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Key Note address by Cassam Uteem: Communication applied to the promotion of Mauritius as a destination
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Key Note address by Cassam Uteem: Communication applied to the promotion of Mauritius as a destination

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PRCPA(M) organized an information day on “Communication applied to the promotion of Mauritius as a destination” on Friday 10th of April 2009 at the Ecole Hoteliere Sir Gaetan Duval. The key note …

PRCPA(M) organized an information day on “Communication applied to the promotion of Mauritius as a destination” on Friday 10th of April 2009 at the Ecole Hoteliere Sir Gaetan Duval. The key note address was done by Mr Cassam Uteem.

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  • 1. 1 INFORMATION DAY ON COMMUNICATION APPLIED TO THE PROMOTION OF MAURITIUS AS A DESTINATION Organized by the Public Relations and Communication Professionals Association Mauritius - PRCPA (M) in collaboration with the Charles Telfair Institute, Friday 10 April 2009 09h00 at Ecole Hotelière Sir Gaetan Duval, Ebène I am most grateful to the Public Relations and Communication Professionals Association of Mauritius – PRCPA (M) – in particular to its President Mr Jean Marie F. Richard for associating me with this important event: the “ First Information day on Communication applied to the promotion of Mauritius as a destination”. The Information Day – a very commendable initiative, organized in collaboration with the Charles Telfair Institute - is designed to be a showcase for Communication institutions/agencies involved in promoting our country abroad as well as make the students and professionals familiar with the various communication techniques and skills used and also inform them of the opportunities available in the field of communication and public relations. The prime objective of the PRCPA (M) in organizing this Information Day is to present communication as a strategic management tool to promote Mauritius as a destination. To promote something you must know everything about that something. You cannot promote something of which you have only very superficial knowledge. You must therefore know the subject of your promotion activity inside out. I remember when I was for some time Minister of Industry and Industrial Technology we used to organize promotion campaigns to invite and even to lure foreign investors to come and invest in our EPZ: I used to lead the then MEDIA (Mauritius Export Development and Investment Authority) team on those promotion campaigns. Well, I had first to acquaint myself with all the existing legislations related to foreign investment & industrial development in Mauritius and the detailed incentive package offered to those investing in the EPZ but also to present the country in the most flattering/glorious manner possible. Whenever the opportunity arose we would not hesitate to rope in the businessmen’s wife- at least she who was presented as such – by referring to the nice beaches, the blue lagoons, the affordable price of Made-in-Mauritius diamond rings and so forth. But I did feel the lack of a professional approach and the absence of a professionally trained communication expert who would have guided us and advised us on the best way of communicating to influence our targeted group of Companies (for example). This is how I view the role of a communication professional and therefore next time, I am there, rest assured that one of you will be part of my delegation! Last November, at the launch of the PRCPA, its President described mutual understanding and communication as being two pillars of “our noble profession”. I shall have to confess to you that I went on the Internet and looked for sites that could inspire me for my talk of this morning. I found out that the noble profession of Public Relations specialists also referred to as communications specialists, media specialists among other titles are expected to handle so many functions within an organization that I was left wondering whether it was at all humanly possible to do full justice to that profession however well-trained, well-equipped and well- intentioned one might be. I therefore decided not to venture on the slippery ground of what constitute or what do not constitute the pillars of the profession. Instead, I have chosen to make Mare Gravier Beau Bassin Mauritius Tel (230) 467188 36 Fax (230) 465 56 50 email uteem@intnet.mu
