now. Yet, as they came to our shores in even greater numbers as was the case last year – over 120,000 more tourists visited Mauritius as compared to 2015 –, they seem to stray away from the trend of hotel accommodation. Despite better performances in terms of room and bed occupancy rates, our hotels are actually attracting a smaller proportion of incoming tourists. An analysis of Statistics Mauritius 2015-2016 data sets indeed allows for this interesting but none-the-less astonishing finding. Figures indicate that this particular type of accommodation retained only 17.5% of total tourists in 2016, denoting a further 0.2% decrease from the previous year. Even our large hotels, which account for 80% of tourists in hotel, stagnate at a 14.2% retention rate.
So where are more than four-fifths of our foreign visitors staying at these days? In private villas, inns, guestrooms and, perhaps, the apartment next door. According to Mauritius Tourism and Promotion Authority records, 900 and 152 individuals currently own licenses for tourist residences and guesthouses respectively. These cheaper alternative accommodation services have become popular with our tourists, who are likely seeking more autonomous travel experiences.
With these new stakeholders in the playing field, it is undeniable that hotels across the island are gradually forfeiting their piece of the cake. A 2014 publication by the Axys Group about the Mauritian tourism industry underscored this loss of hotel market share at an annualized rate of 3.6% since 2008. Within this framework, there is a need to review our economic strategies.
The increase in the number of hotel rooms to cater for the steady growth in tourist arrivals equates to a rise in employment. At least, this is what former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism Xavier Duval had to say back in 2016: “We hope to have 600 additional rooms per year, with the aim of maintaining our growth.” But judging from statistics, such endeavors may prove barren given the already small fraction of tourists that existing hotels are able to bring to their quarters. And while employment rate official statistics within the tourism sector may fail to account for emerging alternative accommodation providers, these SMEs may very well lead the way to an expanding hospitality industry.
It is to be observed that the construction of hotel establishments has been stagnant for the past few years. From 112 in 2014 to 115 in 2015, we had 113 hotels at the end of 2016, two of which were closed for renovation works. Yet Mauritius is still able to cater for the growing number of inbound travellers. This other side of the success story of one of our major economic pillars thus raises another question: if the Mauritian layperson is able to drive the tourism industry to some extent, does this not provide an argument against the current land grabbing to turn public beaches into construction sites for yet other –inefficient – luxury hotels?
Authors: Peerally Zainah
(submitted as part of assignment for the module Digital Journalism)
Reference: Statistics Mauritius