afrol News, 21 October - The tourism industry on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion reports record bookings for the upcoming season, with almost full-booked hotels. The upturn comes after years of crisis.
La Réunion, a French island located close to Mauritius, was among the first major Indian Ocean travel destinations to develop, experiencing a tourism boom from 1990 to 2004 thanks to its domestic flights to France and access to French capital investments.
The tropical island however has experienced tough times ever since the chikungunya epidemic struck the destination in 2005 and 2006. Tourism revenues plummeted by almost 30 percent in the crisis years.
After a short recovery in 2007, Réunion was again particularly strong hit by the global financial crisis, being known as an expensive log-distance destination.
But last month, the French statistics agency INSEE finally could report a strong recovery in the Réunionaise tourism sector for 2010. According to INSEE numbers, some 201,000 tourists had visited the island during the first half of 2010, representing a growth of 3 percent compared to the same period last year.
"This is the largest influx of tourists since the beginning of the decade," INSEE analysts said. Even better, tourists had again started spending more in Réunion, implying strongly growing tourism revenues for the industry.
Now, the Hotels Union of La Réunion (UHR) reports that the registered growth should be even stronger when the second half of the year is included in INSEE's statistics. UHR Vice-President Lionel Carro reports that members are registering "good booking rates for Christmas and New Year," the island's peak season.
According to Mr Carro, many hotels were already fully booked, some even experiencing double-booking for the peak season. Currently, the industry reports that over 80 percent of rooms are occupied. "It brings back the good memories from before 2006," Mr Carro noted.
The trend is confirmed by a survey made by the local newspaper 'Journal de l'Ile de La Réunion', which contacted other industry players. "We do not have any cars to rent until mid-November," most car hiring agencies told the newspaper. Restaurants, lodges and guest houses were reporting the same.
According to Mr Carro, the positive trend seems to become more than a short upturn. Major hotels were already noting larger pressure from European tour operators and bookings for the February to April 2011 period were looking very favourable.
INSEE however warned that the recovery of Réunion's tourism industry still is fragile. The island still remains too dependent on tourists from mainland France, representing 83 percent of all visitors, and the French economy is currently turbulent.
Therefore, the best news for the Réunionaise tourism industry was maybe that the strongest growth in arrivals this year was from non-French Europeans, especially Germans, Belgians and Swiss tourists. The growth in EU arrivals had been a record 23 percent in the first half of 2010, according to INSEE.
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