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Hospitality at heart

A witness and a contributor to the development of tourism in Mauritius, the former General Manager of MTTB looks back on some significant moments in the history of the sector.

“I had been working for two years as a draughtsman in a firm of architects when, much to my surprise, I was offered at job at the Mauritius Travel & Tourist Bureau (MTTB) by the then director, Michel Pitot. I was hesitant but Amédée Maingard, who had a great vision for tourism, managed to convince my parents.” It was in 1955 and Guy Hugnin had just turned 21.

This decision marked a major turning point in his nascent professional career. “There were very few tourists at the time,” he says. “There was only the Park Hotel, formerly the Chateau Mallac, which mainly served to accommodate passengers transiting in Mauritius on their way between Australia and South Africa, and Le Morne Plage with a small few circular huts called ‘rondavelles’, which later became the Paradis Hotel.”

Guy Hugnin started his career in the tourism sector at the bottom of the ladder. His assignments included everything from airport transfers to welcoming passengers travelling aboard vessels operated by the French Compagnie des Messageries maritimes and the Dutch Royal Interocean Lines dropping anchor in Port Louis.

A few years later, he occasionally attended meetings of a tourism promotion committee set up by Amédée Maingard. Air France representatives in Madagascar and Reunion Island, the British Airways representative in Nairobi, Jean Ribet (then director of aviation services at Rogers), Michel Pitot and Ms Marcelle Esclapon also formed part of the committee. “There was no ministry of Tourism or tourism board at the time,” adds the former General Manager of the MTTB, who would later himself chair the board of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority between 2001 and 2004.

The take-off of the tourism industry had a positive impact on the destination management and travel agency businesses of the MTTB. A freight operations department was also created with the launch of Cargo Express as well as maritime groupage services between France and Mauritius. At the turn of the
21st century, the destination management and travel agency businesses of the MTTB merged with those of Mautourco and Rogers Travel respectively. For its part, Cargo Express became part of the Logistics division of Rogers, now Velogic.

Guy Hugnin considers that the setting up of a national airline in 1967 was a crucial step. “Air Mauritius has played a major role in the development of tourism, but also of the country. It reopened routes on which other airlines had terminated their service,” he says. He also dismisses the argument according to which the access policy would be an issue. Mauritius has bilateral air services agreements with 36 countries but the traffic rights granted are underutilised, mainly because of a lack of route profitability, he adds.

Another major milestone for him was the launch of the Veranda Bungalow Village (now Veranda Grand Baie Hotel & Spa) jointly with Michel Pitot in October 1982. The innovative concept of medium range accommodation developed by the hotel, which was then managed by Sybille Manuel, was an immediate success. “There was a clear demand for small hotels and the launch had been well thought out. In November, we posted an occupancy rate of 97%!”

Guy Hugnin retired from the MTTB in 2000 but he still keeps himself busy. This passionate horse lover, who will be turning 80 soon, is the Honorary Consul of Hungary in Mauritius and is also a member of the boards of Veranda Leisure & Hospitality (VLH), Sky Flyers, a travel agency managed by his daughter, and SOS Children’s Villages.

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