Ten pleasant surprises on our Fam Trip to MauritiusThe ITCM Fam Trip to Mauritius was even better than any of the group could have imagined. For all but one of the delegates it was a first visit – and even for that one, it was a first for visiting MICE facilities.
On the Air Mauritius flight back there was a detailed discussion of what we had all experienced and these pages are the result.
In brief, all had expected a lot, because Mauritius had been a dream destination all their lives. But it was also agreed that Mauritius more than lived up to the expectations and had a lot of pleasant surprises up its sleeve.
Surprise 1 – How much can be done in so short a timeMauritius is a long-haul destination and it had been generally imagined that it would require a long trip in order to reap full benefit from it. However, the overnight flight with Air Mauritius – plus the fact that much of the journey is southwards – meant that setting off early we arrived at the island’s international airport just before 9am and that we were fresh enough to enjoy a brilliant first day.
The international airport in the south east of the island has a long name - Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam – but offers a very short walk through to the outside world. Then, from the first moment of experiencing the welcome warm air of Mauritius, we were immersed in that sense of welcome and well-being that is the island’s speciality. Smiling, beautiful, colourful Sega dancers hung leis of yellow alamanda flowers around our necks as they escorted us to our waiting transport. Our ground handler, White Sand Tours, had started as it meant to go on.
And then Beachcomber Hotels came into their own, because they are able to provide a truly Indian Ocean-style hotel virtually on the airport doorstep. It took our minibus only 6 or 7 minutes to get us to Shandrani Hotel, but this was a drive that also contributed to setting the tone of the whole visit. We went through fields of tall sugar canes and arrived at the hotel through gardens of frangipani, hibiscus, bougainvillea and coconut palms.
However beautiful and perfumed we had imagined Mauritius to be, it was already more than realising the dream.
In all we spent 4 days on the island, travelling there overnight and back during the 5th day. We stayed two nights at each of two Beachcomber hotels – the Shandrani and the Paradis – and visited two others, Dinarobin and Le Victoria.
We visited three old colonial houses on former sugar estates that can serve as special venues, we popped into the capital Port Louis, engaged in a great self-drive rally, did some dolphin watching, snorkelled from a catamaran, raced across the ocean at 40 knots in a speedboat, enjoyed superb cuisine three times a day, including a feast on the beach, and had ample time for a lazy swim in the remarkably warm waters along the beaches.
This proved that, in spite of the distance, organisers can think in terms of a 5-day incentive without worrying that there wouldn’t be time enough to make the most of it.
2 – Air Mauritius flight schedules make international events convenientMauritius is no longer an isolated island in the Indian Ocean. Air Mauritius has seen to that. In addition to three flights a week out of London Heathrow, Air Mauritius links the island direct with Europe from Paris with daily flights, from Frankfurt, Geneva and Milan. It offers direct flights to and from Johannesburg and Cape Town, Nairobi, KL, Singapore, Hong Kong, Perth and Melbourne. Mauritius is very accessible with Air Mauritius flights from Bombay, Delhi and Chennai. Organisers of international gatherings can, therefore, bring in delegates from many strategic locations in different parts of the world.
The flights out of Heathrow are 5pm Friday, 10pm Saturday and 5pm Sunday, leaving Mauritius 10pm Thursday, 10am Saturday and 10pm Saturday. These services make it simple for an organiser to arrange stays in Mauritius of 3, 4, 5 and 6 days - ideal for conferences and incentive trips.
The flying time is about 11 hours, but each passenger, in Economy as well as Business Class, has a personal AVOD entertainment system. This gives a choice of Music, TV, Games, Shopping and Movies, as well as the World of Air Mauritius and the map giving full details of the flight progress. There are films in Englilsh, French, German and Italian as well as a Bollywood choice
3 - The costs are less than most people might imagineWhen asked to say what they think an incentive package to Mauritius might cost, most UK organisers vastly over-estimate it. Beachcomber Hotels, working with Air Mauritius and White Sand Tours, can offer packages that come within most companies’ budgets.
A major advantage with these packages is that virtually everything required is costed into them in advance and the organiser gets no shocks when the final bill is presented.
