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Ile aux Cerfs, Mauritius.

Mauritius, a confetti state in the Indian Ocean, reopens its borders this Thursday, July 15, almost completely closed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, to international travelers. But sunbathing comes at a price. Not only must holidaymakers be vaccinated and carry a negative PCR test, but they will also have to undergo a quarantine of fourteen days, in a “Hotel bubble”.

George Lepoigner, taxi driver in the Mauritian capital Port-Louis, can’t wait to see tourists return to the paradisiacal beaches and turquoise waters of his island. “Without tourists in the country, we have no foreign currency coming in. We don’t have the funds to continue living ”, says Mr. Lepoigner, 55 years old and father of two children.

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The pandemic has hit Mauritius hard, where a significant part of the economy relies on income generated by the tourism sector. Before the outbreak of the epidemic on the island in March 2020, tourism and hospitality totaled around 24% of GDP and nearly a quarter of jobs. But in the last fiscal year, the entire economy contracted by 15%. And the country is impatient to see its precious tourists return.

In June, Finance Minister Renganaden Padayachy announced the goal “To reach 650,000 tourists in the next twelve months”, specifying that the restoration would be “Progressive and continuous”. He added that the authority in charge of tourism would be endowed with some 420 million Mauritian rupees (8.3 million euros) to promote the country in its key markets, such as China, Europe and South Africa. South.

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“A brutal and immense shock”

But tourism professionals will have to wait before feeling a rebound: the complete reopening of the borders, without the restrictions, is in fact only scheduled for the 1er October. In the meantime, tourists will be able to enjoy their resort and the beach, but will not be able to enjoy the rest of the island during their quarantine, nor of certain services, such as spas.

According to Mauritian, one of the main local newspapers, 600 tourists were expected Thursday, from Europe and Dubai. Gilbert Espitalier-Noel, general manager of New Mauritius hotels, a major player in the sector, notes with gloom that he does not expect a recovery before the last quarter of 2021.

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Revenues from its hotels plunged to 940 million rupees (18.6 million euros) in the period from June 2020 to March 2021, compared to 7.6 billion rupees (150 million euros) for the period from June 2020 to March 2021. June 2019 to March 2020. “Although we have taken measures to reduce expenses, through salary cuts, voluntary retirements and by keeping operating expenses to a minimum, hotel maintenance remains significant”, he specifies.

The effects of the crisis were not limited to tourism, but were felt in transport, agriculture and even sales. Referring to the spillover effects beyond the tourism sector, economist Rama Sithanen points out that “Maurice did not come out of this brutal and immense shock”.

Like other countries in the world, the island, which has recorded some 2,190 cases of infections and 20 deaths for a total population of 1.2 million, is now battling more virulent variants of the virus, including the Delta.

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But for Mr. Lepoigner, the return of tourists cannot wait any longer. “Even if there is a risk of contamination with the new variant, either we are starving or we are dying of the Covid. I will choose the Covid since 99.9% of Mauritians have survived the virus since last year “, he blurted out.

The World with AFP

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