Mauritius is aiming to win a larger share of the Australian MICE market in 2009 and beyond as the Indian Ocean country continues to add new product on a luxury level.

Speaking exclusively to HM magazine on Flat Island – the country’s newest events space offering – Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority Director Dr Karl Mootoosamy said the Australian market has continued to grow thanks to the nation’s unique positioning.

“Mauritius is different. We’re not Asia… we’re not Africa… we’re not part of Europe and we’re not just any other island. We are a product of our own and we are playing in a league of our own,” he said.

“This is an island experience but out of that we need to take people to the beaches, we need to take people inland, but most of it we need to keep the element of surprise – it means people are so amazed at what’s on offer and Mauritius is an experience in itself.

Flat Island, located 45 minutes by boat from Grand Bay, has undergone a complete transformation and was launched in December 2008 as an events space in front of 120 VIPs and journalists – in the country for the annual Mauritius International Kreol Festival.

The island was a quarantine facility until the end of World War II – many of the original ruins still exist – and until recently was used by locals and tour companies. Now it can hold hundreds for lunch, dinner or cocktails in temporary marquees set up on the sand.

“This island has been revamped completely, so it can adapt itself for the MICE market. When people come in groups, we can create something very special,” Dr Mootoosamy said.

Across the country, Mauritius has adapted itself to the booming island MICE market out of Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia in particular. Air access has been the key with flag carrier Air Mauritius now operating three flights to Melbourne and Perth (see breakout box), while Air Austral launches twice-weekly Sydney-Reunion Island on April 14. Reunion is a short hop from Mauritius and connections are available several times per day.

“The MICE market (from Australia) is very important for us. We have seat capacity coming from Australia and all of the hotels in Mauritius have adapted their rooms and conference facilities to suit the MICE market,” he said.

New hotels with MICE product are also helping that growth. The Four Seasons Resort at Anahita recently swung open its doors, while the InterContinental Mauritius Resort opens in the coming months.

When asked about how the country compares to Asia from a price perspective, Dr Mootoosamy said it’s not about the dollars for conferences in Mauritius.

“It’s not about the pricing, it’s about the quality,” he said. “More and more, we are adapting ourselves to the demand and the only common element that you’ll find in Mauritius is that we are quality driven.

“What we want to do is make the product tailor made – we have everything from diving to golf, shopping, fishing, kite surfing and safaris to spas. We have got it all-in-one in Mauritius,” Dr Mootoosamy said.

Not just for the MICE market, Mauritius has already proven a winner with honeymooners ex-Australia. The majority of hotels in Mauritius are located beachside and many feature exclusive villas.

One of the leading properties in the country is the Mövenpick Resort and Spa Mauritius, located at the tranquil town of Bel Ombre on the south-west coast. The resort features accommodation ranging from 55sqm rooms to suites and villas – some which come complete with plunge pools.
Mövenpick’s villas are classically appointed, featuring wooden or palm thatched roofs. All have a terrace or balcony and overlook the Indian Ocean. The key to the property is not just its location, but also space – the Mövenpick is located on 22 acres of tropical gardens, with casuarinas, coconut trees, frangipanes, hibiscus and bougainvilleas spread throughout.

Located on the edge of the Indian Ocean, it’s about recreation and relaxation at the Mövenpick resort. Leading the list of must-do activities is a treatment in the Zen-inspired day spa. With over 1800sqm of space, the facilitity offers Turkish baths, saunas and a whirlpool, along with treatments ranging from scrubs to wraps developed from tropical elements along with traditional ingredients.

For those after simple relaxation, the resort features several swimming pools, a fitness centre, tennis courts, volleyball, mountain bikes, bocce balls, aqua gym, putting golf, table tennis, plus a diving centre and boat house with a huge range of water sports, including sailing.

While the south-west coast is tranquil, the action is on the west and north-west coast in the towns of Grand Baie (Grand Bay) and Flic en Flac, both located near the capital Port Louis.

Flic en Flac, located south-west of Port Louis, is home to several of the country’s leading resorts, including the Sofitel Imperial Resort and Spa, Hilton Mauritius Resort and Spa, and the Taj Exotica Resort and Spa – which is due to leave the Taj portfolio in the near future as the owners (Mauriplage Beach Resorts Ltd) take over management.

Grand Baie, located to the north of Port Louis, is one of the most exciting and happening areas of Mauritius and has a feel similar to what could be found in the Caribbean. Restaurants, cafes and bars overlook a harbour filled with yachts and catamarans, while excellent shopping is also on offer. Leading the hotel offering is Beachcomber’s 5-star Royal Palm, recognised as one of the finest hotels in Mauritius.

With international airline growth continuing – particularly with the arrival of Air Austral – the Mauritius market ex-Australia will only get stronger and soon enough, Mauritius will be challenging several Asian destinations to be the most exciting international medium-haul conference destination for Australians.

Air Mauritius has announced a new schedule for Australia, which includes the dropping of Sydney as a destination, but maintains a weekly service for both Melbourne and Perth.

According to the airline, the new schedule is “in line with objectives to provide a consistent schedule and to maintain flights to the existing Australian network”.

From April 27 2009, Air Mauritius will operate a linked Melbourne and Perth service, instead of operating two separate weekly flights.
Departing Mauritius at midday on Mondays, the service lands in Perth at 22:55, then departs for Melbourne at 00:10 and lands in Melbourne at 05:45 on Tuesday. On the return leg, the flight departs Melbourne on Tuesday at 21:45 and lands at Perth at 23:59. It then departs at 01:15 (Weds) and lands at 05:25 in Mauritius.

In the peak period of December 2009 to January 2010, Air Mauritius will once again operate de-linked direct flights to Perth on a twice-weekly basis and Melbourne on a weekly basis.

Established in 1967, Air Mauritius is the national airline of Mauritius and operates flights to 24 destinations on four continents. Over 1.3 million passengers were carried by the airline in the last fiscal year.

For bookings, call 1300 658 572 (within Australia) and visit www.airmauritius.com