Mauritius Seeks More Visitors From Growing African Middle Class

Mauritius is targeting Nigeria and other African nations to help sustain growth in tourism revenue that’s expected to reach almost 10 percent this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Xavier Luc Duval said.

The country received 114,796 visitors from Africa in the first five months of this year, accounting for 22 percent of the total, according to Statistics Mauritius. Of the visitors from Africa, more than half came from the nearby island of Reunion, and 37,168 from South Africa, the Port Louis-based agency’s latest data show.

“Africa represents a huge potential for Mauritius, which we need to seize,” Duval, 58, said in a phone interview Monday. “There are people who are very rich and there is a middle class that is growing on the continent. We are doing well in the South African market, but there are many other countries that interest us, like Nigeria or the entire West African region.”

Tourism in Mauritius is one of the biggest generators of foreign-exchange revenue for the $12 billion economy. The sugar- and textile-exporting nation expects to earn 55 billion rupees ($1.6 billion) from foreigners who visit the island this year, compared with 50.2 billion rupees in 2015, when it received 1.2 million visitors.

Arrivals from Europe currently account for 58 percent of visitors, mainly from France, the U.K. and Germany. The number of visitors from Europe is expected to be boosted further by Deutsche Lufthansa AG’s introduction last month of non-stop flights to the island by its low-cost budget unit EuroWings, Duval said.

The country also plans to draw more visitors from Asia. AirAsia Bhd, a Malaysian low-cost carrier, is expected to begin flights to Mauritius in October, and could bring about 50,000 passengers a year to the nation’s shores, Duval said.

That may help offset a decline in arrivals from China, after the decision by China Southern Airlines Co. to discontinue its flights to the country. The number of tourists from China dropped 3.9 percent to 32,828 in the January-to-May period.

“The recent agreement signed with the China National Tourism Administration is expected to revitalize the Chinese market,” Duval said. “The agreement focuses on building the Mauritian product in China. We should remember the good progress recorded in tourist arrivals from China in recent years. We reached 90,000 arrivals in 2015, while five years ago we had only 7,000 Chinese who visited the country.”

Tourism accounted for 7.6 percent of Mauritian gross domestic product last year, making it the fourth-largest industry in the country. The industry is expected to grow 6.4 percent this year, compared with 8.5 percent in 2015.

The island nation will be competing for African travelers with other destinations on the continent such as South Africa, which is receiving more guests, attracted by a weaker currency.