The presidential suite – yours for $800 a night – is equipped with everything. There is a small reception area with plush chairs – a suitable place in which to greet guests (or to park the bodyguards). The living room, resplendent with leather couches, silver vases, a flat-screen TV and tasteful paintings, has a spectacular view of the mountains and sugar cane fields. The bedroom is roomy, complete with electronic bed and minibar. But this minibar is not for storing drinks, however, but rather drugs of the prescription variety.

 For this is not a fantastic suite in one of the numerous five-star hotels Mauritius has to offer, but the presidential suite of the Apollo Bramwell hospital. The newly built private medical facility, opened in August, hopes to cater not just for wealthy Mauritians but for clients from abroad travelling to the region in search of treatments such as IVF, cosmetic surgery and heart-valve replacements.


 Medical tourism – or “international services” as the hospital’s CEO, Ed Hansen, calls it – is one of the growing areas for investment in Mauritius, and the number of people coming to the country for procedures leapt from 1500 in 2007 to more than 10,000 in 2009. “I do not think people appreciated that international services would become a part of the broader growth dynamic for Mauritius,” says Mr Hansen, an American who has worked as a hospital administrator for more than two decades. “People are looking to Mauritius for the opportunity it provides.”

Creating demand

 For years, Mauritius has been a hotspot for holidaymakers – tourism makes up 8.7% of the country’s GDP – and with 60% of investment in the country going into the hospitality sector, tourism remains key. But the current government has been eager to find ways in which the more conventional markets – tourism, sugar cane production and textiles – can reinvent themselves as a means of creating new investment opportunities.

 That has happened through medical tourism but also with new government investment initiatives such as the Real Estate Scheme – timeshares in villas and hotels – and the Integrated Resort Scheme, whereby investors help finance new resort and villa projects in the construction stage and then sell the properties on.

 Sugar cane, which for centuries was the country’s biggest export, is now not only being refined on the island but is also becoming a key component in providing energy for the country with by-products from the crop. Meanwhile, the textile industry defied expectations that it would be decimated as a result of the abolition of global textile quotas in 2005 and has successfully transformed itself. It now provides high-quality products to some of the world’s top fashion houses.

 “We want to consolidate existing sectors, sharpen their competitiveness, add more value and, at the same time, broaden the economic base to improve resilience,” Rama Sithanen, the Mauritian minister of finance, told fDi in an interview (see page 4).

Providing a tonic

 The country’s resilience was something that was attractive to Fortis Healthcare – one of India’s largest healthcare providers – when the company was looking to set up its first overseas venture. “The government is keen to see Mauritius become a hub for medical tourism similar to the likes of Singapore. And though it has existed here in terms of fertility clinics and laparoscopy, we are now trying to do this on a bigger scale,” says Raj Gore, CEO of Fortis Clinque Darné, a pre-existing private hospital facility which opened up under Fortis management in March. “This country is ideal as a healthcare hub in the Indian Ocean.”

Key location

 With strong tourist infrastructure already in place, daily flights to Europe, Africa and India, and two world-class hospital brands on the island, Mr Gore and Mr Hansen both believe the country could take off as the next top spot for medical tourism. The idea is that people could come for treatments – be it dental surgery or a facelift – and recuperate at one of the island’s resorts or in a rented villa.

 Doctors from London and Paris have already set up specialist clinics for IVF and hair grafting, and one French dentist who opened a practice is seeing 50% of his clientele coming from overseas. Mr Gore says most of the international patients who have come for treatment so far are from Madagascar, Kenya and the Seychelles, which fits with Fortis’s plan of opening up in Mauritius. “This location will be our gateway to Africa,” he says. “Africa is going to be the next growth story. In many parts of the continent healthcare is not up to standard, so let’s take healthcare closer to them.”

Sweet deal

 In a sense, sugar cane is what built Mauritius. The first plantations were started by the Dutch in the 1630s to produce rum; later, British and French colonial powers used servants and slaves to expand the operation. At its peak there were some 259 sugar mills on the island in 1838. However, as recent reforms to the EU Sugar Protocol have seen the price of sugar fall by 36%, Mauritius’s sugar industry has been forced to reinvent itself.

 “In two years we have transformed the sugar sector into a cane cluster,” says Mr Sithanen. “We now do four things: we refine, so we have invested heavily in that; second, the by-product of sugar – bagasse – when used in tandem with coal generates energy, and molasses can be used to manufacture ethanol, which we export. Finally, we are investing in high-quality rum.”

 Sugar cane highlights how a sector can be transformed to sharpen its competitiveness, and companies like Omnicane (formally Mon Tresor and Mon Desert) have rebranded and are now focusing largely on renewables.

 “It was a question of survival,” says Omnicane CEO Jacques d’Unienville. “We had to fundamentally change our business and transform what we do, utilising the whole of the cane.” The company must be doing something right as it expects a €100m profit this year.

Material assets

 The Mauritian textiles market knew it could not compete with the likes of China and India in terms of producing high volumes of garments at low cost – Mauritius does not have the same access to cotton and cheap labour. “Instead, we have consolidated to vertically integrate our clothing industry,” says Mr Sithanen. “Rather than selling high volume at low value we are going for low volume and high value in terms of design, creation and speed to supply the market. This is a game we have a chance at winning.”

 Mauritian companies such as Star Knitwear Group now supply shirts for the likes of Topshop and Galeries Lafayette. “We have become a leaner and meaner sector,” says Ahmed Parkar, CEO of the company. And that philosophy may just be the company’s making.

The cost of this supplement was underwritten by the Mauritius Board of Investment. Reporting and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine.