Selling Authentic Mauritius
September 13, 2016
It was once or still isn’t a requirement for Mauritius to be authentic in the sense of what people relate to when this term is mentioned which also requires a definition! The island was who it was or still is who it is… with a changed landscape and personality, I wasn’t around yet in the sixties or seventies but I was there to experience Mauritius in the eighties. And as of today, in 2016, Mauritius definitely has changed a lot in comparison to the eighties, but what makes it authentic? It can’t be unauthentic or a copy anyway – all countries more or less head somewhere and cannot keep the status quo…
However I would have never paid much attention to authenticity until I was in Rodrigues and also noticed that some resorts like Zilwa Attitude (in Mauritius) are including in their premises a series of activities/presentations which reflect how certain things are/were done in Mauritius – that is showcasing a few authentic characteristics of the island to the visitor, though when we live our daily lives with its busy-ness on the island, you get into a routine and the years go by until someone from abroad knocks on your door and asks you numerous questions about the island and why they came to visit Mauritius…
You could also ponder upon the reflective question if what was once being showcased at Domaine Les Pailles would be THE Authentic Mauritius or just merely falls under a presentation of a few facets of our history just like any other country. And it doesn’t make sense to stop development, all Mauritians have the right to endeavour for a better life which brings along change and development.
While authenticity refers to something genuine, when it comes to a country the term is making reference in my opinion to characteristics that one would say: this is something Mauritian. For example the sega music, or the creole language, different food types, designs of various utility objects till art, the list goes on, it can also include certain traditions, behaviour attributes unique to its locals and more. So it can be quite broad in its definition and we can learn a lot from our history. Even though many countries have a skyline now that looks like the Western countries, it still doesn’t mean the country has become an identical copy of what the Western world is.
I was in Rodrigues recently at a guest house. Some of my colleagues asked if there is a Winners Supermarket on the island. Our host said No, and it’s not going to happen. It will destroy the business of many small merchants and …destroy Rodrigues Authenticity! I liked that response, and she is right. Why destroy many small businesses when you can prevent it? And exactly for that reason people love visiting Rodrigues, for its diverse authenticity that it offers. I also have to let one thing out, Rodrigues is so clean! Mauritius can learn a lot from Rodrigues, here in Grand Baie nearly every unused plot of land has some construction rubble on it. Just go for a walk behind Super U. And unfortunately, many places in Mauritius have that issue. The worst I have seen is at Mare Sarcelle, close to Poste Lafayette, this beautiful spot in nature offers magnificent volcanic lakes with birds yet before you reach there, there is so much construction rubble on your right and left, a real disgrace to mother nature!
When you live in Mauritius, do you ever reflect on authenticity?
The only time I do so is when I meet people from abroad and they share with me what they were looking forward to see in Mauritius or what they like about the island. Maybe our busy-ness and the routines of life can turn is all a bit ignorant and blind of our surroundings.
What do guests say visiting Mauritius?
One guest I once met who was staying in Grand Baie told me he found the coastline to densely crowded with buildings and was more expecting something like Seychelles with lots of empty spaces.
Another guest told me that they don’t come here to rediscover what they already have at home. Shopping malls are out of their interest. This is where it gets interesting when I tell them that, yes, I understand what you mean, however there are 1.3 Million Mauritians staying on the island and they also wish to come into the comfort of what the modern world has to offer. And this theme can get even more diverse considering that each view is biased upon own personal likes and dislikes. For instance there are visitors coming to the island who will love big shopping malls. So what the European tourist might dislike, might be the like of a visitor from Africa or Asia. Mauritius has indeed a lot to offer. For example did you know that a lot of tourists coming from Reunion sometimes come ONLY TO SHOP at Mauritius cheapest places? And choose to stay right in the cities such as Quatre Bornes to be closer to the market?
Then you have guests who have told me, they wouldn’t be able to stay in an all inclusive resort like a club resort where everything is included and where you just stay in the resort and see Mauritius from a group tour bus… Yet, this is an industry that runs, generates jobs and capital, and there are numerous clients paying to have such a holiday, one that is spent relaxing just on the beach without bothering much about the great diversity the island has to offer. How would you understand this? My view is, let’s say we humans come in many kinds of configurations, add to that some humans have worked hard all year round and need a break and wish for exactly that – 2 weeks in a luxury resort right on the beach and be pampered and receive great service without having to make any effort, zero stress, relax in a spa and so on. Mauritius offers such products in its hospitality portfolio and benefits well from it financially making it renown world wide. Yet, for the traveller who wishes to experience Mauritius completely differently, Mauritius has a wide array of accommodation options to choose from where the gues can directly live with the locals.
I can add to this list that my own guests from abroad quite often ask me, where can they eat some Mauritian meals? They don’t want any pizza, fried chicken, steaks or burgers. So I usually recommend them a few restaurants close by that sell local cuisine.
Does it feel strange to you when you see the authenticity of Mauritius being on sale?
