I have to be honest, when I think of Mauritius, I don’t think of vanilla.
Yes, I know I’ve drunk vanilla-flavoured tea on my visits and there’s even a Vanilla Crocodile Park located in Rivière des Anguilles, but even so I don’t associate the exquisite flavour of the world’s second most expensive spice and only edible orchid with the oldest of the Mascarene Islands.
On the other hand, I do link vanilla with some of the other islands in the Indian Ocean, especially Madagascar, Reunion and the Comoros. And with good reason. They are the first, third and fourth largest vanilla producers in the world respectively (the second is Indonesia). And, of course, Reunion was once called Ile Bourbon.
So if any of these islands want to call themselves a vanilla island then they are clearly entitled to do so.
But does it make sense for Mauritius to sign up along with these large-scale vanilla producers, together with another vanilla exporter, the Seychelles, as “Vanilla Islands” in a concerted push to promote tourism in the region?
Definitely not, especially as Mauritius produces such meagre amounts of vanilla and doesn’t even make it into the top 10 of the world’s exporters.
Nevertheless, I can well understand why the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MTPA) and the new Minister of Tourism, Michael Sik Yuen, are keen to flag up the attractiveness of Mauritius by all possible means, especially given the continuing instability in the eurozone from where around two thirds of visitors originate.
There is also the fact that tourism is the country’s largest source of foreign exchange to consider. But the truth is that effective marketing of a product, service or experience needs to be tied to a real and well-known attribute or else it won’t work.
Put simply, people won’t believe something that’s been made up for marketing purposes, and if it’s not credible then it won’t have the desired effect.
So why not forget the vanilla theme and find something else to associate with Mauritius. Like what?
Well, on Monday I learned that Mauritius has the second best air quality in the world after Estonia, beating Australia and Canada into joint third place. That’s very impressive, I thought. And the institution behind the list is no less than the highly respected World Health Organisation (WHO).
The air quality index ranked 1100 cities in 91 countries. It was designed to highlight the need to reduce outdoor pollution, which is calculated to cause 1.34 million premature deaths annually.
So although it may be hot in Mauritius, especially in the summer months, and many of the tourists may be perspiring profusely when they venture outside their air-conditioned rooms, they can take comfort from the fact that the air that is being breathed is really good quality. But only if they know how lucky they are, of course.
I thought that it was a pity that Mauritius had come second and not top of the list as that would have provided a unique and differentiating concept. And I recalled the famous tagline for Avis, “We Try Harder”, which was first adopted in 1962 and referenced the fact that it was the second largest car rental company in the US after Hertz, but was intent on providing a better service and overtaking the category leader.
The slogan helped Avis enormously develop its brand and revenue streams until Hertz turned the tables and ran an ad which declared: “For years, Avis has been telling you why they are No.2. Now we’re going to tell you why.”
Ouch. Avis has never quite recovered.
But there is no reason why Mauritius shouldn’t run a campaign highlighting the purity of its air – for example, “Visit Mauritius and breathe some of the purest air in the world” or “Visit Mauritius and breathe the purest air in Africa”.
Potential visitors might then be alerted to the fact that there was somewhere else on the planet with better air quality, but realistically how many would want to trade in Mauritius for Estonia? Very few.
So my advice: ditch the vanilla theme and focus on air quality to promote tourism.
Dr Sean Carey is visiting lecturer in the Business School, University of Roehampton.
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