ADVENTURE RELATED ECOTOURISM ACTIVITIES (ARETA)

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) estimates that four out of ten international travelers include adventure activities in their travel plans. Mauritius acknowledges a substantial growth in this sector over the last 10 years and thus the need to regulate this sector has become evident. The Tourism Authority, rightly, focuses on the Adventure Related Ecotourism Activities (ARETA) as this segment is attracting more and more tourists, as well as residents. A new set of standards for such activities is now on the table. The standards are inspired by those of the ATTA, adapted to the local realities and has been named as the ARETA.

The list of activities falling under the ARETA standards are as follows :

  • Land-based activities :
    • Ground level : hiking (further slit in 3 grades)
    • High-Angle base : Mountaineering, Abselling, Canonying, Rock climbing, Bungee Jumping, Ziplines, Cableways, and Canyon-swings
  • Vehicle based activities :
    • Mountain bikingOn road bikingElectric bikesSegwayOff road toursQuad-biking
    • Safari truck tours
  • Water-based activities
    • Sea, river and lake kayaking
    • River hikes (without ropes)

The authorities are keen on promoting a safe environment for the practice of adventure activities. As such, there is a particular emphasis on the competence of operators and their staff.

Every ARETA operator shall hold a valid Tourist Enterprise License, submit all applicable and necessary clearances and documents as prescribed. This condition clearly states that the ARETA is not a license in itself, but an additional certification to a Tourist Enterprise License holder. An interesting point to consider when non-Mauritian investment is concerned. It is known that the Tourism Enterprise License contains major restrictions for foreign investors / operators. It would be interesting to explore the exact conditions imposed for ARETA in this situation.

The applicant should also ensure that it has, among its staff, the requisite experience in running the proposed business, covering both the technical and non-technical aspects. Self-employed operators should demonstrate their professional, physical and technical competencies. Medical fitness is a pre-requisite, requiring a Medical Fitness Evaluation but also a Technical Competency test as per a defined Competency Test sheet. Needless to say, that first aid / wilderness first aid as per set standards are also required.

Beyond the above, competencies will also need to be demonstrated in Customer Care, Group Management, Communication and sustainability. In the definition of the ARETA, sustainability refer to the ‘Leave No Trace’ principle where environmental impacts are minimized, based on a sustainable practice model. This definitely leads to an aspect of ‘education’ where the operators need to thoroughly educate their clients on the impacts of their actions which could be as ordinary as leaving waste behind, equipment and clothing, conscientious food, respect of wildlife and consideration towards others.

Including this aspect in the required competence base demonstrates that the government is looking at a holistic approach, handling the business model, technical aptitude (deliverables), customer care and general respect of nature’s flora and fauna.

Adventure activities cannot be dissociated to risks. There is a general standard applicable with regards to Safety Management system, whereby operators shall apply an updated Safety Management System (SMS) including all the processes and interaction required. For instance, the SMS shall cover : Risk Assessment & Mitigation Plan, Equipment & Maintenance Plan & Emergency Action Plan & Participant Safety. All activities, occurrences and any other items are to be recorded in a logbook, offering traceability to all parties concerned.

The general standards are very precise and defined.

The general standards do not leave any space for ambiguity. Everything is so well defined and precise. Activities, for example, are further broken down into sub-categories, catering for specifics of each operation.

We would be glad to share the knowledge gathered through our examination of the documents and our readings from different other sources.

If you are planning to operate an adventure-based ecotourism enterprise in Mauritius, we would like to hear from you !

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

The Sports Industry

Sports is one of the biggest industries worldwide, brewing billions in terms of money. Not in Mauritius. We had our glory days when stadiums would be jam packed on weekends and when youth assimilated stardom to sports. The enthusiasm has faded out and we see ourselves struggling to give sports the brilliance they deserve. Bringing people back to the stadium or to the practice of sports at competition level seem to be a lost bet. Well, if ever there was any bet. No one seems to care except in words.  

Those who have opted for sports are doing well, particularly in individual disciplines like athletics, martial arts, boxing (and related) and weight / power lifting. We do get decent results on the national and international levels. But on the other side, we have a definite problem on collective sports side. While every other country is turning sports into a major economic activity, and by extrapolation, attracting people to more and more high-performance levels, Mauritius seems to be sleeping.

Money in sports is a debatable issue but the fact remains that it invariably leads to impressive development, and that, at all levels. While this should not be the main motivation, it surely plays in the head of future athletes who gaze at possibilities to live a more than decent life through their passion. A general desire, should we say. Who does not want to make a living out of his/her passion? There is a lot of investment behind building a high-performing sportsman and it is nothing more natural than wanting a return on such investment. Sports is a career, albeit a short one, comparable to any other and probably one of the most financially (and socially) rewarding that exist. Living in a secluded island does not make thing easier for Mauritians who choose this path. There is no real scope unless one leaves everything behind and settles in bigger spaces like Europe, the USA or even Africa next door. But I can on firm ground state that Mauritius has got everything to build a solid and sustainable sports industry.

Economically, sport is a viable venture but there is a total lack of interest in developing this sector.
Maybe through ignorance.

Our education system is still very focused on academics leaving a very narrow space for talent development in arts and sports. This is our cultural heritage. We have always considered those opting for sports as less intellectual, or to be blunt, less intelligent. Things have evolved, society has and humankind too. We have changed our perspective too, but the sequel remains; local investors still do not consider sports as a formal business with high returns.

I am referring to investors and entrepreneurs as I do believe that the creation of such an industry lies within the hands of private ventures and not the Government or the public sector. Private initiatives are far more business and performance oriented, while the State safeguards the regulatory side – both working towards uplifting the national landscape. I fail to understand our insistence on traditional business lines for economic progress, while lies on our doorsteps an industry that just needs some attention to flourish.

There is, I should mention, some investments in the health / fitness centers around the island. The most impressive ones are, and no contest here, the RM Club which is driven by non-Mauritian investments. RM Club set up its first mega fitness and indoor sports center in the north at Forbach, hosting many facilities, including latest-technology fitness (cardio, body building / toning and gym equipment), paddle-tennis and squash courts. The place is complemented by a very nice restaurant, a hair salon and kids’ space. All set as a major incentive to get into shape… and sports. Honestly, I’ve been subscribing to several gyms, paying my subscription but if I attended more than two times, it would be a miracle. At RM Club, I’m a regular keeping at least four sessions a week. The place is busy with happy (and sweating) people around. 

RM Club is now expanding to other regions, with the same belief that there exists a market for fitness and sports on the island. They are not wrong! The only missing element was a trigger, they did it.

RM Club has also partnered with a junior soccer team opening access to international training, infrastructure, coaching and high-level performance monitoring. Academie Football du Nord (AFN) has its own training center, and is backed up by professional coaches, non-coaching staff and a set of medical experts. Kids from an early age up to 18 years old are able to develop their skills and perform under international standards and guidance. That only announces a brilliant future ahead.

The business model presented here is excellent. It does not only show belief and enthusiasm in the Mauritian sports market, but also a defined strategy and roadmap.

Football is in a coma. The king of sports used to drag thousands of people to stadiums during weekends. Sure, it reached dangerous fanatical proportions, peaking to the loss of human lives, but here the link to football and this unfortunate event is still to be proven. Mauritian football was so popular that almost all of us would cast major international leagues (UK, France, Germany and Spain) to second level interests. The national team (nicknamed Club M) reached decent levels in Africa. In African Champions League, our league champion, Sunrise FC reached the quarter final stage, losing against Zamalek, the Egyptian champions. Football was at semi-professional level with many expatriates from Africa playing in our leagues. True that everything was based on communal elements, as most of the ethnic groups had their team: Sunrise FC (Tamils), Cadets Club (Hindus), Dodo Club (Franco-Mauritians), Fire Brigade (African origin people), Scouts Club (Muslims). The adversity on the pitch and in the stands was intense, yet it helped nurture talents that, when united in the national team, would federate people under one flag. Football was canceled because of unfortunate events to which it was unjustly linked. Regionalization, designed in a wrong and hasty manner, did not bring people to stadiums. No one, again, seem to really sit and consider redesigning the system. The local football federation seems happy that football simply exists, and it stops here. Grants are flowing from FIFA and the Government, nothing else matters.

