The Indian Ocean island of Seychelles has the potential to become a strategic springboard for KwaZulu-Natal, particularly for Durban as a premier east-coast commercial and logistics hub of three million people, when Air Seychelles touches down for the first time later next month, writes Marlan Padayachy, a South Africa journalist, writes.
He continues: Seychelles’ foray into this geo-political region earmarked for massive economic overhaul and growth is likely to push back the frontiers of tourism, travel, trade and socio-cultural between these unique multicultural tourism hotspots.
Stakeholders behind the wheel of driving closer socio-economic cooperation with the independent island nation strategically situated in the heart of the Indian Ocean Rim are optimistic about this inter-regional development.
Beyond the direct route, between Mahe and Durban, ushering a string of tourism, cultural and sports events, politically-connected Seychellois Hindus, are keen to foster socio-religious and cultural links with Indian citizens here. These Indian Ocean Rim neighbors could become a microcosm for multicultural social cohesion and cooperation, hence the significance the arrival of the Airbus A320 jetliner bringing passengers on the inaugural flight to King Shaka International Airport on March 30.
Historically, South Africa and Seychelles have not been close, unlike the Durban-Mauritius relationship. A new era of diplomatic relations began with iconic president Nelson Mandela welcoming world and regional leaders to the new South Africa in 1994.
In the 1980s, both independent island nations were controversially interlocked with the apartheid South Africa.
In 1981, South African mercenaries stormed Seychelles to stage a coup d’état that went horribly wrong, resulting in the mercenaries hijacking an Air India 707 Boeing plane and commandeered it to Durban.
In 1987, SAA Boeing 747 flight 295 from Taiwan crashed over Mauritius after an in-flight cargo fire downed the Helderberg, killing all passengers and crew.
Now a refreshing new era is unfurling its colorful flags in the Southern African Development Community and Indian Ocean Rim.
Air Seychelles will now compete directly with Air Mauritius for ‘bums on seats’. Port Louis was once the popular stopover to India and favorite resort destination for all-race South Africans.
Air Seychelles, flying five times a week out of OR Tambo International Airport, has flown 10 000 South Africans to Mahe, the island’s capital, an almost 20% increase last year.
The direct flight is expected to increase significantly once King Shaka is on the flight plan.
Airline and tourism officials said the Airbus A320 jetliner will seat 120 economy class passengers and 16 in business class, in a twin-cabin configuration and flying time between Durban and the mid-ocean paradise island would be five hours.