eTN chats with Alain St. Ange, Seychelles head of delegation to the Fifth Africa Asia Business Forum presently taking place in Kampala, Uganda.

eTN: Tell me about the state of the tourism industry in the Seychelles.
Alain St. Ange: The industry suffered last year when the impact of the economic crisis became clear. The Seychelles government immediately reacted and brought in the private sector to stem the tide and the concept worked out, our arrival numbers have not just stopped reducing but in fact improved again of late.

eTN: What are your main objectives for the attendance of this important summit?
St. Ange: For this summit it is to build contacts, find regional cooperation partners and to develop new partnerships where there are potential markets for the Seychelles. Contacts with the Japanese delegation were quite useful, but we also met the South African tourism minister, the Kenyan and Ugandan ministers and their delegations. It has been very helpful to be able to consolidate our standing in the market.

eTN: Being a thousand miles from the East African shores, do you feel that you are part and parcel of the Eastern African tourism developments?
St. Ange: Very much so, it is the continent we are attached to and we are very proud to be part of the African continent. We can only benefit from reinforcing our links with East Africa and we are part of SADC, COMESA, COI and the African Union.

eTN: I understand that your tourist board is talking to a number of airlines to begin to fly to the Seychelles or add flights. What news updates are there?
St. Ange: The tourist board is always looking for new access to the islands. Kenya Airways for instance has confirmed that they will increase their weekly flights from Nairobi to Mahe from two to three, starting early July. This will assist to promote twin centre holidays with Kenya, where tourists can visit the game parks there and then enjoy our beaches. While at the summit we have also discussed with the South African delegation to speak with SAA about starting flights from Johannesburg to Seychelles. Our doors are open for airlines wanting to fly to our country and are willing to consider all ways to persuade airlines to stop over or fly to Seychelles.

eTN: Where does your national airline , Air Seychelles, currently fly to?
St. Ange: They fly to France, the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. They also fly to Singapore, South Africa and Mauritius, where much of our visitors come from.

eTN: What measures has the Seychelles government taken to assist the tourism sector through the present global economic and financial crisis?
St. Ange: The government now interacts proactively with the private sector. They brought the private sector into the tourist board and they now have a majority on the board.
The government added funding to the tourist board and intense cooperation is now ongoing to move the industry forward. We are also working on a new taxation regime to level the playing field, i.e. permitting older and long established firms to also enjoy the same treatment as more recently established companies.

eTN: Seychelles is generally considered a destination for sun and sand, are you presently diversifying your product range?
St. Ange: Seychelles offers some of the world’s best beaches, our climate is best suited for ‘sun and sand’ but we are much more than that. The diversity of the Seychelles, of the islands we have, or our people, our culture are all assets we have not really highlighted and which we are now including in our promotional efforts. We also have a great bio diversity with plants and birdlife not seen elsewhere, and so is the marine life, which is a very unique – we now proudly host two world heritage sites on the islands and visitors can not find such attractions elsewhere.

eTN: In spite of the present global economic crisis, are your hotels and resorts presently investing in product upgrades, rehabilitation and diversification?
St. Ange: Most of our resorts have used this time of crisis to assess their product and are now getting better prepared for the post crisis tourist boom. The government and the new tourist board are now ‘encouraging’ its stakeholders to invest, rehabilitate and modernize all the facilities and infrastructures. There are incentives available for those taking advantage of the capital expenditure by reduced import taxes.

eTN: Not long ago did Somali pirates try to attack a cruise ship en-route from the Seychelles to the Red Sea and on to Egypt, what capacity does the Seychelles have to defend its national waters from such criminal acts?
St. Ange: Seychelles has learned from the recent spate of pirate attacks from Somalia that it has to reequip its coast guard. Immediately India has refurbished our fastest and biggest ship, which is now deployed in our waters, and Seychelles is working with friendly nations that are part of the international coalition naval forces to patrol our islands that are closest to the African shores. However, the pirates never affected the security of our main islands and operate mostly in international waters, and the deterrent of our own additional efforts has helped to keep our islands safe.

eTN: Does the Seychelles have a dedicated training institution for hospitality and tourism, and where is the bulk of employees coming from, abroad or within?
St. Ange: Yes, Seychelles now has its own training academy for the tourism and hospitality industry and this is now also overseen by the private sector board to improve quality and ensure that the training provided is actually what the industry needs. We have about 750 students waiting for graduation next year. We are a small country and might not have enough manpower to fill all vacancies, so recruitment from abroad for specific jobs will continue for some time.

eTN: Would you say that the Seychelles promotes eco-friendly practices for the tourism and hospitality sectors which ensure long term sustainability?
St. Ange: Totally. Seychelles demands that each and every new project must have an EIA carried out to ensure that new developments have minimal impact on the environment of our island nation. Seychelles signed many conventions in the field of environmental protection and we ‘live’ by those conventions.

eTN: What message do you have for your target visitors which sets you apart from your main competitors like Mauritius and Reunion?
St. Ange: Seychelles is NOT a mass market destination. Visitors to our islands receive a very personal service and attention and they are neither numbers nor statistics. We have probably the best beaches one can find in the world, our underwater marine life is superb, like swimming in an aquarium, big game fishing is a paradise for the aficionados, and I must add, we encourage “tag and release,” which is widely followed. Bird watching is fantastic, we have a large number of endemic birds which are now strictly protected and we have migratory birds which visit regularly and provide a unique spectacle for bird watchers. Bird Island is globally known for its sea bird colonies and many other island today now have newly introduces bird colonies, brought their for breeding and to allow the species to survive. But our biggest asset are the people of the Seychelles, a mixed race which echoes the term “rainbow nation,” and, in fact, brought this term to reality, we “live” integration and racial harmony in Seychelles is a reality.

In ending, Seychelles has just rebranded herself as an affordable destination, and my message to all readers is that 2009/2010 should be the year of visiting the Seychelles.