For example, the following 4-night package for 15 or more people has been offered up to June 2009 (excluding Easter):
Return flights on Air Mauritius (excluding airport taxes); Transfers from and to the international airport; Welcome cocktail reception;4 nights in the Shandrani Hotel; Superior Room, 2 people per double; Serenity All-Inclusive package, providing superb meals at a choice of restaurants, unlimited local drinks all day and half a bottle of wine per person with lunch and with dinner; Full-day ‘Magic of the South’ tour including special lunch en route; Catamaran cruise with onboard barbecue lunch; Wide choice of land and water sports; Farewell or Gala Dinner.
The total price, for all the above? Only £1075 per person!
4 – The quality and creativity of the cuisineEach of our main meals in the four Beachcomber hotels was a gastronomic delight. For a start, the locations were just what one fantasises about when thinking of a tropical island holiday. Sitting on white-upholstered chairs at a white table on the beach at night, illuminated by torches and a blazing bonfire, simply adds to the flavours of the dishes themselves.
The choice of food was very wide, the presentation creative and the service of top quality. Just one example is the dinner at La Ravanne restaurant at the Paradis. It began with a seafood trilogy of faye faye crab, green papaya salad, sea urchin mousse and marinated prawns with combava.
This was followed with oven-baked loin of lamb spiced with four aromatic herbs and garnished with molasses sauce, huridal couscous and fricassées of songes leaves.
The meal was rounded off with Traditional Mud Cake (chocolate, the group was glad to discover) and vanilla ice.
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5 - Wide choice of top quality hotelsOver recent years (until the very recent economic downturn), flights from Europe to Mauritius had been steadily increasing in number and new hotels were being opened and existing hotels extended and upgraded. For once the availability of rooms and aircraft seats was keeping in balance.
There are dozens of 4- and 5-star properties covering the whole island, giving access to the glorious beaches of the east, west and south. (There is hardly a northern stretch, as the island comes to a point in the north). One of the hosts of the ITCM buyers was Beachcomber hotels, the Mauritius-based group that was the first to provide international-style accommodation on the island and is still by far the biggest hotel group on the island. It has its own company, Beachcomber Hotels, in the UK in Maddox Street, off Regent Street. Chaya McLaren has been its special UK MICE manager for at least 20 years and we were lucky enough to have her company on the trip,
Beachcomber has eight hotels in Mauritius (as well as a whole island resort in The Seychelles) and can therefore meet virtually any requirement for a group event. It has the Shandrani less than 10 minutes from the international airport in the east, the Paradis sharing a location with the Dinarobin, with its own championship golf course by the sea in the south east, Le Victoria and Le Mauricia convenient to the Conference Centre near the capital Port Louis on the north west coast, plus Le Canonnier and Trou Aux Biches and the highly exclusive, very upmarket gem, the Royal Palm.
Shandrani Resort & SpaThe Shandrani is the hotel most convenient for the international airport. It also has a remarkable choice of three beaches – a calm lagoon, a quiet sand beach or a more challenging beach where the waves roll in from hundreds of uninterrupted miles of ocean.
Shandrani was the first ‘all-inclusive’ 5-star resort in Mauritius. Its ‘Serenity Plus’ concept provides groups with breakfast, lunch and dinner in a choice of 3 to 5 restaurants, delicacies and drinks in all bars, cocktails before dinner, beer and wine and even French champagne. The members of the ITCM Fam Trip group were surprised by what was on offer within a single charge.
The resort has 327 rooms that are all sea-facing in over 100 acres of beautiful tropical gardens on the hotel’s own peninsula.
The four restaurants offer different specialist cuisines and can have sections exclusive to a group.
Paradis Hotel & Golf ClubThe Paradis Hotel & Golf Club is the longest-established and amongst the most popular of all Mauritian hotels. It stands at the foot of the dramatic, towering Le Morne mountain alongside its sister hotel, Dinarobin, enjoying 7km of beach and with its own 72-par championship golf course.
There are 286 spacious rooms, either sea-facing or actually on the beach.
Including the restaurants in the Dinarobin, groups can choose from seven different cuisines and an all-inclusive package is available to organisers if required.
Its conference room can seat up to 180 people.
Dinarobin Hotel Golf & SpaDinarobin was the name given to Mauritius by the Arab traders who used to sail dhows to the island across the ocean. It is now the name of one of the island’s most splendid hotels. Built alongside the Paradis but even closer to the foot of Le Morne mountain, it takes its spirit and atmosphere from the very nature of Mauritius. Whichever way you turn you are part of the environment created by the sea, the lush tropical flora and, above all, the rugged cliff face of Le Morne.
Dinarobin is, by its own definition, ‘a classy all-suite resort, but it is not a snobby one. This is illustrated by its special fun menu, where the names of the dishes are conundrums. For example, when being shown round we were asked if we could guess what the dish 8.01 signified and were very proud when one of us suggested ‘After Eight’. This not only proved to be correct, but when dining at the Dinarobin in the evening we found, to the delight of the group, that we were given a sample of this most picturesque dessert created from the fantasy of the chef.
Dinarobin has 128 sea-facing Junior Suites, 20 Beach Front Club Junior Suites and 24 Beach Front Club Senior Suites.
It has three restaurants on site, but guests can also use the restaurants in the neighbouring Paradis Hotel – as well as the Paradis golf course.
Le Victoria Hotel MauritiusLe Victoria claims the largest 4-star rooms on the island. There are 154 Superior rooms, 76 Deluxe as well as suites and family rooms and apartments making a total of 254. It has three restaurants and is very accustomed to creating themed evenings. The layout of the hotel lends itself to allocating separate accommodation and dining wings exclusively to groups.
It has a long sand beach front and spacious pool and is convenient for excursions into the capital, Port Louis.
6 – Highly experienced DMCsOur DMC, and one of the trip’s sponsors, was White Sand Tours. Richard Bright, who works for Market Places who are the UK representatives for White Sand Tours, was kind enough to accompany us from the UK.
The knowhow and clout of this DMC was witnessed by the creative thought that went into the itinerary, by the way doors opened for us wherever we went and by the number of people (charming, without exception) who were at our service on every occasion.
The meet and greet at the airport was a delightful introduction to the island. Then, after two nights at Shandrani, we made the transfer to Beachcomber’s Paradis Hotel & Golf Resort. I say ‘we made the transfer’ rather than ‘we were transferred’ because White Sand Tours cleverly and generously provided us with four sparkling new Suzuki jeeps.
This was not only a transfer, but a fun mini-rally, a means of getting to know Mauritius and its people and, furthermore, a way of doing site inspections of special venues on the way. We drove through tiny bustling villages where the carefree, happy locals saw themselves (quite rightly) as more important than the vehicles, so it was entirely up to us to avoid the pedestrians, the mopeds, the cycles and the dogs
Even though I continually used the windscreen wipers, Mauritius offered us a perfect blue sky, a temperature of about 90degF and skin-tanning, heart-warming sunshine in the middle of the UK’s worst winter weather. I used the wipers a lot simply because the lever was in the place where my indicator lights control is in the UK, so that each time I had to turn left or right, I washed the windscreen.
7 – the variety of unusual venuesGathering points during the rally included a photo opportunity at one of the finest white sand beaches anyone had ever seen – and we were the only people there. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, though, as Mauritius has 1,000 miles of white sand beaches and a population of about 1.2m.
We also made stops for refreshments and site inspections at two special venues.
During the long history of Mauritius, a series of occupying countries has left examples of every kind of stately home, typical of the different centuries. We stopped first at St Aubin Colonial House. This is typical of the 18thC homes of the wealthy French families that watched over their acres of sugar cane. A logical spin-off was the production of rum which continues to be distilled there today.
St Aubin can host refreshment stops or lunches for groups and bottles of rum are the obvious choice for gifts and souvenirs.
Further along our tour of the south coast was the Chateau Bel Ombre. We drank chilled fruit juice under a centuries-old giant banyan tree and toured the spacious facilities of the chateau.
