Pascal Viroleau, CEO of one of the world’s most innovative tourism brands, believes his rich Creole heritage will help him develop the best strategies to attract visitors to a group of nations who have joined forces to become the “Vanilla Islands”. These include Madagascar, Seychelles, La Réunion, Mauritius and a number of their smaller neighbours in the Indian Ocean who have agreed to work together to rejuvenate tourism in the area. Mr Viroleau will be at the helm.
When prominent business leaders met on 4th August 2010 for discussions on how to revitalise tourism in the Indian Ocean, Pascal Viroleau, representing La Réunion, was on board from the outset with a bold marketing idea. This gathering, in Saint Denis on Réunion Island, also brought together his opposite numbers from Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles to discuss the creation of a joint brand, rather than continuing with their age-old practice of, separately, promoting their individual islands.
Birth of the Vanilla Islands
The Vanilla Islands concept was born, with the different nations planning to join forces to market their own unique attractions, but as a group. The objective being to attract tourists from Europe, South Africa and Asia, to one of the globe’s most beautiful regions. Rather than competing against each other, a joint strategy was debated that would be equally beneficial to all of the member nations.
In November 2013, the concept was officially launched at a global tourism event in London, England, when this distinctive tourism initiative was unveiled to the secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Dr Taleb Rifai, and other delegates, at the World Travel Market. Dr Rifai agreed that the UNWTO would give the Vanilla Islands all the support they needed and a new holiday destination was officially born.
By this time the membership had grown to seven nations, including Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros, La Réunion, the Maldives and Mayotte. All being united by the common goal of promoting the diverse culture and beauty of each nation and the Vanilla Islands region as a unique tourist region.
Mr Viroleau was appointed CEO of the Vanilla Islands Organisation to promote this innovative concept. He believes his Creole heritage helps him understand the diversity of the member nations, enabling him to spearhead the promotional campaigns that are putting the region firmly on the tourism map.
Many of the islands consider themselves Creole and promoting them as a visitor destination is a cause close to Mr Viroleau’s own heart. He explains, “For me, being Creole means that we have some roots in Africa. These roots can be by birth and something in the blood, or by the heart. Now, it’s not only about having a link with Africa. It’s a link to understanding all the population and understanding all the people. It’s not by nature of skin type. It’s a matter of heart. If you have mixed, different cultures, you’re Creole.
The groups of islands are where you can find people coming from all over the world, from Asia, India, Africa and China, mixed all together. This melting pot of culture is making us Creole people.”
Pascal Viroleau’s Tourism strategy
The tourism strategy spearheaded by Mr Viroleau has many different facets. He outlines, “What we are doing is pushing inter-island packages. One of our focal points is that a visitor should visit two or more islands on the same journey. The other one is the cruise industry. We are trying to attract more cruise lines to the Indian Ocean.”
Each island nation has something unique to offer to tourists, including Mauritius’ luxury beach-front accommodation, snorkelling in the Seychelles and Madagascar’s amazing wildlife and forests.
Keeping pace with demand
Mr Viroleau says he understands how tourists’ expectations have changed in recent years, so the Vanilla Islands’ strategies must be adapted to keep pace with the market. The combined inter-island offerings are among the most important changes introduced to adapt to the growing tourism market, with the local population enjoying the economic benefits of the tourism boom.
In addition, each island organises its own local, traditional events and these are promoted as part of the package. Mr Viroleau cited the Carnival of Seychelles, Comoros’ gastronomic festival, Madagascar’s tourism fair and La Reunion’s Festival Freedom Métis as examples of national culture. Each event on the individual islands is promoted, with the international media present, to help put the Vanilla Islands on the tourism map.
When asked if the Vanilla Islands has become a brand, Mr Viroleau replies, “Absolutely. Vanilla Islands is a registered trademark!”
Co-operation is the key
Mr Viroleau realises the importance of regional co-operation in order to ensure the initiative’s ongoing success, “Co-operation is essential for our respective developments,” he explains.
Other initiatives include the Vanilla Pass card and guide, enabling users to benefit from discounts on numerous leisure, cultural and health and beauty activities throughout the islands. Specific organisations, such as Costa Cruises, are offering new package deals to the region.
With Pascal Viroleau leading, the concept of the Vanilla Islands as a comprehensive tourist destination will become a reality and looks certain to go from strength to strength. As the islands’ website states, “Vanilla Islands, a place where culture, race and religion live together in harmony”, echoing Mr Viroleau’s own theory of what it is to be Creole.