The national team has not won any of its matches for some time now, losing even against the likes of Sao Tomé & Comoros Islands. We had a national team could defeated Paris-Saint-Germain on their international tour, after they won the French League!

A properly designed business model would address all the issues, even at individual club levels. Today, there is practically no ticket money income, which is traditionally derived from stadium attendance. Clubs survive through sponsorship and grants. Management and players very often put in their personal contribution to help keep their clubs breathing. There used to be a time when clubs would easily get a share of ticket money for attendance reaching between 6,000 to 10,000 supporters a weekend. One thing leading to another, they also benefited from advertisement, merchandising and different kinds of sponsorship ranging from direct financial contribution up to employment of their players under special dispositions (time allowance for training, subsidy, equipment and performance bonuses).

In 2022, the sports industry will continue to see an influx of money from new sources, shifting power dynamics in college sports, more widespread use of emerging technologies, and a greater focus on broader societal issues

‘Deloitte’s 2022 Sports Industry Outlook’

Similar situation exists in motorsports, precisely on the motorcycle arena where I keep a personal interest. Races are improvised by groups of volunteers on a football stadium parking. Obviously, football not dragging crowds anymore, the whole place is desert in weekends. Youngsters, with the help of their mechanics, can practice and race. No official champion is held as the national federation was dismantled years ago. Yet, there is a decent crowd on every practice and race day. Same sad situation for go-karts. Private events only.

There used to be a very animated championship and Go-Kart pilots were highly appreciated by large crowds.

The car rally championship stands at a good level, but again without much support. There’s an impressive vehicle lineup with the Mitsubishi Evos, Subaru WRC, Peugeot Maxi and the likes. The crews contribute to all of this from personal money just to keep the passion alive.

It’s been decades now that the locals are requesting a proper racetrack, nothing doing.

From anger to frustration and now desperation, many have given up hope. In meantime, many are being killed on the roads which are assimilated to racetracks in many brains.

Redbull Car Park Drift, an international event, is always a success when local selections are made. The parking lot is crowded the whole day. This has not opened the eyes of sports promoters unfortunately. Selected drifters compete on a world championship platform usually held in Dubai, and they usually harvest good result. It all confirms that Mauritian talents exist but require proper environment to reach international performance levels.

At one time the local bike clubs were challenging South African riders on regional competition. South Africa is known for its racing DNA but had to deal with a real fight on the tarmac. We have lost our brilliance since.

We could have been an interesting destination for different international championships. If Malaysia can host MotoGP, then why can’t Mauritius at least have second category events such as Moto3, Formula 3, Formula E, Go-Kart races and similar? So many unexploited possibilities is synonym to ‘waste’. It requires just one little spark to ignite the flame.

Today, only a handful of wealthy guys can practice motor sports. There is absolutely no other way, forget incentives than to spend your own money. Sure, these sports are expensive, but would be easier if we were competing at least for official recognition. A championship bearing the true ‘National’ label, where a winner is a legitimate ‘National Champion’

Combat sports are all over the island. Karate, Tae Kwondo, Boxing, Kickboxing, MMA …. All of them are here. Mauritians have won several World Championships in kickboxing and Brasilian Ju-Jutsu. Mrs Ranini Cundasamy has been on the world Muay Thai throne for years and she is revered in Thailand. Curious that no one has ever organized a UFC type of event on the island. I remember vaguely a Fight Night event organized many years ago, regrouping demonstrations and fights in various disciplines. It was a huge success, but that should have been some 15-20 years ago.  Why not dream of a major international boxing event? Would Mc Gregor refuse a fight in Mauritius? What can be the windfall gains out of a superstar gala fight?  I imagine the hype that such an event would give to Mauritius and massive impact it may have on the tourism industry.

We are the ideal location to host a high-performance sports academy. It would cover the whole of Africa and Asia countries. Maybe I am just a dreamer, but this all makes so much sense. The sun shines almost 365 days in a year, then we could be the summer camp even for Europeans during their harsh snowy winters. Inter season training and refresher camps for major league players, reeducation for injured athletes, strategic retreat, pre-competition team engineering, well there are so many possibilities. Mauritius already enjoys the reputation of a safe and beautiful destination. We have been trying to set-up a medical tourism plan which is taking its time to find pace. Why not a sports destination strategy?

So far, we have only tried this for golf but not even thought of other sports.
Am I being delirious?

I can go on for pages and pages. There is a need to review and redesign a full eco-system that can cater not only for sound financial returns, but also revamp the whole sporting environment. Franchised models have proven their worth in other countries and there is no doubt that they can beautifully fit the Mauritian landscape. A holistic approach that would cater for early entry to the sports world and development of high-performing international athletes would definitely win the game.

Mauritius boasts of many qualities: bilingual and educated population, strategic location, climatic and socio-economic stability, and many more. What prevents the island from playing a leading role in sports business for the region? We have been hitting our heads trying to create different hubs (freeport, seafood, knowledge, IT, etc.) but never really thought of developing an industry which can unite and uplift the whole nation. Such an industry will definitely give a different edge to our daily life fights: drugs, passivity, chronic diseases and lack of professional orientation. Putting up a real sports industry will absorb a lot of the unemployed population, while yielding decent economic returns to investors and stakeholders. This is where we need to start if we want to see our flag waving on the international sporting scene and if we want to uncover the sleeping talents of our youth.

There is hope.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) of Mauritius has a section on its website mentioning Sports Economy. I understand that there is a particular attention given to this industry. The EDB has also setup a Sports Economic Commission which aims to :

  • promote Mauritius as an international centre for the hosting of international multi-disciplinary sports events;
  • facilitate and promote the setting up of Mauritius Sportstech Incubators and start-ups;
  • regulate, facilitate and issue approval to existing and new sports infrastructure development under the PPP model;
  • facilitate the development of track and trail under the sponsorship and partnership of the private sector to promote Sports Tourism;
  • develop a new and competitive business model for sports disciplines.

Time is probably right (and ripe) to start a well-engineered venture and tap into an unexploited market.

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Get in, but with careful steps !

Starting a new life in another country is an act of dare and strong will. Make no mistake about it. Often, we embark on the adventure of a per-conceived idea, seduced by what we have come across as tempting information. But there are more than compromises on the plate; real challenges which are not often of the public domain and which can put you and your family into considerable mental stress. What first attracted you to the island will become invisible once you start your life. Just like a common Mauritian, you will not really (and every day) have time to contemplate the beauty of the island, for instance.

Your relocation should not be motivated by ‘tempting’ elements of information but by a real understanding of what life on this side can offer. Your expectations would often require adjustments based on actual experience against what you have been made to understand.

Life is pleasant and peaceful, more laid back than anything else. It is an island, far from big cities and fast-paced environments. Port Louis is probably the exception confirming the rule. Busy streets, traffic jams, no parking space and everyone in haste is what categorizes the town. I wouldn’t call it a city at this stage as it might offend those living in real ones. If you are among those who have adrenaline (and why no dopamine) rushes triggered by a fast-moving environment, you may be disappointed. Weekdays are quite short days where everything closes by 9.00 pm. If you are leaving home to dine out after 9,00pm, you had better have a reservation made. Restaurants tend to stop taking walk-in clients around that time too. Nightlife during weekdays is like an oasis in Sahara desert. If you are well connected, and sociable, you get be invited to private parties. But if you are looking for a chill dance night or a pub, chances are meager. Port Louis goes to sleep at around 7.00pm which is around the end of office hours. The roads are deserted and it becomes almost dangerous to walk around.

