Could Alliance Make Travel Easier in World’s Most Remote Region?
PHOTO: Mauritius, one of the so-called Vanilla Islands. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
New partnerships by members of the so-called Vanilla Islands could make travel much easier in one of the world’s most remote regions.
No one will argue that Mauritius, the Seychelles, Reunion Island and Madagascar are not attractive destinations. The problem is that, especially for travelers from North America, when it comes to flights and accommodation options, choices are limited.
The relatively new Vanilla Islands Organization is seeking to bring these islands more into the mainstream by raising interest in new source markets. In addition to Madagascar, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Comoros, the organization includes the French overseas departments of Reunion and Mayotte.
As well as improving region-wide branding and promotion, the organization’s members have started working together to make air travel into and around the islands easier.
Air Seychelles, for example, is well placed to offer flights into the region. Etihad, which owns 40 percent of the Seychellois flag carrier, can offer help with connecting flights to the islands through Abu Dhabi. Air Madagascar recently signed a codeshare agreement with Seychelles so that it can benefit from this connectivity.
Etihad and its allies have increased their presence in North America recently. This will give U.S. travelers another route to the Indian Ocean. Most trips now go through Paris or London.
Americans could hypothetically go the “long way around” as well. Air Mauritius is betting heavily on China’s outbound travelers with direct flights from four Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai.
Perhaps the most important development in air travel came late last year when the three aforementioned carriers joined together with Reunion’s Air Austral and Int'Air îles, from the Comoros, to form the Vanilla Alliance. This new venture has a simple but very necessary goal: to improve connectivity between the island so that it is easier to market them together as a single destination rather than as individual destinations. There is even talk of creating some sort of regional low-cost airline that could help locals travel between islands and also open up the Vanilla Islands to a whole new tourist demographic.
The low volume, high-value approach to tourism has worked fairly well for Mauritius and Seychelles. The Comoros has been developing diving and eco-tourism niches. The two overseas departments perhaps want to start looking beyond France to other markets. Madagascar, meanwhile, has the most to gain from being a member of the Vanilla Islands. The under-developed island nation has been in the news for being one of the few places where it is still possible to catch the bubonic plague.
That said, the islands will be trying to use their image as safe destinations as part of their promotional efforts. During a recent visit the Mauritius, the minister of tourism for the Seychelles, Alain St. Ange, said that it was important to maintain this image. "The islands of the Indian Ocean have a safety label, and it is important for us to keep working together as the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands to protect it, as our tourism industries expects no less from us.
During the same visit, St. Ange also nicely summarized the overall goal of the recent Vanilla Islands efforts. “When tourists travel to the other tourism regions such as the Caribbean, they say they are going to the Caribbean islands, but when they travel to the Indian Ocean, travelers tend to say they are going to Mauritius or Seychelles or any other island. So we need to work together to put our region in the forefront and to market the Vanilla Islands as one region.”
As a region, the Vanilla Islands is not yet a household name in North America. If these new promotion and air travel efforts are successful, the islands could become known as more than a destination for honeymooners and the globetrotting jet set.
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