Mauritius tourism sector to grow 6 pct in 2010

mauritius_birdflyMauritius's tourism sector will grow 6 percent this year, higher than the 5 percent previously forecast by the Central Statistics Office, the country's tourism minister said on Monday. Luxury tourism is an important economic driver and a key source of hard currency for the Indian Ocean island.

"To achieve 6 percent at a time when there is a recession in our major markets is very promising," Tourism Minister Nando Bodha told Reuters in an interview.

Bodha said the country had been able to address the effects of the global financial crisis on tourism through aggressive campaigning in source markets and with macroconomic policy.

MU-tourists-2010"The rupee has depreciated (against the euro) so this has to some extent addressed the concerns of the business community in the tourism industry about earnings," he said.

The rupee has been losing ground against the euro since mid-August, after a year of strengthening.

In August, the statistics office said tourist arrivals would hit 915,000 this year, 5 percent higher than in 2009.

Bodha said the country planned to diversify into niche markets to keep ahead of the competition.

"Kite surfing, weddings, golf, conferences and ecotourism are very high on our agenda," he said.

He said Mauritius had been able to maintain the quality of its product, as shown by the award of "World Leading Island Destination" at the World Travel Market tourism fair in London.

"Now what we have to do is to strengthen our market share in the traditional markets of Europe -- which is not easy -- while at the same time going to new emerging markets," he said.

mauritius-21Data from the tourism ministry shows tourist arrivals were up 6.2 percent at 646,656 in the nine months to September, compared with the same period last year.

Finance Minister Pravind Jugnauth unveiled a 12 billion rupee stimulus package in August targeting the textile, sugar and tourism industries to help boost a fragile economic recovery.

Jugnauth is expected to present the government's budget to parliament on Nov. 19. The island nation wants to become a retail destination, and the spending plan will give a boost to this concept.  

We are working on the concept of a duty-free island, to make Mauritius a shopping paradise. I think this budget will be an opportunity to give the possibility to brands to come to Mauritius to be able to launch this duty-free shopping concept," he said.

Bodha said new direct flights from Russia and China should help make 2011 a good year for the tourism sector.

"Emerging markets like China, Russia, India represent a growth potential for the tourism sector, but we need visibility, air access and affordability. If you have these three we can sustain the growth," Bodha said.

Mauritius said earlier this month it planned new economic reforms as part of a continuing effort to diversify its $10 billion economy away from tourism, textiles and sugar.

The island nation of 1.3 million people, which pitches itself as a bridge between Africa, India and China, aleady has a flourishing offshore financial sector. (Editing by Helen Nyambura and Catherine Evans)

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