  • 2. 2 a long (because I was asked to speak for 30 minutes) rambling speech and I crave for your indulgence if I am completely or partially irrelevant. Communication, it is said, is basically about sending and receiving messages. Fifty years ago in Mauritius, if you wanted to communicate with the outside world, it would essentially be through letters – would anyone of you remember the famous airmails, not emails but airmails, the cheapest and relatively quick way of communicating with friends, relatives or business partners abroad; the air letters universally known as airmails were specially designed with a written pad, on the verso and an airmail envelope with the required postage stamp affixed to it, on the recto. Dispatched by airplane, the airmails were delivered through post offices by postmen within a week, if the destination was say London. A quicker means of communication would be by telegram – a message sent by wireless telegraphy and delivered in printed form to the addressee. The Morse code was the prevailing system used for sending telegrams. Then came the introduction of external telephone communication through the use of a central transmitter operated by a private telegraph & telephone company – the Cable & Wireless Company. At the beginning you could only communicate with the neigbouring Reunion Island and Madagascar during certain fixed hours of the day. Later, telephone communication lines were established between Mauritius and Great Britain and a few other European countries. The transmitter was not powerful enough to ensure a direct link with Britain. There was a relay station in Nairobi, Kenya and calls to Europe had to go through that relay station. On the other hand, it was not possible to make a telephone call to Britain, for instance, from your home. A public booth at the Cable & Wireless Office, in Cassis and another one in its sub-office at La Chaussée were provided for that purpose. You had to go and wait until your correspondent was at the end of the line, when you would enter the telephone booth and start your conversation. Afterwards was introduced the Telex, a system of communication using telephone lines. Messages could then be exchanged, direct without going through third parties, between local and foreign Companies who owned or rented a tele-printer installed in their respective offices. With the rapid pace of technological progress, we now communicate by email, through our personal computer, or portable laptop, wherever we are and whenever we so desire; we organize video conferences and take important decisions without members of the Board of Directors having to be physically present in the Board room; we send and receive instantaneous electronic messages through fax machines. We skype and can afford to look at our correspondent in his or her eyes, if we have a decent proposal to make, through special cameras in the comfort of our 5-star hotel room, thousands of kilometers away. This “saut qualitatif” – to use the most appropriate expression in French I can think of, in that context, has taken place within the short span of some forty years. This brief summary of telecommunication history in Mauritius is not aimed at informing those who ignored it that I started my professional career exactly 50 years ago next year as a telecommunication operator at the Cable & Wireless, with a basic monthly salary of Rs 240, where my initial responsibility was to ensure that messages were properly and confidentially sent, received and delivered and therefore I have an interest in this event, but to show that as science and communication technology progressed and evolved, so did our country since the early days of its independence. It has made the same “saut qualitatif” within the short period of 40 years. Against all the odds and in spite of the prophets of doom, both local – to which I’ll come back later - and international! Remember Professor Meade and his pessimistic forecast of our country’s future, remember Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul and his derogatory remark of Mare Gravier Beau Bassin Mauritius Tel (230) 467288 36 Fax (230) 465 56 50 email uteem@intnet.mu
  • 3. 3 Overcrowded Barracoon towards a country with no future, OURS, in spite of that Mauritius has kept on progressing, moving from a low-income mono-crop economy, with a narrow production base to a middle-income country with a more diversified structure, reliant on four main economic pillars, namely, manufacturing, sugar, tourism and financial services. Other economic pillars are being patiently developed, e.g. the sea-food hub and the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector in order to ensure the transformation of our economy into a more resilient one. This has been made possible thanks to a number of factors, one of which is precisely the vision and the will of seeing that our country is kept abreast of the latest technological advances in the world of communication & telecommunication and that it invests heavily in that sector . Both private and public enterprises have played and continue to play a prominent role in that field of activity, and I recognize a few of them present here today. What is the secret of our success? I believe, we have succeeded as a country because, first, our political leaders, dogmatic and often demagogic out of power, have all, in power, been pragmatic. From mixed economy, to export oriented free market economy through import substitution policy, every successive government since independence, all prime ministers but especially finance ministers have, when faced with the stark reality of facts and figures, acted in a pragmatic and responsible manner, avoiding putting our economy in jeopardy. From the welfare state as advocated by the Fabian society to targeted approach in tackling the problems related to poverty, every single government has shown – some to a lesser degree than others – that the State has a role to play in ensuring a fair distribution of the wealth of the