Rolling out the welcome mat

For a sector more used to western guest preferences, hospitality players in Mauritius are working hard to adjust their offerings and roll out efforts to woo the up-and-coming Asian market.

Asian restaurant at Riu Hotel Creole

With Mauritius increasingly seeking out diverse visitor markets, tourist accommodations are starting to roll out the carpet for Asian guests, determined to make them feel at home while priming them to discover the island beyond hotel grounds.

Hotel Riu Creole has in recent years been polishing its tools to penetrate Asia’s promising group tours and corporate incentive segments.

Asian restaurant at Riu Hotel Creole

Up until recently, the Asian market was nearly non-existent for the hotel, which is part of Spain-based Riu Hotels & Resorts that is 49 per cent owned by European tour giant TUI.

“A few years ago, we only saw European guests at the hotel. Now we are working in collaboration with the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority and Air Mauritius to promote in Asian markets. We are investing a lot in Asia,” said Géraldine Bajee, regional sales and marketing manager at Riu Hotels & Resorts.

Hotel Riu Creole witnessed the potentials of Asian markets when charter flights began arriving in the destination from China. Now, armed with a sales and marketing presence in China, Riu Hotels has been marketing its global portfolio in the country through an office in Beijing and another in Shanghai.

With language a considerable barrier in the early days of selling to Asia, the hotel has hired Chinese staff and studied the profiles of Asian guests, shared Bajee.

Apart from China, Hotel Riu Creole also sees potential in India, although there are some difficulties including the seasonality of Indian travel demand (driven by weddings and honeymooners).

An all-inclusive stay is not a familiar concept with Indian travellers, but this opens up, rather than limits, selling opportunities, opined Moussa Lahlali, cluster general manager for Hotel Riu Creole and the adults-only Hotel Riu Le Morne next door.

“Indians are used to particular styles of holidays from their travels to Dubai and the Middle East. We introduce the full-board concept, (which is) something quite new to many of them, and they like it.”

Because Chinese and Indian leisure travellers tend to spend their days outside the resort, Lahlali feels most of the property infrastructure is already in place to start catering to these guests, with only the areas such F&B requiring tweaks.

For example, it has been adding Asia nights to the roster of Spanish and Italian themed nights in its restaurants.

Lahlali elaborated: “The concept is when you enter the restaurant you feel like you’re travelling through different parts of the world with different areas dedicated to different Asian cuisines. We introduced Asian cuisine and hired Asian chefs in recent years, and have since been fine-tuning the F&B offer. Rather than simply eating, we are now creating an experience of (discovery) for guests.”

Meanwhile, the two Riu properties in Mauritius are gearing up for more corporate incentive groups, which represent important new segments for the properties.

The expansive grounds give both Riu properties “all the potential” to accommodate group activities, Lahlali remarked, but there is work to be done to equip them with the required tools and expertise.

“We are huge and have different spaces that can be used, from our restaurants to the beach. Now, we’re creating a manual on how to cater to business events groups particularly teambuilding and incentives, and not just weddings.

“We are looking into what our clients’ needs are and how we can propose to them. We also have to bring together departments including sales, operation and F&B to become business events ready.”

Bleisure is a big part of the equation too. Lahlali said there are plans to equip the properties to take care of accompanying family members, including children.

It is not just big groups that are spurring the Asian ambitions of hospitality players in Mauritius. For more boutique tourist accommodation like MJ Holidays’ 13-villa Marguery Villas and its upcoming Mythic Suites & Villas, Asian FITs are flashing bright on the radar.
MJ Holidays, one of the few residential-style villa accommodation operators in Mauritius, has already developed an online reputation in China, having seen results and positive feedback through listing on OTAs.

As MJ Holidays expands – Mythic Suites & Villa is set to open in November 2019 in Grand-Gaube on the north-eastern coast – it now wants to continue building a name in Asia and penetrate new markets.

It is doing so by stepping up trade efforts while working to convert OTA demand to direct bookings on its own website, shared managing director Isabelle Descroizilles.
On the travel trade front, it recently partnered a South Korean tour operator to sell Marguery Villas, marking its foray into the market.

For now, Descroizilles sees multigenerational families as the ideal target in Asia, although other segments like couples and honeymooners are also taking a liking to the villa concept.
“Most families conduct their day-to-day lives apart from one another. Holidays are a time for children, parents, grandparents to come together. When travelling, they want to spend as much time as possible in one place so they can reconnect,” she elaborated.

“Since January, we have been selling through a Korean tour operator, which has been sending (honeymoon) couples to the villas. I was surprised that this worked as we’re not a typical product for couples. But we’re realising that couples enjoy having a whole villa to themselves, despite the pricing for two pax not being very competitive.”

With the opening of Mythic Suites & Villas, it seems the horizons are widening for MJ Holidays. On top of three- or four-room villas, the new property also offers guests one-, two- or three-room junior suites, as well as three-room penthouse suites.

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