SAA’s strong ties with the island has opened gates to trade and tourism
WHAT started out as a fuel stop en route to Perth, Australia decades ago has become one of South African Airways’ (SAA) most important routes.
And this year, the airline celebrates 50 years of direct flights between Johannesburg and Mauritius, promoting and cementing a relationship between the two countries in sectors from business to travel and tourism.
Manufacturing – one of the top 10 economic sectors in Mauritius – makes up for 17% of the island’s economy, compared to 6.1% for hospitality on an island traditionally considered mainly a holiday and honeymoon destination.
Wholesale and retail (11.3%), construction and real estate (11.1%), and financial services (10.2%) also contribute more to the Mauritian economy than hospitality.
The SAA manager for Mauritius and Indian Ocean Islands, Menon Ramasawmy, said Mauritius had always been important as a popular holiday destination for South Africans.
“Growth in business opportunities between the two countries has [also] added to the popularity of the route,” he said.
“Mauritius remains one of the fastest growing economies on the continent with consistent demand-side growth in both business and leisure travel.”
But SAA is not the only South African entity thriving in Mauritius.
To this end, the South African Chamber of Commerce in Mauritius – of which SAA is a patron – was launched in September 2013 in response to the need for formal representation of commercial relations between Mauritius and South Africa. It has more than 80 corporate and 60 individual members across sectors including banking, travel, retail and property.
The commerce’s director, Richard Robinson, said the “ease of doing business” in Mauritius – “the Bahamas of South Africa” – made it a desirable investment area.
The labour market was also less regulated, he said, but he also had advice for those wanting to do business there.
“A number of corporates have discovered to their detriment that you can’t just pick up an operation and put it in Mauritius,” he said.
Robinson said the island had come a long way in terms of development in the 11 years he had lived there. “Mauritius has a special affinity for South Africans. Living here, it almost seems like another province of South Africa,” he said.
“It [Mauritius] is Africa’s miracle. It’s not a first world country, but it’s getting there.”
But while some have not survived, others such as Woolworths, Shoprite/Checkers and food franchises including Spur, Nandos, Debonairs and Ocean Basket, have been well received.
Woolworths Mauritius country manager, Jacques Nel, said they had three clothing stores on the island, one of them at the South African owned Bagatelle Mall of Mauritius near the island’s capital, Port Louis.
“Our recipe has been taking the DNA from South Africa and understanding how to cultivate that in Mauritius. We have to understand and respect people this side. The way we do business in South Africa is different,” he said.
“Success in South Africa does not mean success in Mauritius.”
Nel said expansions were being planned for existing stores, with at least two more opening later this year.
The Board of Investment in Mauritius – an investment promotion agent for the Mauritian government which aims to fast-track investment – described the island as a platform for investment in Africa due to its central location and proximity to other continents. Mauritius is four hours from Africa, six hours from the Middle East and Asia and seven hours from Australia.
Mauritius offers a lucrative business environment. Company formation is done within three days, there is no capital gains tax or 15% corporate and individual tax. Foreigners are allowed to invest in property for both business and residential use.
The board’s sales and marketing senior director, Shamima Mallam Hassam, said the economic ties between South Africa and Mauritius were strong.
“We very much nurture that relationship with South Africa because it’s important to us,” she said.
-Karen van Rooyen