country. Second, the oligarchy of yesteryears has shown a sense of patriotism rarely witnessed elsewhere in the region. The diversification of our economy, from sugar to textiles and to tourism has been made possible thanks, to a large measure, to local investment although foreign direct investment has also its share of contribution. Instead of transferring their assets and their finances to South Africa and Zimbabwe, as a few of our compatriots did indeed, the vast majority of the millers and big planters reinvested locally, the State providing, of course, interesting package of incentives. Third, our diplomatic staff and top civil servants, very often assisted or reinforced by private sectors’ cadres, have done a marvelous job negotiating the best possible terms for Mauritius under the different conventions – UN, USA & EU & Others – succeeding, very often, in obtaining preferential treatment for our export – sugar, garment and other textile products. Their professionalism has helped tremendously in projecting a positive image of our country. The 3 P’s of our economic success are Pragmatism of our political leaders, Patriotism of the big owners of sugarcane fields and sugar factories & Professionalism of our diplomats and public servants. It could have been different and we could easily have turned into a failed state: a fear and hate political campaign against independence, launched by the local prophets of doom, provoked a massive emigration of the elite of the country at a time when our best brains were needed and left the country more ethnically divided than ever. In 1968, a few weeks before its accession to independence, the country went through an unprecedented traumatic period of civil unrest during communal riots that resulted in the brutal death of some 25 persons, according to official figures and ten times as many according to popular belief, and an internal population exodus as never before witnessed. British army had to be called in to restore peace and to ensure security in the island while our national flag was raised at Noon on the 12th of March instead of at midnight. We were probably the only free country in this part of the world born in broad daylight. Mare Gravier Beau Bassin Mauritius Tel (230) 467388 36 Fax (230) 465 56 50 email uteem@intnet.mu
  • 4. 4 However, soon after independence the painful, largely misunderstood, but necessary process of reconciliation started between the leading protagonists of the pro and anti independence movement. With a show of magnanimity on the one hand and responsible leadership, on the other, the country started slowly to pick up the pieces, so to say, and got the people gird their loins to face up the multifarious challenges ahead. An intelligent, patient, systematic and highly rewarding communication exercise undertaken by the Sugar Industry through the timely creation of its Public Relations Office and the publication of its highly prized monthly magazine PROSI together with the positive role played by Cardinal Jean Margéot, then administrative Head of the Port Louis diocese, helped to bridge the ethno-political divide in the wake of our independence. This reconciliation coupled with an enlightened and successful birth control and family planning national program introduced earlier with the tacit blessing of the main religious bodies, the maintenance of our democratic way of life except for a bout of totalitarian rule, the controversial but beneficial introduction of television in the mid-60’s which proved to be a window on the outside world and in the run-up to the 1976 elections, the unplanned but providential introduction of free secondary education were all critical factors that paved the way for the economic take-off of the country. With the accession to power, in 1982, of a new political elite that were bold enough to take initially hard & unpopular measures, diversification of our export-oriented economy was made possible and since then, except for the vagaries of international markets, we have known constant economic and per-capita GNP growth. I shall now briefly highlight some of what I consider to be our weaknesses. I am doing so because I believe that communication experts should be able to assist in addressing them successfully. There is no denying the fact that we are a culturally rich country, with a diverse population originating from several parts of the world. Yet, we can hardly say that we have created a shared society. The different ethnic and cultural groups live side by side not together as one people, not yet. The Mauritian man could become a universal being if only he would choose to take advantage of all the characteristics, qualities, values and wisdom of the different civilizations and world great religions brought together on a small piece of land. This piece of land belongs to each one of us and each one of us belongs to it. Yet, some of us behave as though we are the sole proprietors of the land and consider other citizens as tenants, at best sitting tenants. Such attitudes create both tension and frustration in our society and instead of building a socially cohesive community safe for difference, we seem to be actively engaged in a process of balkanization where difference becomes source of conflict. Public