There is a definite learning curve when it comes to island-life. It requires living outside the expatriate bubble for an authentic experience. Once you start making Mauritian friends, the invitation to explore local dishes and culture will start flowing. It is a honor for the locals to host non-Mauritians. I remember the days when my father would invite a random tourist or expatriate home. That was next to a Christmas celebration.  It is an event that requires proper house cleaning, proper attire and proper food! I cannot but smile thinking about the neighbors hyper aroused curiosity. Social acceptance is not an issue as Mauritian are probably one of the most hospitable populations of the world. What they are looking for is reciprocity and human exchange. You will not experience such events if you are confined to the expatriate bubble.

Welcoming and hosting non-Mauritians is in our DNA

The island was, at different times, a British and French colony. Tourism led the way to sophistication and economic development. The expatriate workforce is contributing massively in terms of both capital and competence. So we all tend to understand the importance of non-Mauritians on the island. We are also very conscious of the lack of natural resources which accentuates the need for foreign expertise and financial contribution. With our history and culture built around diversity, we are very much open to a multi-ethnic society. There is no xenophobic trend nor any adverse feeling on immigration, at least at this stage. However. Mauritians do not really appreciate a demonstration of superior intelligence and competence coming from abroad. Referring to yourself as a more civilized, intelligent or capable being does not work. It creates a wall. There are more subtle ways to showcase your abilities and it is surely not by being frontal.

Whenever I write about Mauritian culture, I make it a point to mention one thing : almost every Mauritian is related to at least one minister, if not the Prime Minister himself.

 There is a game of influence which people like to be part of. This is the process of ‘feeling important’ which is quite widespread on the island. It will be used not only to declare one’s influence but also to threaten; in a clash, it is common to hear ‘you will be expelled in the next 24 hours, I’m related to xxx Minister’. Not to be taken seriously, most of the time, of course. You might even get a call from an ‘officer’ of any authority informing you that you have committed a serious offence and you risk deportation. Well sometimes, the ‘officer’ is just trying to please a friend who has unofficially reported an incident to him. In case of such calls, take the assistance of a professional and reverse the pressure. The authorities apply the rule of law, but here and there lies someone who wants to be bully

Blending is the key. Live the Mauritian life. It does not require much to be accepted, just a small effort and openness. A ‘bonjour’, a smile and ‘thank you’ – that’s what it generally takes. If you want to replicate your life experience of the country you left, it will not be possible. We see the frustrations of those who are desperately trying to emulate their previous lifestyle. To cover this, all sorts of excuses are put forward, but very seldomly one acknowledges the mistake of searching for a lifestyle that they left in their country. I’ve known families who applied for Investor permits but have no real business project in mind. They start their homework while being here… everything evaporates faster when frustrations kick in. Time, money, ideas, strength; all fly away. Know that the selective immigration strategy of Mauritius puts forward clearly defined relocation schemes. You need to start your homework before entering the island. For this, you have, again, many professionals with a proven track record to advise and assist.

Be wary of those who claim their expertise but are themselves dependent on a residence permit. There are many of them who do not even have a proper island life experience but are keen on giving expert advice on everything.

Nothing is easy, not in a relocation process. You are leaving your country, your family and a life that you have probably built from birth.

The reality can be very different from that glossy-paper advertisement you saw, or that Instagram photo. Any investment, time or money, requires some homework. Your expectations are to be assessed and adapted where required. Every story is different, every family has got a unique scenario. What worked (or not) for others is not a guarantee for you.

To ensure that Mauritius offers what you are looking for, in a long-term relocation objective, it is almost a must to come over and stay for shorter periods as a test. During these short periods, live like you are permanently here, not like a tourist. Do not feel amazed by everything (hard one) but be objective; travel during peak hours, do your shopping in the local grocery store, take rental accommodation instead of hotel, rent a car and drive, check out restaurant and food prices. You might also consult and seek advice from professionals, but not those whose only intention is to sell you a service. Talk to people, locals mostly.

Mauritius is not an exceptional country; it has got its flaw and dark sides. The roads are dangerous as more and more inexperienced, and yet, reckless drivers are on the roads. Pseudo-bikers, mostly on 200 – 400 cc bikes, are kamikaze without education and respect. There is almost one death per day on our roads. For a tiny country, this is too big a statistic. The driver’s license system is outdated and there is no gradual sanction systems (points). Recklessness on the road would normally reap a fine, and if more serious, a short imprisonment term. That is not a deterrent enough for the serial offender. There is no racetrack on the island, so everything is done on open roads, open coffins.  Be extra careful and focused while driving. Do not get into any road rage as you might trigger a much bigger fight than you expected. Cousins, relatives and friends are always not more than 15 minutes away from a phone call. Mauritians know that. In a road rage incident, you might yourself encircled by a crowd in no time. If you are in a serious accident, call the police (Dial 999).

Here is a link to a previous article on the subject

Drugs are a major issue, despite daily catches by the police. In value terms, the past month has seen seizure of around Rs100 million worth of drugs.  Mules, mostly from Africa, are loaded with pellets. Some are caught, others not. As a secular island, I still fail to understand how drugs are sailed or flown into this piece of rock. Still, drugs can be found almost everywhere. The youngest dealer caught so far was around 10 years old. Cases of were also reported in some schools. All this may look alarming but having lived here all my life (48 years now), I have never encountered issues with this environment. One needs to be aware of its surroundings and avoid risk-prone areas (and people). Exactly what you would do in your country. Learn as much as you can, so you can avoid unnecessary experiences.

We have a series of articles on ‘The Mauritian Experience – How not to fail it’. These might be interesting reads.

All that is said above also applies to setting-up your business, acquiring an existing one and general money matters. Understand, test and then go !

Gibson & Hills is not just a business management and relocation firm. Our philosophy is based on the legendary Mauritian hospitality and humane values. If you have questions, feel free to email us or contact us on different social media platforms. We are always happy to share our experiences (professional and personal), and why not over a Cuppa !

The Mauritian equation

Dubai and Singapore have often been quoted as models which Mauritius aspires to emulate. We have quite some features in common; no natural resources, tiny countries, peace and hospitable populations. We are friendly states, having close knit ties with our neighbors, and share an extensive diplomatic network around the world. Whether we need to follow the routes of Dubai and Singapore is a debatable question, but there’s no hiding that these two have paved their way to economic success, when the lack of resources was evident. Mauritius has its own specifics but nonetheless can solve its equations by inspiring itself from the two others, and improving their models to build a unique story.

We have always boasted of our geographical location, linking Africa and Asia. Standing on the maritime highway, the island could have transformed itself into a logistics center for regional trade exchanges. The Freeport sector was created and acknowledged massive investment, demonstrating the conviction of major actors. Impressive infrastructure, modern handling equipment, trained (bilingual) staff force, safe port, and what not. We still cannot host as much traffic as the Singapore port, with around 2,000 vessels of different sorts a day. We have got Africa next to us, and we can easily deduce that maritime traffic volume is not the issue. I wouldn’t venture myself into proposing solutions or identifying the shortcomings; this is not my playfield. However, there is an obvious frown on my face when I compare the traffic volumes between the port of Singapore and that Mauritius. Clearly there is something wrong, something we can improve. We started with a good idea, put ourselves to work but then, I believe, we lacked foresight and stand at crossroads not really knowing where to head.

In the same line, someone sometimes ago wanted to play on Cruise ship field. We are still waiting for some movements here… no major wave at sight Captain!

Well, the above is an example of good intention, great first steps and then a complete stall. This article is not about maritime traffic nor international trade. It is about the lack of sustainability in our ideas, and probably the major difference between us and countries like Dubai and Singapore. It is true that Covid hit us badly, but then we are no exception. We are at par and shouldn’t use the virus as an excuse. Irrespective of the pandemic, Mauritius faces major issues which require strategic (and long-term) approach. There needs to be people with foresight, capable of panning out roadmaps for the next 25 to 30 years ahead.

