At the stroke of midnight tomorrow, Seychelles will clock another visitors’ arrival record to cap a year which has seen its fair share of highs and lows for tourism.
The official visitor arrival numbers issued every Wednesday without fail by the National Bureau of Statistics have kept the country duly informed on the performance of its tourism industry. This is the barometer used by the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) as one of its key indicators provided by an independent authority.
As much as the royal honeymoon of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on North Island in May will stay one of the highlights of the year, the announcement of the restructuring of the national airline – Air Seychelles – in November will leave a bitter taste to 2011.
Events like the “Carnaval International de Victoria” in March; the Seychelles Ball in September; and SUBIOS, The Seychelles Festival of the Sea, in November brought positive vibes in the industry, but on the other hand, the freak shark attacks in August at one of the most popular beaches in Seychelles sent shockwaves across the country.
Tourism experts are concerned that the decision to drastically cut back on the services of Air Seychelles would impact negatively on the industry for many months, especially in France and Italy which is the islands’ main key markets. The loss of direct nonstop flights from Paris, Rome, and Milan is set to greatly impact on visitor arrival numbers.
The government announced the measures in November as part of the airline’s restructuring and repositioning process to turn Air Seychelles into a regional airline, as it said the country could no longer sustain the operational compounding losses of the state-owned airline.
Singapore was the first service to be cut immediately after the announcement while the pull-out from all long-haul services to Europe takes effect after the New Year. Now, as part of its planned regional operations next year, Air Seychelles will initially be operating only to Mauritius and Johannesburg using a B767-300 aircraft.
Amid concerns that these new measures will impact negatively on visitor arrivals to the islands, especially out of Europe, which accounts for 75 percent of total visitors to Seychelles, the government has entered into talks with a number of international airline companies to see how they can fill the void left by Air Seychelles and ensure continuous services to the islands.
Visitors flying Air Seychelles out of Europe have had the advantage of direct non-stop flights to the islands but there is now concern that if this option is not available anymore, the country might lose business to its competitors which has far better direct nonstop connections.
But the good news so far is that Air Austral has announced it will be offering a non-stop, Paris-Seychelles service, with an onward to Reunion from the end of March 2012. It will use that same route for its return leg. Blue Panorama airline has also announced its intentions to operate direct flights from Milan and Rome to Seychelles, thus covering the Italian market.
Everyone will remember that only a few months before the Air Seychelles announcement, another event that sent shockwaves through every home in Seychelles was the shark attacks on Praslin. Our ocean is known as being among the safest in the world, where no predators lure, and tourists can swim to their hearts’ content.
But the deaths of Frenchman Nichol François Xavier Virolle and Englishman Ian Redmond from shark bites triggered understandable concerns among Seychelles’ overseas trade partners. Tourism operators on Praslin rallied like never before to reassure clients and partners while fishermen took to the sea in a brave attempt to chase the killer shark out of the waters. At the same time, Seychelles launched an aggressive PR campaign to save its safety label and reassure its tourist markets. Precautionary measures were also taken in the high-risk areas and one of those was the installation of exclusion nets.
The tragic events are known to have provoked a few cancellations, but overall, Seychelles’ reputation as one of the safest destinations remains intact. Ironically, the Anse Lazio beach went on to be rated as one of the top 13 beaches in the world by Bing travel last week, confirming it remains well-liked by travelers and critics.
For another year, the piracy issue came back as a thorn for the industry in 2011, as the repercussions of continuous attacks at sea (though fewer in the waters), posed a setback for the yachting and boating business as movements and cruises are restricted to the safer zones.
… and the highs
On the brighter side, tourism has remained one of the most vibrant and performing industries of the Seychelles economy for another year. Around 10 percent more visitors than last year would have traveled to the islands by the time the clock chimes midnight tomorrow and this would be a new record.
There has also been continuous and exciting developments on the product side, with two new big hotels opening – namely Raffles Praslin Resort and Kempinski Seychelles Resort, the latter built on the site of the former Plantation Club. The Hilton Hotels and Resorts group has opened its second property in Seychelles – the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa. The hotel was the former Seychelles Labriz Silhouette Resort on Silhouette Island. Likewise, there were new openings and extended products on the medium-range and smaller hotels markets made possible by the call for Seychelles to “claim back its industry.”
In aviation, the arrival of new airlines and increasing business of existing ones is rendering the sector more competitive like never before. Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways have both increased their services to Seychelles and a new airline – Etihad Airways – started operations to the islands in November from Abu Dhabi. Ethiopian Airline, which had also announced new flights to Seychelles as from November, postponed its services for next year and indications are that they will start their Addis Ababa-Seychelles service in April.