On another day, en route for Port Louis, we stopped for refreshments at Eureka Colonial House, which is furnished exactly as it was in the days when it was a family home. White Sand Tours made this the occasion for a demonstration of how it can be used for a group, when some of its charming uniformed staff gave us a presentation in one of the meeting rooms of the DMC’s own facilities. It needed only a brief résumé, because during our trip we were to experience for ourselves their attention to detail, their friendly assistance and the quality of the cars, buses, speedboats and catamarans they can lay on for any kind of programme.
8 – Range and quality of the spasIf anyone wanted to sample the best the world has to offer in spa locations and treatments,. they could go a long way to achieving this by simply visiting Beachcomber’s hotels in Mauritius. The spas at the hotels we visited were picturesque, tranquil, aromatic and, it was reported by those in the group who sampled their service, an experience to treasure.
We visited the Dinarobin Spa by Clarins, that again made the most of the backcloth of Le Morne mountain, the Paradis Spa by Clarins and the Shandrani Spa Decleor.
Guests can have their choice of philosophies, from Zen to Ayurvedic, from Shiatsu, reflexology or Reiki to simply ‘jet lag recovery’.
The stillness of stone, the comfort of water, the inspiration of lush tropical growth are used expertly to ensure that ‘away-from-it-all’ feeling that works its magic again and again each time you think back to it.
9 - The offshore activitiesIt was no surprise that the hotels could offer every kind of sea sports, such as snorkelling, scuba-diving, windsurfing, banana boating and water-ski-ing. However, we found that Paradis Hotel, for example, is among the world’s best departure points for big game fishing. It is renowned for its catches of giant blue marlin weighing up to 700kg, as well as swordfish and tuna. No surprise, however, that the beach-side seafood restaurant at the hotel is called The Blue Marlin. This is where they know how to serve this rare fish delicacy.
On our second day we departed from Le Shandrani Resort & Spa by bus and headed for La Carangue on the opposite coast, the west. There we boarded a catamaran for a cruise along the coast.
We shared the catamaran with travellers who had booked a day’s cruise and soon we found ourselves amongst other similar boats. One had spotted a pod of dolphins and had passed the word round, so that we could all come and watch their antics. Possibly a dozen or so of these friendly creatures sported for our entertainment, virtually performing synchronised swimming, jumping and diving. It is forbidden to swim with them or to interfere, but they themselves seemed happy to come and join us and to cavort around our boats.
After that delightful surprise, we were able to don the snorkel equipment provided by White Sand Tours and take in some of the colourful underwater life in the totally clear waters of the Indian Ocean. It was attractive, but it is possible to see even more activity close to the beach at Le Shandrani or Le Paradis, where the fish teem around the coral.
The crew of the catamaran cooked and served a tasty barbecue lunch before we headed back to La Carangue.
On our fourth day in Mauritius, Tuesday, we did a transfer from Le Victoria Hotel to the Caudan Waterfront in Port Louis by power boat. After visiting the capital town, we were back on the high speed boat bound for La Carangue. It was an exhilarating bounce over the waves at 40 knots.
10 – How rich is the culture of such a small islandThe delegates in our Fam Trip group came away from Mauritius with a sense of well-being not only because of the good food, the exciting activities and the comfort of the hotels, but very much also because of the cultural experience. Our guides explained along the way how the Mauritians are a mix of Hindus and Tamils from India, of Christians from France and the UK, of various black nations from Africa and Muslims from the Middle East and the Near East, as well as Chinese.
The origins of these peoples are still very evident in the clothing, in the cuisines and in the places of worship. Very briefly, and, I hope, not too inaccurately, the Portuguese arrived on Mauritius in about 1505, followed by the Dutch before the French took over in 1715. They were there 100 years before the British came to power on the island.
The official language of the 1.5m Mauritians is supposed to be English, but everyone speaks French and, at home, a dialect form of French, Creole, unless they continue to speak the mother tongues they brought with them from their original countries. The country measures only 40 miles by 30 miles, but it can be an example to the world of how different cultures can get on together for their general benefit.