Ageing population is now on the table. In the 80s, Government inaugurated the Family Planning Office and started campaigning for less children in homes. Two was perfect, I remember. And now we have lesser birth rates than death rates, unfortunately. Chronic and non-transmissible diseases have crept over the population. Nearly 25% of the population is diabetic and around equally same proportion is subject to hypertension or other chronic complications Ageing through these diseases is a handicap. Reality should be said as it is. Now cancers of various forms are more and more present. I cannot really say that life expectancy has declined, but what is visible is the drop in productivity within a certain age bracket. But over and above this, the renewal of an active (and performing) workforce seems to be a problem we will need to address bravely.

The questions could be embarrassing, the answers even more, but sustainability, and maybe survival, is at stake.

In a recent Human resources event led by a major hotel, the SOS signals were released. Hotel industry can no longer sustain development while relying solely on local workforce. Some would argue that the strength of Mauritian tourism is founded on the Mauritian DNA of its employees. No. I tend to disagree, strongly. It is partly due to the welcoming nature of staff, true, but people do not travel thousands of kilometers simply for smiles. It adds to the charm, but tourists are here for our beaches, and at the earlier times, the relatively cheaper cost of life. The World has evolved. Air travel is no longer limited to the elites, destinations and choices are more and more varied – and smiles are easy anytime you open your wallet. 

Bravery, here, would involve changing the whole human resources game. Bet on foreign support, while opening more interesting doors to Mauritians, probably training and fitting the locals into more management and strategic roles. Just sipping and sighing on a Pina Colada won’t do. The Government needs to open the space to foreign workforce, without of course, closing it to Mauritians. There is a definite striking / equilibrium point but again we need proper thinking heads to find the right plotting point on the graph.  Sure, that the populist mind would argue that reducing Mauritians from the hotel scenes would affect tourism. I am confident it would not. In any case, without dare, the industry will lose ground to its competitors.

Dubai is a clear example. Recruiting expatriates has uplifted the status of locals by shifting a previously poorly educated population to a more entrepreneurial / strategic one. This has to be the formula. Singapore has done it too. But here, in Mauritius, we want to be like those two countries, without taking the hard steps.
Mauritians need to stop believing that expatriates are taking away their employment opportunities. They should shift their mindset from mere job seekers to better ambition.

True that this is not switchable within years but is a process that requires probably more than one generation to become effective. Education is of prime importance. Our education system is only training people to be future employees while most of us ambition to play higher roles in society, in business, sports and other areas. Not surprising to see (and admire) Mauritians shining everywhere in the world after their tertiary education (usually in a non-Mauritian curriculum and environment). We have a problem here, and it is not our youngsters.

While Government wants to transform Mauritius into a high-income earning country, this part of the formula seems to slip through fingers. This is not a matter of one government, but successive regimes spreading over many years. Is it not since we exist as an independent state? The start is from the bottom, not from the top. Then, this implies a change in our education system; too academically focused (and we all know that). Not only education, but educators need to be shaken too!  One would argue that kids have know so many education reforms, but then such reforms should not be engineered to make better learners, but better citizens – and by extension, a better country.

It is good to note that we are a young state, we are teenagers. We learn through examples, role models and mistakes. I honestly believe that we have done well in adapting ourselves to international socio-economic environment. Human, by default, evolves. Mauritius has evolved; from a monocrop agriculture-based economy to a world-class financial services center, our youth has not been that bad. However, as we reach maturity, we start to lose friends and the sympathy of friend-countries which have been so helpful in our construction. We can refer to numerous help (economic, social, etc.) that we have received from our traditional friends: Britain, France, China and more insistently India, with which we share ancestral lineage. I remember a former President stating that we will never be in difficulty as help will always be available. How wrong! How naïve!

To climb the ladder, we need a shift of mindset.

There are many equations that need be tackled, but it all related to the initial mindset. We must believe in ourselves. There is just so much we can achieve. The present may be perceived as difficult and unfair to many as extreme poverty and misery still exist in some areas of the island. It takes courage to get out of our usual thoughts (not really comfort zones) and think differently. That courage has been demonstrated by numerous poor and uneducated parents who have transformed their kids in brilliant lawyers, doctors and high-caliber professionals.

That courage is found in the heart of little kids who were themselves laborers but spared the required effort to learn and educate themselves. That courage is called Mauritius.

Nation building takes time. Being on our own only since 1968 is a relative short time on the civilization scale. We need to grow, we will make mistakes (and made lots of them), but what is most important is to stay focused on the future. There is so much this country can achieve, through our differences which, when put together, is a formidable reservoir of wealth. How many times have I heard that we do not have natural resources and how many times did I say our resources are our people. We usually fail to recognize the wealth when it is in our possession and linger on ambitions. We have what we need to prosper.

Long live Mauritius !

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Owning a business in Mauritius

What does it take to own and run a business in Mauritius? Let us dig into a non-jargon and down-to-earth article which outlines the pros and cons in an honest way. This is not a glossy page blog where you would expect to read only the glory side of the story. There are definite advantages in setting-up business on this tiny island. Mauritius has embarked itself on an ambitious strategy, that of playing forefront roles in regional (and why not, international) business and trade exchanges.

The island has signed numerous agreements and is member of several trade & cooperation networks. The objective is to stand as a ‘connected’ jurisdiction, linked with other major countries and zones, for the ultimate benefit of businesses registered and domiciled here. Infrastructure and connectivity have acknowledged massive upgrades through significant investment (and effort) to sustain its ambition. The legal framework, as well, has been addressed in a way to facilitate business creation and investment, particularly non-Mauritian ventures. A specific law, the Business Facilitation Act 2001, is evocative in name. You will find all sorts of documentations and brochures online and offline telling you why this country is perfect for business. It is not! No one is.

No one really talks about the difficulties of owning and running a business in Mauritius

The cultural parameter

If you have not read our previous article entitled ‘The ethnic and cultural base of Mauritius’, I would advise you to first have a read there and come back. It is important to understand the cultural composition of the population. They will be your business partners, managers and employees. Other stakeholders stand as much important in the line, and there is a definite need for a non-Mauritian investor to understand all the parameters involved. It would first avoid the loss of time and money going on a trial-and-error route. One of the biggest mistakes is assuming that your winning business (and business-model) can repeat the same performances here. 

Each country has its specifics, but Mauritius has another complexity, the multi-cultural composition of its population. This not only reflects on market behavior (external factor) but also in people management (internal factor). Both your offering and your operations will need to be adjusted to local realities, habits, behavior and culture. If this is neglected or ignored, then the chances of success are bleak, if not, non-existent.

Basically, you are addressing a melting-pot of all world cultures, anchored in many cases in ancestral traditions and religious beliefs. In a restaurant business, just to illustrate, you won’t attract too many Muslims if your business is not Halal certified. Pork removes you from the list. You might have a chance if you have different kitchen handling non-Islamic items. The Hindu community will avoid beef generally. Same as in Muslim beliefs, they would prefer not mixing beef with other items that they consume. You got it: count the number of kitchens, ovens, utensils and other equipment that you would require to satisfy everybody… and maximize market reach.

You must be upfront with it, else your name will be published everywhere with the word ‘BEWARE’ and your brand gets a bad name.

True that the younger generations tend to be more tolerant, but that still reduces your market reach.  Reducing your market, in an already tiny place is not the best scenario to deal with.

Operational-wise, count at least one public holiday for each religious community on the island. That makes around 13 days off per year, added to the law-prescribed leaves (annual, sick, study, maternity, paternity, etc.). Muslims get a 2 hour off (between noon to 2pm) every Friday to attend to prayers. There’s just so many elements based on the cultural parameter that one needs to factor in while planning to set-up business in Mauritius.