I find it strange when I see something that would fall under the authenticity of Mauritius being showcased or presented in a hotel. But just wait a moment, you could also say that our excellent service, personnel that smiles and knows how to get the job done is also a facet of Mauritius’ authenticity since it has made Mauritius popular world wide – this is not the authenticity I’m talking about. Where I’m getting at is taking for example traditions practiced on the island and integrating it into a resort. My personal impression and feeling is then that it is not authentic any more and has been commercialised, or turned into a product for display to entertain guests. On another perspective you might say, but this keeps alive certain activities the locals have stopped since long. Like certain kind of games and sports which kids might enjoy at the resort.
What I would wish for is for the guests to discover it directly on the island amongst the locals.
But… some of these activities of the past are not played anymore. Do you still see kids build a kite? Run after a wheel? Play hopscotch or marbles?
While the resort might claim that it is being innovative, I feel more that they have run out of ideas – personal feeling. A hotel remains an industrial product, it is just like a factory. It’s set up and what is to be expected is known. It has a bunch of rooms called with elegant terms, a restaurant, bar, lounge, chill out area, a club, beach house, spa, nice location, good service, some facilities here and there and all of this with some design to create a world where guests that pay for every bit of it get to enjoy to relax and be served -all at a price!
While my paragraph relating to resorts integrating some authentic elements of Mauritius into their premises might seem to have a negative connotation, it is more meant as a reflection to get you to think, it might stir a strange nostalgic feeling setting you into a defense mode where you might say: Hey, that’s my culture, it didn’t use to be like that when it was …for real! But yet we can also argue, maybe it’s good some resorts integrate some authentic elements keeping alive the memories and what once was. Do you feel you could change from the defensive mode into a curious open minded mode and say, hmm, it’s allright?
There are other companies who have seen the potential of what authentic Mauritius has to offer. They offer tailor made tours for visitors to discover directly where the authenticity of Mauritius is happening. For example like myMoris is doing. This approach seems more sane to me and puts into value the authenticity of the island. On top it offers a win win situation for all. The tour makers can have the joy to present their island and make a living, the persons or artisans of Mauritius doing their jobs get the fun to have curious eyes to see what they are doing, there can be cultural exchange, maybe even a trade can happen – and if it does it doesn’t go into the pocket of a big multi national company. And this concept in my opinion can also present opportunities for Mauritians in various regions who can present their places as a guide to locals since they know their locality best.
It’s not only what humans have been doing on Mauritius that makes it Authentic but let’s not forget neither neglect nor completely destroy the local nature and fauna.
A lot of species in Mauritius have been made extinct by men. Some of these species got so popular that they are even featured in certain cartoons/movies – as dead as the DODO! Mauritius has already lost many more species but still has some indigenous ones unique in the world. Also plants.
Not only for tourists but for the locals as well should Mauritius make sure it protects its environment. Awareness needs to be raised. A lot of work needs to be done in this area when you see how people still litter various places recklessly. As mentioned above, Mauritius can learn a lot from Rodrigues.
Nature offers Mauritians a great place to go for walks, hikes, picnic, relax, personal as well as for the community well being and enjoyment. In addition it’s beauty becomes an attraction and points of interest for guests from abroad to visit. And just like authentic activities once practised by Mauritians offers a few job opportunities for guides. What the island has to offer in its natural scenery gives room for more. Guides can offer tours, activities, and set-up various kinds of itineraries.
A few examples:
→ Marine Eco-Guide Training
“Marine eco-guide training is key to mainstreaming marine conservation through the tourism and service industry. A healthy and well-managed environment is fundamental to a sustainable tourism industry. The Marine Eco-Guide Training Courses comprise a wide range of training opportunities for individuals wishing to work in the marine tourism and service industry. Students become skilled in guiding principles and learn about the different marine ecosystems and conservation efforts and positive actions that are needed to sustain them.”
→ Reef Conservation Mauritius
“Research, Restoration, Education and Training for the Protection of the Marine Environment of Mauritius
Reef Conservation Mauritius is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and the restoration of the marine environment of Mauritius.
It promotes sustainable use of the biodiversity of our marine ecosystems through local and regional efforts in a partnership approach with all concerned stakeholders. Reef Conservation Mauritius employs professional qualified biologists and support staff to manage and implement its projects.”
→ Sea Kayaking in Mauritius & Rodrigues by Yemaya Adventures
“Yemaya Adventures, created in 2000 by Patrick Haberland, a qualified sports intructor and former cycling champion, is an adventure company based in Mauritius offering sea kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and team building activities for all levels.
Each trip is carried out with a total respect towards nature and we make it our priority to stress the importance of its preservation. Our trips not only bring you around some of the most beautiful places but you will also learn more about the fauna and flora and what’s being done towards its preservation making each trip a unique and enriching experience.”
→ Visit Ile aux Aigrettes by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
“Visit Ile aux Aigrettes on one of our guided tours and travel back in time to discover what Mauritius would have looked like over 400 years ago, before the arrival of man and his devastating impact on the environment.”
→ Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF)
“The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF) is the only non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation and preservation of the nation’s endangered plant and animal species.
Our hands-on conservation projects are carried out in Mauritius including the offshore islets and Rodrigues. We work closely with local and international partners, with the long-term aim of recreating lost ecosystems by saving some of our rarest species from extinction and restoring the native forest. Another important part of our work is to raise awareness about conservation issues through our education programme.”