Can the tourism sector re-write the destiny of Mauritius in a lasting Glocal Pandemic context?
A baby is born after 9 long months of gestation in the mother’s womb. And it comes to life only after a painful delivery. It is known that delivery pain is one of the highest degree of pain that exists and we have all gone through it to be tasting the sweetness of life, though it has become a bit bitter since Covid has been ravaging the Globe.
All countries have been impacted with this neverheard-of-before crisis of glocal proportions. Though some countries are now starting to gradually master its contours, others like India are deeply entrenched in a downward spiral. Political pro-activeness backed by demographic compliance to sanitary safety standards, it seems, may be a major determinant to get out of it with less casualties.
Mauritius is going through a major crisis. This government is facing one of the toughest challenges that no other past government has had to ever face. Analysts, professionals, as well as laymen are confused as to what sets of solutions are the best. Everyone has the miracle recipe! The political class is divided as never before. For the first time in the history since Independence, massive funds have had to be extracted from the Bank of Mauritius to salvage the economy with precious aid ailing sectors by supporting major conglomerates, providing wage assistance schemes, supporting self-employed and coming up with a number of relief measures.
We have also been sliding on a number of parameters on the international arena with quasi-irreversible scenarios unless we take the bulls by the horns, NOW. The Wakashio marine ecological disaster, the EU blacklisting of our jurisdiction, chronic institutional weaknesses, mounting international debts, increased budget deficits due to ever-increasing public spending, dramatic falls in foreign exchange, dependence on imports, food security issues, proliferation of drug addiction, and political instability – are seriously putting at danger our Mauritius Brand.
These very painful realities can only remind us that a better existence is waiting for us if we can put our acts together, forget our petty differences and focus on our National Brand-building process, the very reason of our existence and the greatest asset that is owned by ALL of us. Like the baby still in the womb, let us condition ourselves for a very painful re-birth that will allow us to re-invent ourselves. I do not think we have much of a choice…
The recent call for international and local bidders to participate in the Mauritius destination branding strategy is a strong signal from the GM that the most ailing sector is our cherished Tourism Industry and is indeed a priority if we want to ignite back our value creation engine and surf on the waves of this deep crisis. Since Independence, 53 years ago, we have all been patiently building this sector as a privileged and high-priced destination, reaping us precious reputation, an inflow of foreign exchange and creating employment while allowing a strong strategic sector to take shape. Today this sector is down.
We are in the same and unique boat, and we cannot jump off board without risking to be swallowed by the waves of this lasting and threatening storm. The future lies in urgently building our Nation Brand with a strategic perspective, transcending political or governmental differences. Mauritius matters and should be at the heart of all our concerns.
As a brand strategist who has been initiating Nation Branding with late Wally Olins, considered as a world authority in the subject matter, I was privileged to meet the leaders of all economic sectors (Sugar, Offshore, BOI, Freeport, etc.) as early as year 2000 and explain them how we should transit rapidly from fragmented ‘sectoral’ marketing (each sector marketing its own ‘tree’) to a Country Branding Platform where we ALL market the same FOREST! We made it in 2013, with limited success but we tried hard and were on the learning curve. Now the context is different and the issues (enjeux) represent high stakes. “Nous n’avons pas le droit à l’erreur”, I would be tempted to share as a statement, and we are today adults!
With this bid exercise initiated by the Ministry of Tourism/ MTPA, our Gates to our Future are starting to get opened. With the uncertain conditions that will still prevail over the coming years across all economic sectors, Tourism is leading the way and we should follow. If we manage to open the frontiers with the most stringent sanitary standards, the Tourism Gate is strongly poised to potentially feed all the other sectors and initiate this re-birth process. From a strategic perspective, this démarche makes much sense for me. If properly executed, with the right methodology and delivered by specialists with proper expertise, the Mauritius Destination brand can, at best, lead the way and drive all other components of the Mauritius Composite Brand. It’s just a question of formulating the optimal strategy.
“IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE THAT THE DESTINATION COMPONENT OF OUR COUNTRY BRAND LEADS THE WAY TO NATION BRANDING”
Let us not also forget that in the word Destination, we have the word Nation already embedded. So it makes perfect sense that the destination component of our Country Brand leads the way to Nation Branding. It is equally important not to confuse Branding and Marketing. Actually in line with latest academic literature in the field, Place Branding is emerging as an overarching concept to cover Nation branding, Destination Branding, with its various components broken down into a Tourism sub-brand, Investment sub-brand and Export subbrand. Place Branding is a supply-side concept dealing with pure brand strategy, while Place Marketing is a demandside notion. Place Branding deals with defining the identity and essence of the Nation Brand while Place Marketing would refer to the promotional and campaign part covering the communications strategy and brand implementation.
But given the economical and historical weight of Tourism in Mauritius in attracting visitors, it makes sense that in the current context, this component drives the process. Anyway a tourist visitor can certainly become a future investor and potential resident!
Based on my rich experience spanning three decades gathered in formulating and implementing complex strategies (whether for re-branding and new brands to be created), I am of the belief that survival in these constrained times depends on the extent to which we can effectively embrace Transformation at all levels. One cornerstone of such a Transformation would be the capability to re-invent our own new normal based on the brand essence of our Nation Brand Entity and then to zoom out on the various components of the Mauritius Brand. We have a number of interesting pillars that can drive Value. Synergy while internal branding remains the Key…
Once the brand essence is found, a comprehensive storytelling should be used across online and offline media to communicate the raison d’être of our brand and attract the right audiences to us. The Nation Branding market is a saturated place with lots of emerging territories competing for attention, tourism, foreign investment and with migration, a safe haven to live. If we do not act now, we will continue lose out in the next months and years, and it might be impossible to catch up!
Are we ready to embrace this Big Picture and start back from Square One? Are we ready to challenge our own thinking and re-invent our organizations and institutions to define these new brandbased norms? Are we ready to re-engineer all our economic sectors on new grounds? Are we ready to shake off our préjugés, on the lines Malcom de Chazal wisely stated it: “À l’île Maurice, nous ne cultivons pas que de la canne à sucre, mais aussi des préjugés.”
Behaviours, values, strategic intents and clearly defined worldviews lie at the core of strong brands. Are we ready to devise a strong Mauritius Brand, together with all the forces of our Nation in a co-creative, inside-out process?
I recall back in 2015, when I was the brand strategist, busy re-branding a 60 year old ICT firm into an agile organization, I shared with the CEO these three core principles that always drive all my re-positioning exercises:
- Le Branding, c’est avant tout oser fixer dans le blanc des yeux Le Branding, c’est de pouvoir trancher dans le vif
- Ton Brand est un être vivant. Tu dois pouvoir le placer sur une chaise (dans le boardroom préférablement), et converser avec lui. Il te dira qui il est. Il faut savoir l’écouter avant tout…
Only the Future will tell us if we deserve a Brand Mauritius that will not only make us Survive but ensure we Thrive on Chaos, and leave a bright and compelling legacy to the next generations.