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Seychelles: Will this year bring an arrival record?

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The year 2014 proved to be unexpectedly more challenging for tourism in the Seychelles than anticipated, as the archipelago’s tourism marketers had optimistically projected a 3 percent growth over their record-breaking year of 2013, when new arrival records were set.

For much of 2014, arrival figures lagged behind those of the previous year, and only a strong performance in December will make it possible to match last year’s record, with even money at present, if it is slightly over or under that yardstick.

Insider information from several sides though also confirms that revenues per passenger were down compared to previous years, posing yet another challenge for the marketing team, which only yesterday provided some key data from the 2014 arrival statistics.

It is apparent from those stats that Britain, for long in the top five, is no longer even in the top six, having been pushed down the ranks by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and China, the latter showing one of the fastest growth rates of any country of origins for the Seychelles, this year up by nearly 80 percent, similar to the trend seen over the past few years.

It also shows that the sentiments often expressed here on behalf of stakeholders, that the French market needed the return of nonstop flights to Mahe, were justified as Germany outpaced France and took the lead as the country with the most visitors to the archipelago. Condor, flying nonstop from Frankfurt to Mahe under a scheduled flight operation, for some time considered the early launch of a second flight, but eventually showed some caution as they postponed their final decision which in reality means another frequency would realistically only come on line for the winter season 2015/16.

Visitors arrivals as of week 47 of 2014:

Country of tourists origin No. of visitors

Germany 33,124
France 29,759
Italy 18,224
Russia 12,823
China 12,585
United Arab Emirates 11,898

Resource allocation will next year reflect this new constellation to recapture lost numbers in particular in France but also other European markets which had gone “soft” during the past 11 months, a wise choice considering that Europe still accounts for nearly two-thirds of all visitors to the Seychelles, which makes the current 4 percent Europe-wide loss all the more important to reverse.

Regular sources from the islands also raised two added issues which are worth exploring some more.

Although Air Seychelles is upping flights to and from Abu Dhabi and is launching flights to Dar es Salaam, Antananarivo, and Mumbai, the lack of nonstop flights to France is seen as a setback for the tourism private sector and the country’s tourism marketers. This decision, some say taken in Abu Dhabi rather than in Victoria, has led to growing support for a new airline venture, Seychelles Airlines, which, however, has not received regulatory approvals yet, leading to suggestions that vested interests if not outright foul play is keeping the new airline, which notably said they would fly nonstop to Paris, out of the skies.

A second major shift in policy may also be on the cards as one of China’s largest touring companies, CAISSA Touristic, has proposed to fly charters from China to Mahe, giving their passengers those coveted nonstop services, were it not for decades of deliberate choices and decisions to keep charters out of the Seychelles and rely on scheduled flights, in part aimed to keep the quality of visitors in the upper market bracket and avoid the downsides charter operations have brought to other long-haul destinations.

“It is all good to hear that the Chinese are prepared to start a charter to Mahe, but official policy so far has been and it so remains, until a change is officially announced, that airlines coming to the Seychelles must operate scheduled flights, not charters. We are watching how this dilemma is solved, because obviously we need more visitors to fill our beds, in the new resorts and, of course, right across the locally owned B&Bs, guest houses, and holiday apartments. It is those where our own people have heavily invested in and which consumed their nest eggs and is to provide them with long-term sustainable income. Some of my colleagues and I are very cautious because to change that policy also means that Air Seychelles will have to drop any objections, and you are aware of the linkage between government and the national airline right up to [the] chairman level.

“The tourism lobby will want to see a change in that policy, and the airline and its backers and supporters in government will very likely object and try to halt it like they halted the new airline. If there is a change in policy, arrival numbers from China can very quickly double and more but if not, it might be a do or die for tourism.

“We are at a crossroads now and whichever direction Seychelles takes will shape the next decade and more. If charters were to be allowed, we will certainly be able to fill more beds in locally-owned establishments. We also need more hotels in the 3- and 4-star category, priced similarly to those in say Zanzibar or Kenya or Mauritius. If charters are not allowed, we may have to see the market stagnate for a while, because Europe is still in economic difficulties, the Russian market is affected by sanctions, and the Chinese prefer nonstop flights over changing planes in other locations. As you said, those are hard choices to be made, and I don’t envy those who have to make them and fight to get them implemented,” said one regular contributor in an extended exchange of emails and social media messages.

The just-ended annual marketing conference of the Seychelles Tourism Board, during which some of these challenges were no doubt discussed, some in open forum and some of the more touchy subjects rather more in private, were also presented with the new sales collaterals, a new destinations video, a new proactive website, and new printed brochures, the latter, however, apparently playing a lesser role today compared to past practices.

Seychelles no doubt remains one of the most talked about long-haul island destinations in the world, punching well above her weight and indeed has much to offer, beyond sand, sun, and fun.

Festivals have taken root across the year, from the globally-renowned Seychelles Carnival to the Festival of the Sea, in 2015 celebrating its 25th anniversary and to be renamed as the Festival of the Ocean, the China–Seychelles Festival, the India–Seychelles Festival, the Eco Marathon, the annual Festival Kreol, next year celebrating its 30th edition already. More than half of the Seychelles is by law dedicated to conservation, and events, besides natural attractions, have put and kept the archipelago on the global map, as well as high-profile honeymooners like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Clooneys, among many other glitterati, who have made sure that the islands are talked about across the social media and given high-profile exposure in the world’s glossiest and fanciest travel magazines and TV travel programs.

Opportunities in plenty but then so are the challenges which need to be resolved, and given the vocal opposition about a proposed new resort owned by the Emirates’ Group at Cap Terney earlier in the week, so does the question of when is enough enough. What maximum visitor numbers can the Seychelles sustainably receive, considering the added needs for fresh water and electricity and also for trained human resources, and how far can the envelope be pushed without colliding with the principles of both the “green” and the “blue” economic blueprints?

On the upside stands the increased dialogue between government, stakeholders, and ordinary citizens, all of them aware that tourism is and will remain the backbone of the local economy, and the fact that compromises must be found to keep the archipelago out of an economic downturn which might bring greater challenges than the ones outlined above.

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About the author


Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.