Our Civil Aviation administration went under dire stress last week following torrential rains and the passage of cyclone Berguitta. During two days there were no flights and thousands of tourists were stranded either at the airport or at their hotels. If it were a new experience for many of our visitors, it was more of a headache for our hotel administrators.
Jean Louis Pismont, president of AHRIM (Association of Hoteliers and Restaurants in Mauritius), tells this paper of the impact of bad weather on the hotel industry and the excess work for the employees.
Impact of bad weather
For the president of AHRIM, generally speaking, bad weather adversely affects normal operations to a large extent. “Our resorts promote outdoor living, beach moments as well as boathouse activities. Obviously, when all these cannot be conducted, hotels have to find alternatives for their guests and secure weather-protected areas within their compounds in order to continue their operations. At times, such tasks are real challenges, particularly during the peak season, but hoteliers generally have the know-how and experience to handle such situations. Hotels are also quite proactive on weather forecasts; guests are always informed on each day’s weather conditions. In the case of cyclones, most clients are well informed as well, via the internet.”
The feelings of residents
“The disturbance caused is, of course, a source of frustration for our guests”, Pismont says, “and viewed as real bad luck because they are here predominantly for long-awaited holidays under the sun. The key priority for us hoteliers is to reassure them on what is happening and, more importantly, what will happen in the next 24 to 48 hours.
We need to communicate on all our actions as guests can physically see that we are securing the hotel premises and all outdoor equipment; they quickly understand that we are taking the cyclone threat very seriously. We also have to organise indoor activities for them; our guest entertainment staff is generally well-trained for these.
Guests who were on departure list but were then stranded are normally the ones who are the most difficult to reassure, given commitments they may have back home. We endeavour to give special attention to those guests who, to some extent, are not happy with such extended stays.
In the case of Berguitta, there was an early Class 2 warning on Tuesday followed by two days of Class 3 warning, with quite extensive information on the cyclone’s track. Throughout those three days, depending on the sheltered space available and the level of risk alert, a hotel would either organise meals in the main restaurant, or give take away boxes for in-room dining, together with required drinks. Special requests for baby food / kids’ food are also handled along these same patterns.”
Jean Louis Pismont is positive on this issue when he says that “fortunately, there has not been too much damage on the hotel infrastructure, except for a few thatched roof losses and minor breakage on outdoor equipment. However, beach erosion on the East coast in particular was quite severe, probably because of huge waves associated with the water tide movements of the month as well.
There have been some significant losses on that count with many hotel kiosks destroyed, coupled with accumulation of debris and waste coming from elsewhere. In some cases, sea water intrusion inland had reached more than 15 metres into hotel properties. There are costs associated with the immediate cleaning and rehabilitation of hotel premises; in cases where insurance procedures are applicable, we must say the process is generally quite efficient.
Impact on arrivals
Generally speaking, cancellations by expected guests were marginal. However, some large hotels reported noteworthy cancellations, namely of the arrivals scheduled on 18th and 19th January. Incidentally, many of these hotels are big international brands with widespread properties across the world. The guests concerned surely had quick alternatives when presented with the cyclone threat over Mauritius.
These cancellations, and a few early departures when cyclone alerts were issued, were somehow compensated by the net difference between extended stays of those guests scheduled to depart, and the delayed arrivals of expected guests. Large hotels however, as hinted earlier, would charge reduced rates for extended stays due to cyclonic conditions and cancelled departure flights.
On the operations side, there are obviously extra cost implications. Hotels will always have to anticipate further Class 3 warnings. For instance, they have to integrate the implications of staff rotations, timing of team member shifts, as well as restrictions on road circulation. We had the case of a Class 3 warning issued at 4.00 in the morning; you can imagine the impact on our staff transport operations on that day, with the three-hour stretch granted for insurance-covered road circulation.
In the case of Berguitta, hotels also had to keep their team members overnight, many for two consecutive nights. This of course generates extra payments to the team members, and supplementary costs for sleep over facilities. This also has an impact once the warnings are lifted; incoming team members have to be quickly transported to the hotel in order to trigger all rehabilitation tasks. Within a matter of hours, the new arriving guests should be able to check in and proceed to their rooms.
We have fortunately fully dedicated team members who display great professionalism and commitment during such difficult situations. We should thank them for the efforts deployed; it is not easy for many of them who also need to keep themselves abreast of what was happening at their homes as well.
Are hotels constructed too much near the sea?
Coastal erosion is becoming more serious and it has been dangerously exacerbated through the Berguitta passage with stronger waves and high tides. Hotel constructions normally respect the mandatory distances from the high level water marks, but over the years, erosion has caused a lot of damages, and has shortened distances. We believe the country urgently needs a national strategy with respect to beach erosion, caused by natural ocean movements, sea level elevation and climate change.
As a supplement to all existing policy bodies and authorities concerned, a National Technical Committee could be set up in order to study this very specific issue. With the help of internationally recognized experts and in line with our national laws, objectives and priorities, this Technical Committee could receive and process applications for comprehensive and well-thought-through beach rehabilitation works. AHRIM and its members are ready to contribute to the works of this proposed Technical Committee.