Mark Twain's quote describing Mauritius as “heaven on earth” may, in fact, be one of the most misquoted in the world, believed to have actually been said by a proud local, but the island’s shimmering blue waters, powder-white sands and beautiful views have earned it a reputation as one of the world's top luxury destinations. Best known for its beach resorts, tourism on Mauritius has tended to be commercially focused, with little regard for environmental concerns or the needs of local communities. However, with the launch of its first dedicated sustainable travel agency, the founders hope to transform the industry, and the country.
Headed up by Romina Tello Soberanes, who holds a degree in sustainable tourism, and her digital marketing specialist husband Gerald Ami, Mauritius Conscious specializes in providing sustainable travel experiences to both the island’s visitors and its residents. After meeting in Dubai while working in the hotel industry, the couple moved to Mauritius, and while exploring on their own “met locals around the island offering incredible experiences and accommodations no one knew about,” Soberanes explained to The Independent. With the increasing global demand for more meaningful – and lower impact – travel experiences, they saw an opportunity to help reshape the island’s tourism industry, and the result was Mauritius Conscious.
Despite the Mauritian Ministry of Tourism acknowledging the need for greater responsibility from the sector, progress has been slow. As Sarah Reid notes in her article for The Independent, development schemes still favor the construction of new beach resorts and golf courses over the safeguarding of what remains of the island’s undeveloped coastline. But through their Sustainable Travel Policy, Soberanes and Ami hope that the values, guidelines and strategies they set, which shape all of their proposed experiences, will not only validate sustainability efforts, but help provide consumers with a fresh and environmentally friendly alternative.
Through a series of site visits, the company examines businesses across twelve different ‘Conscious Travel Assessment’ criteria, which cover environmental, social, economic, ethical and authenticity issues. The result is a comprehensive portfolio that proposes eco-conscious alternatives such as sea-kayaking, electric bikes and walking tours instead of the currently popular boat trips and day-tours by car; promotes small and medium sized local enterprises that have been set up independently and are run by the local community; and supports authentic holiday products that have a direct link to Mauritian culture, heritage or history.
“Visitors – and many locals – don’t realize how damaging some of the island’s most popular activities can be,” said Soberanes. “In high season, hundreds of people every day sign up to swim with wild dolphins thinking it’s OK because they’re not in captivity, but I’ve seen up to 30 boats at a time chasing down dolphins to satisfy paying customers.” She hopes that their specially crafted itineraries, which feature activities from local food tours to conservationist-for-a-day experiences, will appeal to those looking for a more authentic as well as sustainable vacation on the island.