It sounds terribly glamorous to be going to Mauritius on business. But anybody who has done so knows there is one big drawback — it is simply not conducive to getting much work done.
Not from a lack of infrastructure, with its superb hotels and conference centres, flawless telecoms and internet access, good roads and efficient airport. It is just impossible to work when white beaches are shimmering in the sun and the turquoise ocean is begging to be explored.
The country's department of tourism is working to increase the island's attractiveness to South Africans to offset dwindling visitor numbers from cash-strapped European countries.
To help achieve that, Air Mauritius has lowered its prices, introduced some off-peak discounts and increased the frequency of its flights. Return flights cost from about R5 300 or R7 500 with SAA.
The action came after a harsh assessment by Axys Stockbroking, which said Mauritius has "rested on its laurels" and been oblivious to the fact that its prices were untenable in a world full of competition. Axys said hotels had egotistically borrowed money to build five-star facilities that were now underoccupied.
Since 2013 could be as tough as 2012 for the tourism industry, hotels and travel agents may offer discounts, making this the ideal time to visit. A good tip is to stop at a supermarket after you land to stock up on your favourite tipple. You do not need to be a raving dipsomaniac to run up a bar bill that could feed an entire nation, with resorts charging anything from R70 to R120 for a glass of house wine.
It is not quite so overpriced yet that you need to pack your own sandwiches, but it is not unusual for the cheapest thing on a hotel menu to be a burger for R100. That is the downside of being a captive audience in the swanky beach resorts, which makes staying in the capital of Port Louis more cost-effective, especially because it is also mostly where the business is.
Mauritius is no longer a sleepy little island for rich sunseekers. It is politically and economically stable, peacefully multi-cultural and generally very safe. The banking system is efficient, with no exchange controls, the stock exchange is open to foreign investors, and it has good telecoms services through the SAFE undersea fibre optic cable.
Several new shopping malls and business parks have opened, and English is widely spoken, as well as a Creole-flavoured version of French. Working hours are typically from 8.30am to 4.15pm midweek and 9am to noon on Saturday, with banks open from 9am to 3pm on weekdays.
Mauritius is one of the most welcoming countries in Africa for foreign workers. It is a member of the Southern African Development Community and actively embraces qualified French- or English-speaking professionals to help to boost the economy.
A liberal investment policy encourages entrepreneurs to start business ventures, and the government website (www.gov.mu) says accountants, finance and marketing professionals, architects, investment bankers, business consultants, information technology and multimedia professionals are especially welcome.
Foreigners can apply for an occupation permit to live and work there, either as an investor, a professional or a self-employed person, and their dependents can also reside there.
"Mauritius is a great place to live and the country is open for business," says the Investment Mauritius organisation. "There are various options available for those looking for work, to set up their own business or simply retire."
It is well worth booking a couple of extra days to enjoy some free time when your work is over.
Mauritius is not exactly brimming with tourist attractions, but it is a great place to play, with excellent water sports, hiking and biking and some fine restaurants. The food is exotic mix of Indian, French and Creole, with curries leaning to the sweet and fruity side.
Pineapple pops up everywhere and fish and shellfish are always on the menu. Golfers will love the spectacular ocean views from its eight 18-hole golf courses, including the Gymkhana Club, the fourth oldest course in the world. There are three nine-hole courses if you are tight for time or a lousy golfer.
My favourite day out is to Casela Nature and Leisure Park, which sounds wimpy by Big Five standards, but it is huge fun to ride a quad bike among zebra and buck so tame that they wander over for a closer look. There are zip line rides too.
Another good trip is to Chamarel Distillery, and it is smart to start with lunch at its Alchemy restaurant. This eatery rates as one of the best on the island, with dishes like foie gras and venison, which handily line your stomach against the generous samples you quaff during the guided tour.
Port Louis has grown more sophisticated over the last few years. There is still a lively fruit and vegetable market with an eclectic selection of tourist tat upstairs, including shark jaws and muti stalls selling potions to rev you up, calm you down or knock you out completely. The upmarket Waterfront nearby has designer boutiques, a casino and a few sports bars.
Medical tourism is thriving too, so you can get a nip and tuck or a hair transplant in absolute privacy —although it may be hard to explain to your colleagues why you have been on a business trip and returned with a full head of hair.
Air Mauritius operates direct flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and SAA flies from Johannesburg. The airport, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam — more pronounceably known as Plaisance — is 48km from Port Louis and 70km from Grand Baie. Several car hire companies have offices in the airport and accept South African licences.
Visas and health
No visas or vaccinations are required for South African citizens.
When to go
The weather is hot and humid from December to February. Rainy season is February to March and cyclones are a risk from November to April. From June to September take extra layers of clothes for the cool evenings, or for the vigorously air-conditioned offices and shopping malls. Business attire is smart casual.
Mauritius covers just 2 040km2 and almost everywhere is within an hour's drive from anywhere else, or 90 minutes in rush hour. Taxis are plentiful, but hiring a car is cheaper if you need to travel extensively.
Helpful websites for business travellers include gov.mu, investmauritius.com and worknlive.mu.
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