Friday 28 October 2016

Sun still shines on resort but Irish are staying away

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

The Legends Hotel, now the Lux* after its rebranding in 2012. Photo: Steve Humphreys.
The Legends Hotel, now the Lux* after its rebranding in 2012. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

Eagle-eyed guests staying at the LUX* Grand Gaube hotel in Mauritius may notice something curious when walking down one of its corridors. Room number 1025 appears to have disappeared. There's a 1024 and then a 1026, but no 1025.

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What they don't know is that 1026 is where room 1025 used to be, and it is only used when the hotel is at full occupancy. It was in this room, five years ago tomorrow, that newly-wed Michaela McAreavey was murdered.

The killing was a hammer blow to both this luxurious establishment - then named Legends Hotel Mauritius - and to the country's tourist industry as a whole.

By the end of 2011, the establishment had been renamed in a gala event and a new motto, "Lighter, Brighter", was introduced, although its manager insisted the rebranding had been in the pipeline for a couple of years and had nothing to do with Michaela's murder.

At the same time, Mauritian tourist chiefs were anxious to point out that this highly popular honeymoon destination was safe for overseas visitors and the tragedy that befell the Harte and McAreavey families was a gruesome anomaly on an island famed for its glorious sunshine, sandy beaches and azure seas.

Five years on and the idyllic island in the Indian Ocean continues to exert a huge pull for newly-weds, but not those from Ireland.

"The Mauritius market was very badly hit after the tragedy," says a representative from Sunway Holidays, "and it's considerably down on what it was, although we are seeing a slow but steady increase in people going there. There's reduced fight availability into Port Louis and other destinations like the Maldives are attracting holidaymakers from Ireland."

While the LUX* Grand Gaube is among the hotels that Sunway offers packages to, it doesn't attract the Irish in the numbers it once did."It used to be one of the most popular hotels there," the spokesperson says, "and our guests loved it. My own brother had his honeymoon there." But that was then.

With blanket coverage in this country of Michaela's killing - and the trial which took place on the island a year later - few people would have been unaware of a killing that truly shocked a nation.

"It was a high-profile case that really affected Irish people and they simply stopped going to Mauritius," says travel-industry journalist Eoghan Corry. "It used to be a huge market for those willing to spend a lot and go long-haul for their honeymoon, but now that sort of spend has moved to places like the Seychelles and South Africa.

"Like a lot of Irish travel journalists, I was given a briefing from the Mauritius tourist board in the wake of the tragedy. They were stressing how safe the island was, but it wasn't something they could market their way out of when it came to Irish holidaymakers. Word of mouth is still very important to us."

But for other European holidaymakers, oblivious to the killing, Mauritius remains a popular destination. "It had no impact on other European countries," Corry says, "because it got very little publicity there. Similarly, the case of two British tourists killed in Thailand, or that of the man who had his wife murdered in South Africa, had no impact on people travelling there from this country."

Meanwhile, those who venture to the LUX* Grand Gaube are likely to experience a holiday to remember for all the right reasons. It enjoys phenomenal ratings on TripAdvisor, with 93pc of more than 3,000 reviewers classing the hotel as either "very good" or "excellent".

"We had an absolutely amazing time," wrote one English holidaymaker on TripAdvisor on Tuesday.

"It's the kind of place where you just don't have to leave hotel premises. They have everything to make you feel welcome, to relax, pamper, entertain you during your stay."

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