La Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean has for years been stuck with mainland France as its tourism industry’s main source market. When the economic meltdown of the French economy arrived, the economy of La Reunion suffered accordingly, and its tourism industry could not play any part to assist the island’s economy to keep its head above water. Yet La Reunion Island is a spectacular tropical destination with an active volcano, spectacular mountains described often as the Swiss Mountains of the Indian Ocean, the warmth of the islanders, and a great marine life. La Reunion has all the unique selling points to position itself in the same league as Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives, and others, but the French administration continues to strangle the island’s tourism industry through mainland France rules and regulations.
The “Cour des Comptes” questions the tax exemption overseas through the annual public report for 2014 that was published on Tuesday, February 11. In its part dedicated to tourism overseas, the thinkers behind the report regard that tourism delivered good points and punishments.
Even though tourism is seen locally as an integral resource for La Reunion through the national conference of tourism, and even though tourism has been declared a national cause by the President of the Republic of France, this report compromises the efforts which the elected representatives of the island lead on the ground as closely as possible to the populations to mobilize and to federate around a project shared by the development of tourism.
The “Cour des Comptes” turned in a report literally against the action of the overseas regions of France, which it considers no more and no less as ineffective.
The deathblow was given by the last line of the document where the High Authority “suggests” to the State to eliminate the tax exemption in favor of the productive investments.
The action of the La Reunion regional council since 2010 has determined the outcome of the island’s tourism.
Identified as an exceptional lever of growth by the mandate, tourism is identified as a priority sector from 2010 by the La Reunion regional council. The regional budget dedicated to tourism grew from 17.9 M€ in 2010 to 23.4 M€ in 2013. This effort has borne fruit on the improvement of the tourism offer and on tourist arrivals.
After a record number of arrivals in 2011 (471,268 tourists), the figure was established at 446,500 tourists in 2012, greater than in 2010. The island saw an increase in tourists from the Indian Ocean zone (+ 8.5 %) whereas friends and relatives tourism remained at the same level (210,000 tourists in 2012 vs. 211,000 in 2011). The combined funding from the European Union, the regional council, and the tax exemption of the LODEOM will allow the creation of 548 rooms and the renovation of 285.
These very encouraging results in a context of crisis convinces that it makes perfect sense to pursue the efforts undertaken according to 3 strategic points:
– the partnership between the public and private sectors in a spirit of shared tourism;
– the mobilization in favor of the quantitative and qualitative improvement of the offer; and
– cooperation with the nearby Islands.
For example, the State, however, leads a systematic policy of obstacles against ultra-marine tourist development. The report of The “Cour des Comptes” fails to indicate that it is the brakes directly activated by the State which put in danger the efforts of the public and private operators.
A blocking policy of visas
The formalities bound to the obtaining of visas to stay on the island constitutes a real brake upon the arrival of foreign visitors. In spite of the persistent requests and indefatigable repeated by the local elected representatives, the government persists in not opening the borders to the island’s most promising markets: India, China, etc.
Twenty-one years were necessary so that the South African tourists could be exempted from visas for short stays in La Reunion. The migratory risk put forward by the authorities is widely overestimated on an island from which the ocean and the estrangement of territories at risk naturally protect its borders.
This policy of visas goes against the necessity of diversification of tourist clienteles nevertheless advanced in the report, even when the experiment led with South Africa demonstrated the immediate effect of the visa liberalization (+33 % of sales on the South Africa/La Reunion route).
We could continue this inventory by evoking the disastrous management of the crisis of the Chikungunya and the shark risk, the slowness of Bercy in the processing of the tax exemption, the frost of a strategic land in a seaside zone, but it would be too long to extend over the negligence of the State.
La Reunion Island is now saying that they cannot agree to let them be dictated by actions of Parisian thinkers as they are totally disconnected from the realities of its French territories.
Based on the island’s balance sheet regarding tourism, La Reunion will persist in its efforts to offer La Reunion a real chance of development:
When the holy alliance is more than obligatorily in a context of crisis, Paris operates a real policy of breakage of overseas territories and dares to settle in arbitrary comments towards the local politics. All Paris has said is that it is aimed at giving a justification to the government to question again the principle of the tax exemption.