In the spring of 2014 Riu acquired three adjacent hotels on Mauritius, and with that the TUI hotel brand launched its expansion into the Indian Ocean. Since then Kris Seeboo, the Senior Executive Manager of Riu Le Morne Ltd, has been supporting redevelopment at the resort. The native Mauritanian is perfectly networked and on behalf of this project he is engaged in permanent dialogue with the ministries and authorities on “his” island. The gushing water he is so delighted to see is the result of the current construction work in the hotel grounds. The drilling is intended to provide the resort with independent access to water and its own desalination unit. That will be an important source of supply for a 530-room resort on an island with a shortage of resources. As the hotel is also in the middle of a nature conservation area, all building and engineering works have been planned and discussed with the responsible authorities.
Expansion into Paradise
The effort has paid off. After all, the location could hardly be better. The future Riu resort reaches from the imposing crag of Le Morne Brabant, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, to one of the best kite surfing spots in the world. Moreover, the peninsula is surrounded by a far-reaching coral reef which makes the sea shine in an array of bright colours. At the moment, though, it is hard helmets and wheelbarrows, rather than bathing towels and surf boards, that dominate the complex. It is scheduled to open in February 2015 and will offer the brand’s accustomed standards with the hotels Riu Coral, Riu Creole and (for adults only) Riu Le Morne.
»Riu was founded in the 50s as a small family business on Majorca. Since then, our professional staff have exported the promise of high quality service at Riu to more than 16 countries. Our guests appreciate this and thus confirm our plans for growth of 3 to 5 new hotels annually.«Carmen Riu Güell, CEO Riu-Group
There is still a lot to be done before then. About 400 workers populate the grounds – excavating, bricklaying, painting, installing, fitting roofs and knocking the gardens into shape. Not all the buildings in the resort were used for operations in the past, many need refurbishing, and some need to be completely converted. “The challenge is to apply Riu standards and quality to an existing hotel,” explains Miguel Silva, the Assistant Manager from Portugal. “A lot of people stare in disbelief when we tell them we want to open three hotels on the same day. But we know what we are doing and we will succeed.” He is in a good position to judge, because he has been involved in opening a number of new Riu Hotels already. The expansion enabled him to fulfil a personal dream: to work in the Indian Ocean. Before the launch in February he needs to build up the hotel’s operational structures, so that everything is ready from the kitchens via housekeep-ing to the entertainment programme.
Partnership with local suppliers is part and parcel of the Riu philosophy. “We have just chosen a supplier from the local textiles industry, for example,” says Silva, as we head out to see the new provider. He has brought along the design specs and intends to choose curtains for the bedrooms and the show venues at the resort. Although Miguel Silva only arrived on the island in spring 2014, he already knows the set-up very well: “In many respects our standards are higher and we need to import equipment, like the technical goods for the kitchens. But the Mauritanians can teach us a thing or two in some ways. A responsible attitude to nature, for example, has been part of the lifestyle here for much longer than in other countries.” That is reflected in the way the resort takes care of its gardens, working closely with local foresters. The original island look will not only be reflected in the Garden of Palms, but also in the design of the hotels. “For the roofs here we are using sugar cane, and we are re-thatching them in the traditional manner,” says Executive Manager Kris Seeboo, illustrating the vernacular architecture.
International team work
Apart from the construction workers, about 60 Riu employees have so far arrived on site. That means the resort team is likewise growing to plan: after the opening about 400 people will be working for the complex. Most staff will be recruited locally and trained by experienced colleagues, so that from day one they can offer guests a service that matches Riu standards. The same applies to marketing. Oliver Kluth from headquarters in Spain is spending a few days on Mauritius for that very reason. The Senior Vice President Sales & Business Development is on the look-out for staff who can help him develop the sales structure and who know the local markets. Apart from European travellers, Riu hopes its products on Mauritius will appeal to the neighbouring island of La Réunion, not to mention guests from South Africa and Asia. “We have built up the sales function for new Riu destinations a number of times, for example on the Cape Verde Islands, Aruba and St Martin. And yet every time it’s different, because you have to get to know and understand how things operate in the country,” is Kluth’s comment on his role. He will therefore be drawing on the expertise of Kris Seeboo, who coordinated the first interviews with local job applicants.
With a degree in interpreting, he will take advantage of this trip to meet important local contacts. One of them is Philippe Hitié, Managing Director of TUI’s destination management company SummerTimes. For 14 years he and his team have been organising transfers and excursions for holiday-makers from all over the world, and in future they will also be welcoming Riu guests to the island. Next, taking the well-informed tourism expert with him, Hitié moves straight on to his second appointment in the capital Port Louis: a call on the island’s Minister of Tourism. The next day’s programme brings further insights into the tourism structures in the country. Oliver Kluth wants to visit hotel complexes run by some of his rivals. Not on a secret mission, but absolutely up front: “At Riu anyone can drop in and have a look at what we do.” His tour will indicate how the new Riu Resort can position itself in relation to the competition.
Three to five projects a year
By that time, the metamorphosis from a bustling construction site to a hotel with a stylish ambiente will need to be complete. And when, in the spring of next year, the guests can at last relish their dream of a carefree holiday, the planners from Riu will already have moved on. The partly-owned TUI subsidiary is looking to implement three to five new projects in each of the coming years. Riu is therefore playing a big part in the growth strategy for the group (see also chart on page 15). Soon someone else – somewhere in the world – will be fascinated by the sight of gushing water.