Travel Special: Pandemic leaves islanders on isolated Mauritius ‘fighting to work’
Tourism industry workers in Mauritius have urged UK holidaymakers to return to the island after being left “fighting” for jobs due to the worldwide pandemic.
The Indian Ocean island allowed travellers to return on October 1, with many islanders describing the tourism industry as “essential” for them to survive.
The country still enforces the wearing of face masks indoors and outdoors despite the easing of travel restrictions, and some permanent residents have put signs on their homes to urge the coverings to be worn.
Now the borders have been opened to vaccinated tourists, the head of the Mauritian Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA), Nilen Vencadasmy, said he is “sure” the “demand is there” for Britons to go back to the island.
Speaking on behalf of the MTPA, a branch of the Mauritian government, Vencadasmy said: “There’s a lot of emphasis on safety.
“We know that this is the number one concern now when people decide to travel to any destination, really, and they look at the sanitary situation and the protocols in place.
“We are now in a situation where we can not only welcome guests from the UK, but from all the countries we are open to in optimised sanitary conditions.”
Asked if he fears tourists not returning, Vencadasmy said: “Ever since we’ve announced the different phases of opening, there’s been a lot of hope, because obviously we’ve worked so hard and we count a lot on tourism.
“The demand is there, we are sure of that.
“Of course we have a few challenges in terms of ramping up seat capacity to get all those people back to the island… but we are confident that in the first three months we are going to more or less be close to our objectives.”
Despite the optimism from the Mauritian government, workers in the country fear the tourism industry will take “years” to recover.
Hilary Perle, 26, who worked as a tour guide in the village of Chamarel before the pandemic, said: “My only form of income has gone.
“Mauritius won’t recover from this for years – if the number of tourists doesn’t pick up again, we’ll have to find another big project as a country to keep the economy going.
Some business owners urged holidaymakers to return but said they will need to be “extra careful”.
Maryline Manczak, who owns a small boutique shop selling homemade essential oils products in the Anse Janchee valley region, said: “Previously it was good, but not since.
“It’s been a year now since we were opening properly, but hopefully we will work again.
People are fighting to work, people need to work.Hilary Perle, 26, a tour guide
“It has affected me quite a lot because I concentrate mainly on the passing tourists.
“We are hoping and we will just keep our fingers crossed that it works out.”
Asked if it is safe for tourists to return, Ms Manczak added: “Obviously they have to be extra careful.
“I’d say it’s safe as long as you keep away from the crowds.”
Travel companies such as Pure Breaks said UK holidaymakers should “think of who benefits most” when choosing their trips.
Darren Taylor, chief operating officer of the sustainable travel company, said: “Small islands like Mauritius depend heavily on tourism.
“Its people are keenly anticipating the return of tourists from the UK for the new season.”
Hotel managers across the island expressed their delight at being able to open their sites again, but people like market trader Nazia Burkhut and tea farmer Oumila Ganas said the lack of tourists has affected them financially.
Ms Burkhut, who sells herbs to hotels at the market in the small town of Mahebourg, said: “I produce in bulk, mainly people buy my things for hotels.
“The fact that tourism has gone down means I have not been able to produce that much.
“All the raw materials are from abroad so we are facing difficulties.
“For us it’s good because I produce mainly for the hotels around Mauritius.
“When tourists come back we will be able to produce more.
“During Covid we did not work for four to five months – the market was closed and we had to stay home. It affected me financially.
“We have not been selling because our biggest wholesale has been tourists because Mauritian people don’t consume all this stuff.”
Speaking through a Creole interpreter about how the lack of tourism affected her work, Ms Ganas said: “As farmers, it really hit us hard financially. “We need tourists back and then things can get back to normal.”