Interview / Olivier Lajeunesse from Mauritius Golf Tours
Gilbert: This is now the second annual issue of Mauritius, the Emerging Destination Magazine. We note that it’s a bilingual English and French issue … Would you consider the results of the 2017 edition to have been a success; and, why the changes to this issue?
Olivier Lajeunesse: Thanks to the efforts and support of each golf actor on the island, our magazine presents a unique product to world golf tourism. Thanks to awe-inspiring pictures, we’ve been able to make our readers dream of a golfing experience in paradise. Our first issue was indeed a great success, with much positive feedback from both professional and amateur golfers from all over the world. Golf tourists from places like France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxemburg continue to increase, with many of them returning faithfully year after year. With our first issue, we were seeking to present the destination in new markets. This year, we wanted to ensure that we consolidated the relationship with our existing clients in these Francophone countries; hence this bilingual edition.
Gilbert: You have noted that Mauritius is celebrating its 50th Independence Day, and mentioned how the economy has successfully diversified into many sectors, including tourism, especially high-end golf tourism, with the creation of magnificent championship courses, as well as luxury resorts in breathtakingly fantastic locations… Are you personally satisfied with the evolution of golf tourism in particular?
O.L: As a small independent island with few resources, we were obliged as a nation to strive in order to survive. We had little choice but to diversify… Tourism quickly became one of the key pillars of our economy. I believe that it was indeed a smart move by the tourism sector, along with government support, to aim for high-end clients through golf tourism. We have seen the industry continue to develop and grow into offering a very specific product, well beyond tourists seeking a round of golf while on holiday. Nonetheless, just having beautiful golf courses and fantastic resorts isn’t enough to attract the discerning travelling golfer. In order to continue making progress, we need create a complete, unique, and unforgettable golfing experience. Related to that, other sub-sectors have also evolved such as financial
services, real estate, retirement schemes, etc. However, this very diversification may in time become a hindrance when you are trying to refine a luxury product. By trying to add value across the sector, it becomes very easy to lose track of the fact that the golf tourist is a premium class client with clear expectations about the standards of expertise and professionalism he wants to experience. In this area, I believe there is still much room for improvement
Gilbert: In your opinion, what is the missing element, or elements from the international golf tourist’s perspective that would improve what Mauritius can offer?
O.L: Offering quality products, a justified reputation for hospitality, and astonishingly beautiful golfing infrastructure is only half the story… From my perspective, I see two key elements that need to be worked on. As a destination, we need to learn how to receive golf tourists in the way that they expect, in the same way, for example, that a medical tourist expects to have an ambulance waiting at the airport with medical staff on hand. The other area is that Mauritius still suffers from a lack of certified and experienced golf professionals. I’m sure that both these shortcomings will improve over time, but we should not lose sight of its importance if we want to continue to grow our golf tourism numbers. I’m delighted to see
that there is an increasing number of Mauritians completing their PGA certification. This will contribute tremendously to improve and enhance our golf offering.
Gilbert: I am aware that you set up your company, Mauritius Golf Tours (MGT) as a specialist golf Destination Management Company (DMC)… At the time you did this, what did you think needed doing to plug this gap in the market; and today, what do
you think still needs to be done to improve the Mauritius Golf offer on international markets?
O.L: When we created Mauritius Golf Tours, our intention was to provide a real solution to the problems faced by people coming to the island just to play golf. I had spotted that there was a missing link – a dedicated service – that would complement already existing services and infrastructure. Think of it this way: it’s inconceivable for a hotel restaurant to offer a tourist a juicy steak without also offering him red wine at the perfect temperature. Knowing what to do for the golf tourist requires that same kind of specialist knowledge. It’s at this point of need that Mauritius Golf Tours wants to be operating.
Gilbert: You have been known to say that the golf tourist is not like the ‘ordinary’ tourist wanting to spend a week at the beach, soaking up the sun. Obviously, a golfer is by nature of the sport going to be somewhat more active, particularly if he opts to visit a number of courses across the island… What does MGT offer that is exclusively aimed at the visitor and meets his expectations?
O.L: It’s very true that travelling golfers are a different type of tourist to the traditional ones we receive in Mauritius looking for our paradise beaches. The discerning golfer who has flown over 10 000km is seeking an exclusive experience that includes luxury accommodation, accompanied by good food & wine, along with
rounds of golf on matchless courses. To these guests, golf is a lifestyle whether one is a professional or casual player, and their expectations are similar. A reason our visitors are pleased by our service is that we ‘speak’ golf, meaning there is no language barrier; and our evident expertise in the domain reassures them, and has proven successful for us. We are aware of the small details that impress and please our clients, like providing them with their preferred brand of golf balls or clubs that they rent. Providing complete assistance from arrival to departure; and, anticipating all the potential needs of our guests are factors that have helped to solidify our reputation as a specialist golf DMC.
Gilbert: You have been described by many people in the golf world here in Mauritius as someone who is truly passionate about what you do in general, and about golf in particular… Where does this passion come from, and why are you so excited about the role you, and your company, plays in the local golf tourism industry?
O.L: I’m not a person who can see a problem or shortcoming and simply look away, even more so when I believe that I can bring a solution to that situation. I believe that passion must also be linked to a clear vision and a set of mission goals. Our family business has been operating in the tourism sector for over 20 years now; and, creating satisfied customers has been the company’s chief aim. When I launched MGT, I defined our mission as solving a number of inadequacies or deficiencies that I had identified at the time that Mauritius started becoming a player in golf tourism. I had, myself just begun to play golf and fell passionately in love with the sport. I was able to see first- hand, on the course, what the visiting golfer wanted or needed, because as I had been involved in taking care of his arrival, accommodation, tours, car hire, and departure through the family company. It became quickly very evident that there was a gap in the market, which MGT was destined to fill because we understood deep down exactly what our clients were looking for. At MGT, I often say, ‘We know golf, we speak golf, and we live golf!’
Clearly, it is driven in part by my personal passion for the sport! Although there is room for improvement and growth, we believe that we have got some things right, judging by clients’ feedback, and this only motivates us to do better and more. We are today still the first and only specialised golf DMC in Mauritius… this is a great privilege, but also something we constantly need to work on to keep providing a higher level of service. That is the vision of, and what drives us, at MGT: to be positively different in our service offering, and providing an unforgettable golfing experience that the golfer will want to return again.
Gilbert: Finally, from all of the above, it is evident that a golfer coming all the way to Mauritius has quite a different outlook. At this point golf tourism 9% of arrivals, and 12% of revenue; a statistic that speaks for itself… What role do you see Mauritius Golf Tours playing to improve both those numbers?
O.L: MGT has put in place a very informative website that is probably only the complete platform for information about golf in Mauritius; this allows you to book a round on the course of your choice even before your arrival; and, we work in close partnership with the different golf operators. We have now published our second issue of our golf magazine, with the objective of making Mauritius known across the world as a prestige golf destination. Golf tourism arrivals continue to increase as awareness of Mauritius grows; we face the challenge of meeting their expectations and satisfying their needs, by capitalising on first impressions immediately from the airport itself. If we can keep doing that, and refining our service, then I consider that we will have achieved our goals.