Legal set-ups and permits

The first, and probably the easiest phase, is to register the legal entity which will host and operate your business. This is basically an online operation that can be done through the interface of a registered firm, or by yourselves. Doing it on your own takes a bit more time since you will need to first create an account on the platform. I’ve seen many trying and then finally renouncing. 

There are not many structures to choose from, but this does not really mean restricted choices. The Law has been designed in such a way as to provide a versatile structure, which can be accommodated with additional ‘trading’ licenses as required by the business. We have addressed legal structures in previous articles, if you want to explore this line deeper.

Certain businesses require specific licenses when operating from regulated activities. These are subject to precise and strict conditions. For instance, businesses operating tourism activities, gaming and betting houses, banking and insurance, financial services and similar. The conditions may include limitation of non-Mauritian shareholding, validation of business premises, qualification of office bearers, financial guarantees and others.

Opening a bank account

This is a headache! You need to accept the fact that banks treat you as a suspect rather than a new client. Understandable that banks are very strict (that’s what they claim) but it all comes from their complacency for offshore businesses which contributed to put Mauritius under the Grey and Blacklists of doubtful jurisdictions. This classification, we all know, stems from financial transactions in the offshore sector of the island, brewing billions of dollars. And when we refer to money, the banks’ involvement cannot be denied. These days banks are playing the game of prophets, showing that they have been hyper compliant all the time, the bill is most of the time handed to simple and honest domestic companies.

While opening an account, you will scratch your hair, make no mistake. Beyond the list of documents, you will hit yourself against ghost committees taking an eternity to decide whether or not to open a bank account for you.

You can read more about this phenomenon on

Management companies & pseudo ‘expatriate’ experts

The introduction of Business Facilitation Act led to the sprouting of a new kind of experts on the island. It became so easy to register businesses and many found themselves a cow to milk. Charging hefty fees to foreigners for just form-filling and a couple of emails to the authorities. Real competences show themselves in difficult cases and there many of these pseudo-experts failed.

A second phenomenon was the appearance of expatriates who claim to be experts in Mauritius life and business areas. While they themselves are dependent on a residence permit, they advise their fellow countrymen on business creation and relocation projects, depriving local professionals from a certain source of income. It does not take long to uncover incompetence here. In fact, it is just about the money, not the service. With the popularity of social media, many of these experts have flooded the space, sometimes copying textually the contents of established firms or even sneaking their ‘Inbox me’ invitations. The joke ends when we come to strategy definition, restructuring or addressing the cultural diversity and DNA of Mauritian society. This is where so-called non-Mauritian experts in Mauritian life fail.

You can read about the dangers of social media experts here

and about the phenomenon of ready-made experts

Employing Mauritians

The local labor market is a concern. Some call it a mismatch between the offer and the supply, others come with theories of generation (X, Y, Z, Millennials, etc.) and some others throw their university research on the table. The conclusions all lead to one and same element: there are shortcomings in every sector. Do not be surprised if your Mauritian employees master their rights more than their jobs. Most (not to say all) perfectly master the subject of employment laws and these laws are more about employee protection than anything else.

In case of dispute, and if you are a non-Mauritian, you’ll surely learn that your employee is a close relative of the Prime Minister (all Mauritians are) and that you might be deported from the country at any time. I am not being negative here but just warning that such words are not to be taken seriously, but you will hear them.

The population is highly educated and has that famous bilingual aptitude where English & French are written and spoken without any problem. If you are targeting an international business, the local competence will not deceive you. What may deceive it is the attitude, but then isn’t this universal?

Young Mauritians, graduates or not, prefer sitting at home and waiting for the ideal job. There’s no absolute social or peer pressure to leave parents’ home to seek independence. Youngsters are fed and housed by their parents as long as needed, and many a times, even after marriage. That lack of urgency, which is cultural, creates a slow reacting population and probably plays on the ambitiousness of people. This is a tiny island, parents or relatives are always two steps close, and again, this removes all sense of obligatory independence that you will find in big cities. No surprise that your employee might have abandoned his job without informing you.

You are the one to call and inquire whether the prince or princess will honor you with his/her presence at work.

The above are among the reasons why so many expatriates are present on the island, and in different sectors and hierarchy. Manual works (construction and textiles. for instance) are handled by foreigners. You will also find many Indians and Nepalese in restaurants around the island. Hotels are now trying to lobby with Government for permission to recruit around 25% of their personnel from abroad, but nothing is won yet.

Mauritians are very selective in their choice of job; they will wait the perfect one which matches their auto-proclaimed qualities. They are also the first ones to frown at the increasing number of expatriates taking jobs they have let down.

To get the best out of your local employees, you need to have a properly defined framework, one which focuses more on the human side. Excessive pampering does not guarantee any results, and anyway, businesses are not created for that purpose. Employers need to factor in the cultural diversity and make an effort to understand the local specificity.

Mauritian time

This is an island; time is only now positioning itself as an important element of life. It was there in older generations, but then the new wave of Emo-kids and other more sensitive-minded people came in with their ‘mystic’, ‘free-flow’ and ‘Tarzan boy’ mindset. The world is an open space, we are the winds, and we flow when and where we want. There was a time when this attitude was awful, but glad to note that is of lesser importance these days. All parties, almost, have walked mid-way to each other and reduced the gap between expectations and reality.

Nonetheless, punctuality has not been fully addressed and I do not think it will ever be. Island lifestyle makes it difficult to adjust the internal clocks of people. It is better to work with it. Excuses will be many, you will have to smile at them. This applies not only to work situations, but also for meetings whether formal or informal.

The best way to address this is to understand that you will probably never be able to correct it. Embrace it. Inform clearly when it goes overboard. In my personal situation, I tend not to bother myself with it if it does not affect productivity and quality of work.

Too good to say ‘No’

We have not learnt to say ‘No’. Therefore, please do not take all ‘yes’ for a ‘yes’.  Nothing is impossible, during conversations. But when comes the time to deliver, your angle will vanish and will not answer your calls – will see you again, next time, with a very dramatic excuse (add tears for the most talented ones). There’s a saying in Mauritius: Cats do not drink hot milk twice. You will be wiser to decode body language and understand when a ‘yes’ is a ‘no’. This is not really about dishonesty but the incapacity of Mauritian to displease when their help is requested. You will find this element in every sphere: business, work and social.

Here’s a glimpse of that famous Mauritian way

The end-word

I can write books with several volumes about Mauritian culture. It is a passion on its own and probably that’s the reason behind specializing around relocation to Mauritius, my country. It might sound negative in tone, but it is rather honest. It has always been on our minds to showcase the island’s backstage as it is. There is no intention to aggressively sell the services and thus an obligation to present only a distorted all-pink scenario.

Feel free to contact us for more ‘behind the curtain’ information.

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

The ethnic and cultural base of Mauritius

Mauritius is known for its cultural diversity, living in peace and harmony. The population is composed of diverse ethnic groups, religions and beliefs originating from all corners of the world. Mauritians live their difference, and this, makes their wealth. This article aims to provide you with an insight into the ethnic base of Mauritius and will help you better understand (and appreciate) the island life.

First, we all know that differences create frictions. The island is no exception. From time to time, the differences are highlighted, a small group will waive their flag claiming a certain attention to their specificities. But fortunately, this has not gone beyond limits. We all understand that sharing a small piece of rock on the Indian Ocean does not vouch for unnecessary tug-of-war. Over the years the Mauritians have blended into a unique pot-pourri of culture, mixing everybody into one identity. This is present in almost all segments of our culture: music, language, food, and fashion, to name a few. Every non-Mauritian willing to relocate to the island needs to understand the ethnic base, as this is not a straight-forward element.

On the outset, the island was uninhabited, just a dense forest lying peacefully amidst the Indian Ocean. Discovered, probably accidentally, by Arabs sailors, but abandoned soon after since no interesting resources where to be found. The Dutch were the first to settle-down seriously. The ruins of their first constructions, which are still visible in the Vieux Grand Port area (south), witnesses the start of civil life on the island. Mauritius was named after the Dutch prince, Mauritz de Nassau; deeply rooting Dutch into our DNA. Curiously, this almost forgotten.