Relations and Communication Professionals can help turn the situation around and can contribute to make of our country a model of what should be a shared society: one of inter-ethnic co-habitation or peaceful living, sharing the best of our respective cultures and values and to borrow a striking expression from a ‘communication friend’ of mine to turn around the ingredients of a socio cocktail Molotov into that of a thriving and vibrant ESKI lemonade, with no socio-cultural hangovers. The same friend of mine defines our diversity in terms of spices that constitute the “miraculous massala” that could charm the palate in a unique and unforgettable experience. I forgot to tell you that he is also a poet or rather somebody with poetic inclination. How does each constituent spice contribute to the “miracle” is the question that one should ask? The answer is easy to provide but difficult to apply and it is there that your role as a Communication Agent/or agency becomes crucial. We are not expecting you to be the Segela of Mauritius and choose the Mare Gravier Beau Bassin Mauritius Tel (230) 467488 36 Fax (230) 465 56 50 email uteem@intnet.mu
  • 5. 5 most effective slogan for electing our Prime Minister. We only want you to give your best advice on how to convincingly promote the reform our educational system so that it may become more inclusive and relevant to the development of the child, the citizen of tomorrow, and to the needs of the country. Equal opportunities should be in practice not merely in principle or on paper. The judiciary is independent but Justice should be seen to be done. How do we proceed to do all that. The country needs professional advice to achieve it. And you are of those Professionals with the necessary credentials, techniques and skills to help out the country! Your job in promoting Mauritius to the outside world will be all the more easier, requiring less effort since the product that you will be required to sell – if that’s the appropriate word to use – will be one that is precious, rare and therefore in high demand. But let’s face facts: Mauritius has so far benefited from a very good image internationally, and not undeservedly so: naturally endowed with white beaches and blue lagoons, generally fine weather all the year round except for the cyclonic period, lush green vegetation pleasing to the eyes ( although it is sugar cane all through), relatively well preserved environment, a meeting place of the East and the West, a hospitable, peace-loving and very forthcoming population of mixed origins happily coexisting ( at least that’s how it is perceived), bilingual and fairly literate ( in spite of our educational system, which churns out half-baked intellectuals) a democratic society upholding the rule of law (where cronyism exists as elsewhere), hotels and hotel service of international standards, with the uncommon blending of different cuisines; a rare economic success in this part of the world, an IMF/WB showpiece – one does not need to make a special effort in normal times to attract tourists especially from Europe, although the air fares are somewhat expensive and the hotels out of reach of the average tourist. But who wants average or back-packed tourists? Mauritius has since long aimed at up-market tourism, “tourisme haut de gamme” In these days of global financial and economic crisis, every single country including Mauritius are affected, some are harder hit than others. The economic indicators published by the Central Statistical Office reveal for 2009 a reduction of the order of 7.5 % in our textile export earnings. For this same year, the number of tourists visiting us is expected to go down by 8.8 % that is 95,000, to around 835,000 instead of 930,456 in 2008. Yesterday morning newspaper confirms this downturn: for the month of February alone the number of tourist arrivals had gone down by 13.8%. In times of crisis, marketing becomes more important than during an economic upturn. It is hoped that market budget for tourism or promotion package for tourism will not be reduced. On the contrary, everything possible should be done to increase it if we do not want the figures quoted for tourist arrivals to be still more dismal. New strategies must be developed to reduce the impact of the crisis on our tourist industry. All the partners, both in the public and the private sectors -should together decide on the steps to be taken to soften its effects. The Communication and Public Relations professionals have a major role to play to promote Mauritius as a tourist destination, especially I would say in times of crisis. The various stakeholders, including our National Airline that should urgently regain its lost luster, should have recourse to professionals trained in the field of communication and Public Relations. Not amateurs, not political cronies but genuine professionals. More training facilities should also be made available for those entering the profession as well as for those who require upgrading of their skills. I can foresee a greater involvement of both the PRCPA (M) and the Charles Telfair Institute in the promotion of Mauritius as a travel cum tourist destination. Mare Gravier Beau Bassin Mauritius Tel (230) 467588 36 Fax (230) 465 56 50 email uteem@intnet.mu