Transaero Airline from Russia is also set to launch their operation early in 2012, which will link Seychelles to Moscow with a direct flight. This sector is now bound to get more competitive with the arrival of new airlines, which will serve the routes previously dominated by Air Seychelles.
An events-based Seychelles
2011 will also be remembered as the year when the Seychellois public filled every nook and cranny of its tiny capital to witness the first ever “Carnaval International de Victoria.” This major celebration, which pulled over 20 international floats and a number of international dignitaries to Seychelles’ shores, was deemed a great success and will see a second in March 2012.
It will, however, this time, be organized under the new banner of the “Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands” where Reunion will join Seychelles as co-organizers of the event. The three-day carnival consists of the opening ceremony in the heart of Victoria on the first day, the carnival procession throughout the streets of the capital on the second day, and the family fun day on the third day.
The STB, which has proved its experience at organizing and hosting events at this level, will get another new event next year in the likes of the “Miss Seychelles … Another World” beauty pageant. Promotion of this event has started in earnest this year, and the lucky winner is expected to go home with a number of attractive prizes, including the opportunity to represent Seychelles at tourism trade fairs overseas.
The annual tourism gala returned in September as the Seychelles Ball brought together stakeholders from both the private sector and government. It is one of those events where stakeholders get the chance to network and socialize.
Subios – The Festival of the Sea – was revamped this year and became a truly attractive three-day event for members of the public. It was held in conjunction with the Seychelles Round Table Regatta, and the opening ceremony was, for the first time ever, held on a floating barge in the bay of Beau Vallon.
The tourism board also hosted a range of other exciting international events on its yearly calendar such as the Seychelles Regatta in May when famous sailors from all over the world came to race between the islands of Seychelles, the Eco-healing Marathon in February, and Tourism Week in September.
It also collaborated with local partners on several national events such as the Feast of the Assumption in August, the Creole Festival in October, and the Yuri Bashmet Seychelles Classical Music Tour in December.
It was announced this year that Seychelles will host another international event in 2012 – the International Mind Body Spirit Festival – in which visitors will enjoy a range of holistic packages of rejuvenation and well-being while competing and discovering the different islands of Seychelles.
Seychelles on the international scene
Seychelles, through the STB, pushed ahead with its PR campaign to increase visibility of the destination in the press and media all over the world, and 2011 has been a very good year for that.
The STB Chief Executive Alain St.Ange was himself invited to address a number of world conferences and share the successes of the local tourism industry. The country also opened its first PR and News Bureau office in Europe, to act as support for the international press and deal with general queries on the country. The office is based in the United Kingdom. At the same time, in a bid to target new emerging markets, the STB opened new tourist offices in Abu Dhabi and China and is now covering Russia with a dedicated marketing executive – areas which are showing healthy growth in terms of number of tourists visiting Seychelles.
Also for the first time this year, the STB organized its annual marketing meeting jointly with the Reunion tourism office. The marketing teams of both countries collaborated and strategized for the joint promotion of both islands, a move brought about by the cooperation of the “Vanilla Islands.” The islands and countries of the Indian Ocean have decided to work together in a synergy as the “Vanilla Islands” and present a new holiday experience in the Indian Ocean for travelers. The common decision was reached in August 2010, but real cooperation and actions between the islands kick-started during the course of this year.
Helicopter Seychelles made its return in helicopter services after a year-long internal restructuring and has expressed its intention to be a serious provider, with new larger machines to expand its existing services.
On the occasion of World Tourism Day on September 27, the STB, in collaboration with the GOS-UNDP-GEF Programme Coordination Unit, launched the new Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label. Mr. St.Ange said, at the launching, it was important for the tourism industry to adopt the new label, and to encourage hotels and other tourism establishments to merge the principles of sustainability into their daily operations. He stressed that every partner should play their part in safeguarding the sustainability of the tourism industry for the future generations.
Seychelles fit for a royal honeymoon
Like a breath of fresh air in a world of turmoil, Prince William and his new wife, Kate, jetted to Seychelles in May to spend their honeymoon on the idyllic island of North.
Their arrival ended weeks of speculation as to where the newlyweds would honeymoon, with Kenya being the favorite bet, as Prince William originally proposed to Kate there. But the couple chose Seychelles with its sandy beaches, clear waters, and secluded hideaways – where they said they truly had a “holiday of a lifetime.”
The trip was publicized all over the world, and travel agents in all Seychelles’ markets and online booking machines reported a sudden surge in queries on Seychelles.
Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Paul Adam said the people of Seychelles were truly honored that Prince William and his wife chose to return to Seychelles for this special holiday after their previous vacation in 2007 and said “we are proud to have been able to offer them a peaceful and private getaway.”