Colonization, as was common and acceptable in those years, was the foundation of development. The French and British, each on their turn, built Mauritius. The island, due to its strategic location, was useful to slaves’ trade and trade in general, linking Asia, Africa and Europe through the maritime trade routes. Slave masters, as well as slaves, naturally left a descendance which now composes a large part of the island’s population. Following abolition of slavery, indentured laborers were imported from India to work the sugarcane fields. During that same era, Chinese traders started their migration and set-up the first shops. The descendance from these early settlers makes the ethnic configuration, visible today.

Colons were, of course, owners of lands, given to them through concessions by ruling island administrators. Ownership was transmitted through generations, making the descendants the biggest landowners to date. What cannot be argued, and is not, is the effort, intelligence and efficacy that the early beneficiaries of land concessions demonstrated. The success of our sugar industry is based on their investment and management skills. The tea industry rested on the same model, albeit at a lower scale. The shifting of economic pillar from agriculture to tourism, starting late 70s and early 80s, provided with the sugar barons with an opportunity to further develop their lands. Many had beachfront properties, now occupied by the most sumptuous hotels of the island. Overtime, lands situated inland also became of prime value, through developments of Shopping malls, new luxury residential estates, including PDS schemes which are accessible to foreign acquisition. The economic power has long been under the hands of this segment of the population. They own most of the Top 100 organizations (and business conglomerates), many of which are historically present from the later days of colonization.  This part of the population mostly descends from French lineage and is usually referred to as Franco-Mauritians. They are probably the most reluctant when it comes to blending with other population segments. But with access to education, evolution and changing socio-economic environment, things are evolving. It is possible, today, to have a business partnership with a Franco-Mauritian, 20 years back was a different story.

What is interesting to note is that this concentration of wealth was never an issue for Mauritians of other ethnic origins. It was known and acceptable that the Franco-Mauritian was deserved masters and that they have been at the base of the island’s development. Previous generations fully embraced the fact but, unfortunately, also imprisoned themselves into a complex of inferiority. My Grandfather, even if he was the king of the tribe at home, always addressed his employers, even in their absence, as ‘Sir’ (Missié in Creole).

This complex of inferiority was further sustained and, to some extent, visible in the tourism industry. The first tourists were from Europe, therefore ethnically related to the Franco-Mauritians. Again, the average Mauritian was seduced, under full admiration of people who were able to take a plane and land here and afford hotels proposing a heavenly lifestyle. A lifestyle that was inaccessible to most. To have access to hotels, during these times, was a matter of pride, a story to tell your family, your neighbors and everyone you knew. It was nothing less than being invited by Her Majesty the Queen for a short stay at Buckingham Palace.

This is not racism, but facts. You surely now understand why Mauritians have long been acclaimed for the warmth of their welcome and their sense of hospitality, the foundation of tourism.

Free education helping, the future generations evolved to newer dimensions. They started travelling.  The most brilliant ones studying abroad and getting an exposure to unknown worlds. Political power, as compared to economic power, was in the hands of descendants of indentured laborers. Probably inspired by the history of India and its fight for independence, those from Indian ethnics (Hindus, Muslims, Tamouls and others) campaigned for the sovereignty of Mauritius. We got independence in 1968. The political power was thus conferred to this segment of the population. You will probably be surprised to learn that even today, the prime minister position is only accessible to a Hindu, of a certain caste. Everybody is morally against, or maybe vocally against, but the system is such and there is no sign it will change soon. It is deeply rooted in our culture, generally and universally accepted. Economic and political powers have always operated in a quasi-synergy, with the ultimate objective to progress. We have made impressive progress over the years; therefore we would tend to agree that the system worked.

And we have been living in perfect harmony !

For me, personally, the most adorable community is the Chinese one. Discrete, togetherness and intelligent. The Chinese shop in every town and village has been the backbone of lifestyle improvement over the years. Credit facilities, variety of products, everything was there to make life easier. The innate shopkeepers the ancient generations were, made it possible to keep pace with fast-paced human evolution. Today, the Chinese community holds probably the best retail businesses on the island. From hypermarkets, premium car dealership and even textiles, they’ve made their way to an impressive development. Very much respected, the Chinese have kept themselves away from political turmoil and never participated in any unrest or undesirable scenario.

Muslims, just to jump on a trendy subject, are present in a significant proportion. They are from Indian descendance, not from Middle East or North-African origin. You will see mosques (as much as you will see Hindu temples and churches) round the island. The call of the Muezzin is heard five times a day, disturbing some but most of us are used to it. I recall my non-Muslim acquaintances who would welcome the morning prayer call as their alarm clock. I also recall how beautifully one Christian neighbor said it was beautiful to be woken up everyday by the name of God. We do not have major radicalism trends, not to the extent that it affects the peace. As in every religion or ethnic group, there are claims here and there.

But at the end we all know we are living in a laic country and the word of law is what prevails. Everyone has got a least one public holiday dedicated to its religious festivities, and we are so mixed that we celebrate each other.

Descendants from African countries were basically from slave ancestry and have been relegated to lower scale of the demographic configuration. Exclusion has been a word very often used. They were discriminated, that’s a fact. True also that discrimination is a new word. Not a lie to say that Afro-origin people have long been treated as second class citizens around the world. They have fought their way to recognition, beautifully. This community has played an essential role for Mauritius. They carried bags of rice, sugar and other commodities on their bare backs to load and unload ships and lorries; they fed the whole island through their blood and sweat. Without them, and in the absence of machines at that time, I cannot see how we would have completed the logistic chain. Many also were (and are) fishermen, from generation to generation. Braving the sun, the tides and weather upsets to bring food to their tables and allowing us enjoy the treasures of our ocean. Tribute to those who lost their lives (and their loved ones) to the sea.

These well-built men, inheriting DNA from their slave ancestors, have been kept away from economic development for far too long. 

Again, with free education, introduced by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (father of the nation), allowed many from the Afro-Mauritian community to escape from the dungeons of exclusion. With the introduction of machines, and industrialization, the logistic system no longer required such manpower. Evolution was an issue of survival, and how well they are doing it. I say, they ‘are’ doing it, because it will take several generations more to fill the gap. You will still see this community handling all iron-man professions; masons on construction sites, manual works, fishing (usually in small embarkations), and similar.

Physical strength is always an asset for sports; and here, make no mistake. Afro-Mauritian community shines at every level and take our flags waving all around the world. Boxing (Olympic medals), Kick-boxing (World Champions), athletics, football… you name it!

Now, surely, you can appreciate the value of the Mauritian population. Living in peace and harmony despite the socio-economic configuration which was imposed on us through history.  This is probably the only country where a meeting is held entirely in Creole (our local dialect) mixed with French, while the minute of the meeting is documented in English. Did I say that the meeting probably started with greetings in Indian language!?

Politics, as always, is the only disrupting factor, trying to divide and rule. Electoral campaigns usually stink of racism, attempting each time, but failing everytime to amplify the ethnic differences. For a short span of time, some fall into the trap but the majority stand firm on our common values.

It is never easy to write about ethnicity, more so in a country where it is so diverse. It is easily assimilated to racism. But I am among those who believe in telling the exact history, however unpleasant or politically incorrect it is. In any case, this is what makes Mauritius beautiful. 

And I would hope you are more in love with the island now.

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Is it really interesting to invest in Mauritius?

The reputation of Mauritius as a world-class tourist destination is not questionable. Mauritians’ sense of hospitality is legendary and is the foundation of the success of tourism industry. The excuse of innovation and development gradually eroded the authenticity of the destination, creeping slowly over the lush vegetation and the natural warmth of the population, replacing them with a business-oriented environment. We all know that, under the excuse of Eco-tourism, we are now heading inland with more and more touristic establishments in mountain slopes and sugar cane fields. But the real deal is that our turquoise lagoons and beaches are exhausted; no more left for hotels. Well, sorry for this introduction, but it had to be said by someone. Let us get to the real subject matter.

Between tourism and business (or a new home), the difference is massive. The island is not a total paradise. There are dangers and red-lines that one should not cross. Not that the island is hostile, but it is not to be taken as an under-developed country where people are naïve. Nothing to conquer here, anymore. Gone are the days when a non-Mauritian would attract all attention (and care) by just announcing a stupid idea as brilliant. Today, we are (almost) at par with developed countries. If you really have a brilliant idea, it will be appreciated to what it is worth. 

You are no longer able to seduce anybody unless your project brings real value in terms of investment and/or competence. Humility is the key word. 

Official documentation and websites probably show a different perspective than what is mentioned above. There are different investment and residency schemes that lead to believe that Mauritius has everything to offer. The Business Facilitation Act, as evocative as a name could be, was enacted in 2001 together a new Companies Act and the creation of Economic Development Board (then named Board of Investment) to purposely trigger foreign investment and immigration. The country operates a selective immigration strategy which is based on capital (money) or competence. Residency schemes are based on a 10-year residence, renewable indefinitely as long as the holder meets the required revenue requirements. Such schemes include residency for spouse, children and direct parents of the main permit holder. Interesting !

To qualify for an Investor occupation permit, for example, one needs to show an investment of at least USD50,000 and propose a business that can earn at least MUR4 million as annual turnover as from the third anniversary of the residency permit. To get a residency permit based on employment, applicants need to be recruited by a locally registered entity, offering a monthly salary of not less than Rs60,000 (Rs30,000 if in IT sector). Self-employed are categorized as those in liberal professions (Doctors, lawyers, consultants, etc.) who are able to show an investment of USD35,000 and generate revenues of Rs800,000 for each of first two years ; and thereafter Rs1,200,000 per year. Retired permits are for those aged 50 or more and capable of transferring at least USD18,000 annually for their own (and family) living expenses. As you can see, all is well defined and operated by the Economic Development Board (EDB), under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Passport & Immigration Office.

The technical part as laid out above is not the only factor to be considered in a relocation project.

The real question is: what does the island offer in terms of life, business or employment experience?What life (or business) experience does Mauritius offers. What does it offer as more interesting than your actual life?

All is a matter of expectations. There is a need to shake-off the tourist mind that probably gives the first impression. Living and holidaying are two different things. No country is perfect. Bear in mind that expatriation or relocation implies losing (a large) part of acquired habits, culture and way of life. Understanding this crucial element helps. One cannot aspire to his/her usual life while relocating to a different country. Adaptability is key.

In Mauritius, nothing is won before a race.

There is a large amount of effort, patience and perseverance required to attain any objective. Even if the idea is brilliant, one still needs to walk the maize, race the offices and obey to all conditions. Time frame: do not even ask for that ; it will happen, just know this. An advice that I always give : adjust your biological and psychological clock.

We are an island.  Pro activeness is still a very vague word. No news does not mean good news though. You can understand that a process is well directed, nearing a positive conclusion and then you get a negative response, without any explication. Now chase the explanation.

The easiest procedure is probably incorporation of a company. Most of the procedure is online based, with user-friendly interface. However, once you embark on it, many untold stories will reveal themselves, triggering the most nail-biting and frustrating experience. This, then becomes your first glimpse into the ‘published’ and the ‘real’ sides of things. The type of documents to upload, the format, fields to fill-in, generate forms from the system and re-uploading them; it might take you days to get it right. In between, hardly anyone at the other end of your phone calls or emails requesting assistance.

Once the company is registered, the next step would be opening a bank account. This Mission Impossible would make Tom Cruise blush. First thing to understand: you are a suspect, not a potential client. Over and above documents in a certain specific format and content (even if not available in your country), and several delicate questions pertaining to your personal life , you are not guaranteed a positive outcome. More often the answer is ‘Our committee is considering your application’. The ‘committee’ is a ghost no one has seen. While you wait for months, no one will ever inform you of precise issues (if there were). If you are lucky, you will have a bank account at the end of the wait, else a blunt refusal with no other explanations. I have written several articles on this subject. The bank account is an inevitable step required for business and relocation project. Residency permits (except employment permits) require the transfer of funds to Mauritius. Most banks seem not to understand this. Some even require the residency permit to open account, while a permit requires the account to be opened and funded. Each bank has its own banking law….

Now that the above stages are completed, the business is ready to operate. The curtain will be lifted to another experience: the work culture of Mauritians. Good to note that there is no Employment law, but Employee rights law. Employee is favored over employment. Based on this you can expect any employee to use all his/her sick leaves for the year as this is rather assimilated to an unexpected leave without necessity to give prior notice to the employer. An employee is often more documented and versed in laws. More so, many of them are either acquainted to a labor inspector or have close relationship through previous incidents. If you are a non-Mauritian, expect threats like deportation. These are realities one must deal with. Not surprising to see so many expatriates on the island. In certain restaurants, Mauritians are not visible as employees. Bangladeshis and Nepalese have crowded the place. It is not only a matter of salaries or work conditions (as often vouched by Trade unionists, stuck in the nostalgia of the 80s era). We cannot generalize but can say this is more or less the general situation.

This is also the reason why so many employers are now hiring external HR and management offices to handle their affairs, as compared to having an internal department for these issues (HR, accounting, management, etc.). External offices are specialized professionals operating with their own team (therefore more resources), avoiding internal conflict of interest and complicity.

On other side, Mauritians are highly educated in formal sectors such as finance, wealth management, legal, insurance, banking, technology, engineering and communications – to name a few. There is an immense pool of expertise, backed up by years of local and international experience. This might probably explain the evolution of the island in these sectors, which are new as strategic economic development. The transformation from an agriculture-based economy to these sectors is eloquent. We successively and successfully moved from sugarcane production, to tourism, then textiles and Free-port, followed by ICT, financial services and continuing the evolution to keep pace with the changing global economic parameters. Not to neglect: we are all bilingual, at minimum both written and spoken.

Connectivity is not questionable as flights, maritime lines or communication are all properly established and operating. We are hyper connected to the world! This is a considerable advantage for those engaged on international business scene. Add to this, the absence of foreign exchange control, meaning that money is freely moveable albeit with proper observation of applicable rules and regulations. There are different legislation which provide the appropriate legal framework. International commerce and business are also favored by the modern infrastructure available through the port (and Freeport zone) catering for a world-class warehousing and handling of goods. The biggest names are on the island : Maersk, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, and others.

The island has given itself the means to reach its objective, that of playing leading roles in international commercial exchanges. The results are here.

In contrast, the domestic market is quite limited in size. With a population nearing 1,200,000 heads, it is difficult to envisage a large size business in the retail environment. Mid or small size businesses can easily sustain their presence if they have a focused strategy, adapted to the realities of the domestic market. Some have been very successful while many others have crashed. Mr Price, Game and even Sir Richard Branson could not survive here.

I can write an Encyclopedia on Mauritius, but I’ll limit myself to this article, hoping that it gives an insight into the various untold stories. Despite this being my core business, I do not aggressively sell Mauritius as your ideal destination. At Gibson & Hills we prefer to tell you truths (even the bitter ones) so you are prepared to take the final leap ; and if you do, we will be here to hold your hands.

So yes, it is interesting to invest in Mauritius, but you need to prepare yourself financially, morally and physically. Consult and take professional advice where you can.

(c) http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Local professionals v/s opportunists

With the flux of immigration from South Africa, many non-Mauritians have opened their own practice, claiming an A-Z knowledge of island life.  Others are linked with real estate agencies, selling high-priced but low-quality properties to foreigners – many claiming that this is the only way towards residence permits (FALSE, of course!). I am not being discriminating here, but fact is that most of such operators are from South Africa themselves. These operators, if there’s one thing they understand more than others, is the desperation of their fellow countrymen and their willingness to move to a better place.

I was wondering why someone claiming to be an expert in finance and business administration would settle in Mauritius. The market size is incomparable to South Africa. This probably reflects the failure to sustain business in their homeland. I would think so. More plausible is that relocating to Mauritius and proposing relocation to others is very lucrative as it plays on emotions they know well.

It is getting increasingly frustrating to see so many of these pseudo relocation firms (experts in island life after living here for 5 to 10 years) eating from the (smaller) plates of local professionals. I’ve mentioned it before, a country opens its borders not because it is an asylum but because it proposes an economic model that should drive business, which implies providing locals with more business opportunities.

There is something wrong in allowing non-Mauritians to operate certain activities that deprive locals of opportunities and growth potential. I am not being xenophobic but simply wondering why such professions are not protected, in the same manner than tourism is. For instance, a non-Mauritian can only operate a tourism license business on specific criteria (including minimum investment).

Mauritian accountants, lawyers and business managers are from strict curriculum and very structured training systems. Many are from prestigious schools in Europe, USA or from Asian countries. This is not achievable unless heavy investment in terms of finance, sweat and intelligence are put together by whole families. Their share of the cake is reduced with unqualified people jumping on the island and claiming expertise in Mauritian life. Thousands of graduates are on the market after studies. Many of those studying abroad do not return because of lack of opportunities. And we keep wondering why these youngsters are not coming back to serve their country?

There is no point, also, in eliminating legitimate non-Mauritian expertise. However, a set of conditions should be imposed to sift real professionals from opportunity sharks. I am referring particularly to those advocating expertise in relocation to Mauritius. Firstly, because I have spent more than 27 years in this area. Secondly because I see so many frustrated qualified accountants, lawyers and business specialists losing opportunities.

I can also fairly say that this is happening in different industries: hair and beauty, education and training, home repair works (plumbing and electricity), etc. Small local operators are being crushed.

We can argue, at some point, that there is a lack of structured expertise on the island and the need for foreign ones are felt. However, this cannot be generalized. If not given the right attention, this situation will cause a xenophobic explosion.

It is time now to provide a real structured plan (and strategy) that shall govern the presence of non-Mauritian expertise in areas where Mauritians are known to excel. Conditions should be clearly defined, allowing a healthy competition on the marketplace. Local expertise should be valued. There’s no point creating a Diaspora scheme to attract Mauritian professionals back to their island if their share is not protected.

The Economic Development Board has a major role to play in setting-out the appropriate framework. It is not about restricting foreign direct investment, but that of protecting local businesses which are legitimate beneficiaries of any open-border economic policies. Restrictions can be in the form of minimum performance obligations, minimum investment (beyond that imposed under Investor permits), Mauritian directorship / shareholding and imposed quota on the employment of local professionals.

It is probably high time that local professionals join themselves into an association to showcase their situations and present recommendations to competent authorities.

I am sure that this article will trigger numerous reactions, not only positives. But on the other side, I see a dangerous curve ahead. Should we not tackle this promptly, the situation will escalate to uncontrollable dimensions ; and then, there is no point in asking our people to return to the island after their studies. There is no point to operate a Diaspora scheme. Let the brain drain continue.

http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Professional advice v/s Social media

Social media is the God of communication, so anchored in our lives that most of us use it as our sole source of information. Unquestionable trust: what’s written there is the absolute truth for many. Under the banner of freedom of expression, anything and everything can be said. The danger lies, however, in reading bogus professional advice from non-qualified people. This phenomenon has affected all areas of expertise irrespective; medical, political, financial, intellectual … you name it ! There’s also the facility with which people claim to be expert in a relevant field; many even selling Masterclasses (the new trend) or auto-proclaiming themselves Gurus in, for example, Public speaking, Sales, Marketing, Life / Business Coach. I could have written a whole blog just listing the pseudo-experts here but let me stick to my profession and tell you how social media affected it.

Some days ago, a client sent me a nicely drawn spreadsheet. On one side were the advice I gave to him and, in a comparative column, the information that he sourced by his own means. Of course, there were differences. After several emails explaining to him my suggestions, he finally revealed that he got his information on Facebook, through comments and posts by other people. The client seemed more appreciative of such content, despite it not being related to his case, his scenario and his objective.  What most bothered me what the ‘confrontation’ attitude that the person took against me and the way my ability was questioned. Thank God, after detailing each piece of advice, he finally put everything into context and realized that Facebook it not a professional office.

Business set-up, management and immigration services have been my specialty over the last 25 years. Unfortunately, these days people like me are the ones to be questioned and frowned at because some Tom, Dick and Harry on social media has written something different. It is getting ridiculous with all sorts of special groups appearing almost every day. Most of these are trying to make money, selling something or another; and when it comes to intangibles (service, advice, etc.) it is even easier as there cannot be a return if defective policy and no material proof of defect. Many of these operate without a license. In many cases, the idea of having a Facebook business is to reduce cost and hassle of licensing, reporting and accountability.

The dangers in relying on this type of information to set-up your business or move your family to another country are real. It is not simply about the money you may lose, but the stress you put your loved ones into. A professional office has, besides expertise, the experience of long years of service treating different scenarios (business and family) – and can create a global solution from different set-pieces. It has a duty to report and deliver, without any curtains as those behind Facebook groups enjoy. A defaulting group may just close and vanish, not an office which has a reputation, staff members and a business to sustain.

While many provide honest feedback on their experience, these do not constitute professional advice in essence. Same applies to opinions. These relate mostly to one specific circumstance applicable to one particular subject (person or business). Copying and pasting such content to a different situation is a risky business. This is the reason why professionals offer consultancy services. There is a need to assess every single case and provide advice / service based on observations and findings gathered during consultation. If there was one global solution, consultation would not have existed.

Information should be treated in context, and this includes evaluating the sources, considering the basis of it and finally, double-checking the veracity.

It might be useful to note that at Gibson & Hills, advice and consultation have always been free of charge. We are available on almost every communication platform (and social media). Feel free to run any piece of information by us.

http://www.gibsonandhills.com

Budget speech 2022

The Minister of Finance is expected to deliver his annual budget speech this afternoon of 7 June 2022. This exercise is a national hobby and will slow down the island life for anything about 2 or 3 hours. I remember my dad silencing almost the whole village and sitting down with his notebook. This is a life changing thing, broadcasted on national TV and all radio stations. The seriousness is enhanced by the usual bunch of experts on each media set; translating, analyzing and commenting (in a deep toned voice) every word uttered by the Minister. For some years now, we even have a fashion police that decrypts the dress of people entering the Parliament House for this utterly sacred ceremony.

Many Mauritians are experts in prediction and pre-event analysis. Take any subject you want : finance, politics, sports… anything. Many can even deliver the speech before the Minister does ! This is the colorful tradition of the island, we love talking and mostly predict things so we can say we were first to say it. Nothing bad in it if not taken seriously. It is so enjoyable to meet those who made right predictions and smile at those who, desperately, try to explain why their predictions went wrong. In any case, you have it right, the island will have its cardiac rhythm slowed down for some hours today. Shall I say a total eclipse of the heart !

In the current context, we are all curious to see what the Honorable Dr Padayatchy will announce. We are navigating trouble waters and there are two ways to consider things : we keep rowing for now without drastically changing anything or we take the plunge into a make or break situation. I would rather go for the first option. Sorry, I’m sliding into the prediction game.

What expatriates or non-Mauritians have to look out for : possible changes in expatriation / immigration rules, changes to personal and business tax rules, business related regulations and similar amendments.

We will, of course, provide our readers with the major highlights and list all measures that are likely to affect our life, personal or business.

In meantime, do yourselves a favor : buy some snacks and drinks. Make yourself comfortable and enjoy the show.

http://www.gibsonandhills.com

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