ST. ANGE AND TEAM DO IT SEYCHELLES STYLE
A recent weeklong visit to the archipelago gave this correspondent plenty of opportunity to sample the island’s hospitality and interact with the who is who, including shaking the re-elected President’s hand upon his swearing in ceremony and wishing him well.
While on the roads around the island of Mahe, several times entirely on my own, the feedback to my questions I asked of literally all and sundry, from diners in local restaurants over drivers to waiters, from bar staff to shop attendants and certainly amongst officials, the answers were swift and laudatory – Alain St. Ange IS THE MAN …
Since his arrival at the tourist board a little over 2 years ago, initially as Director of Tourism Marketing before being appointed by the President as Chief Executive of STB, the archipelago has returned to the global map of exotic holiday destinations in a way no one could have even hoped for and the Seychelles is today one of the most talked about holiday spots, leave alone HONEYMOON SPOTS around the globe – the latter courtesy of the Royal couple who enjoyed blissful days in total privacy on North Island bringing thousands of enquiries to the resorts across Mahe and the other islands.
Inspite of his impressive credentials before joining the Seychelles Tourist Board, few would have heard of him or known him beyond his own shores or beyond his work environment, and yet today the name St. Ange is on many minds and comes up in many conversations, around Africa in particular but generally around the tourism world, where keen eyes are studying him and his team to unearth the secrets of their success.
The appointment of tourism ambassadors around the world in January 2010 followed at the end of a strategic think tank session which involved the private and public sectors in the Seychelles to define a new marketing strategy, launched of course by none other than President Michel, who has since then taken on the tourism portfolio directly, a sign how serious the sector is taken on the archipelago. Alain St. Ange, previously an opposition member of parliament, in other words an opponent of the ruling party LEPEP, was taken on board for this crucial appointment nevertheless, equally a sign of how much the Seychelles politics have opened up and things have changed since President Michel took office and surely in recognition of his esteem at home and what was expected of him.
Selected Seychellois living abroad were asked and requested to help their country during the difficult times of the global economic and financial crisis and all of those approached immediately consented and used their local contacts across the cities of the world where they live to promote travel to the archipelago – and what an impact that made. In 2009, instead of seeing a drop projected to be as bad as between 30 – 50 percent in arrivals the year ended at level par, a huge success considering the circumstances of how the STB team had set out to change course and reverse the downwards trend.
For 2010 the islands established a new absolute visitor record and for the current year the upwards trend continues, aided by the more than doubling of available seats from the Gulf area, where Emirates is due to go double daily, they are presently at 12 flights a week up from previously 6, Qatar Airways went to daily and Etihad is due to commence an initial 4 flights a week from late this year.
With tourism ambassadors ‘installed’ and a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Seychelles Foreign Office to place STB staff in embassies and consulates in strategic market places, the next phase of STB’s revamp commenced and it did not take long – inspite of much ongoing ‘scheduled’ activities like the Creole Festival and the annual SUBIOS amongst many others – to announce STB’s biggest brainchild yet, the Carnival of Carnivals. Alongside a staff re-organization which saw three key overseas marketing directorates introduced and internal functions at the Bel Ombre head office re-aligned almost all eyes were on the preparations for the Carnival Festival which had to be perfect, and perfect it was by any standards. Media coverage continues to this day and is likely to seamlessly move on to the second edition of this event, when a few novelties are planned by the team around St. Ange.
It is understood that STB has for next year’s festival started to invite, besides the traditional carnival nations, the minorities of this world, from the Amazon over the Aborigines in Australia to the bushmen in Namibia and the pygmies in East Africa to come and celebrate the 2012 edition with the people of Seychelles, make friends with them and find the sympathy and respect they often lack at home in their own countries.
Initial contacts with the respective governments are clearly already bearing fruit and when this comes about in March 2012, the world’s eyes will again be trained on the Seychelles’ capital city of Victoria where ‘things are happening’.
So how does STB succeed where others struggle? Remarkably a combination of factors comes into play here. The tourism private sector is fully committed to STB’s various campaigns and the restructuring of the Tourist Board itself brought key players ‘on board’, as is the case with the sister organization the Seychelles Tourism Academy, and the joint private public ‘ownership’ has motivated the entire industry to lend a hand and ideas.
Then of course did the initial successes make good weather for the STB staff where a combination of new and ‘old’ people are enthusiastic about their jobs, their tasks and their country, the latter coming across in every conversation I had with them.
‘Almost anything goes as long as it brings success’ did one of them confide in me, a positive sign that their regular brainstorming sessions and market reviews, performance analysis and feedback from markets abroad during trade fair attendances and feedback from within, i.e. the stakeholders in the industry back home are taken seriously and geared to keep tabs on all and sundry to act on up-to-date data from existing, emerging and new markets.
Working very closely with airlines too has brought instant results, as the upping of flights to Mahe by several key carriers proves and Emirates only a few weeks ago crowned the Seychelles Tourist Board as their most favourite partner for being the most responsive, most proactive and most supportive tourist board in their wide array of destinations. They in fact put the Seychelles one stop away from all their destinations across the globe, and soon twice a day, an enormous bonus for the archipelago.
Of course, that said, the national airline Air Seychelles continues to be an integral and essential part of the ‘Brand Seychelles’ team wherever they go to promote, market and sell their destination as they too are flying regularly to London, Paris and Rome, but also to Johannesburg, Mauritius and Singapore from where growing demand for a holiday in paradise keeps the seats on the aircraft often filled to capacity.
Meanwhile though are global hospitality brands queuing to enter the Seychelles market, with Kempinski being the lastest of the big boys announcing a new resort being planned while Raffles a couple of months ago did open their ‘first’ on the island of Praslin. Starwood, as is Hilton by the way, has been on the islands for some time as are Constance Hotels with their flagship properties Lemuria on Praslin and Ephelia on Mahe. Banyan Trees and Four Seasons, I should say ‘of course’ also have a presence on Mahe, the main island.
All the latest surge in demand to build and be part of the Seychelles successes in marketing, at least not in my mind, is a result of the remarkable work Alain St. Ange and his team have accomplished over the past two years, putting ‘Brand Seychelles’ on the map way beyond the numbers of visitors to the islands per annum, but then, already more than twice as many visitors come to the Seychelles compared to the number of their own citizens and this ratio is planned to go triple in a few years before eventually reaching a set ceiling of arrivals, mindful of available resources and sustainability of the tourism sector, expected to be in the 350.000+ arrival region per annum.
Not much compared to Spain or other Mediterranean destinations – and Thank God for that I can only say – but then the Seychelles is truly ‘Another World’.
GO VISIT SOON is all I can say in closing, and see and experience for yourself what must be the last Garden of Eden on our planet. Inner islands, outer islands or as far away as the Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with strictly regulated access for visitors, who can see marine life like nowhere else, including many of the 100.000 giant sea tortoises which make the atoll their home.
Call your favourite airline or your choice travel agent to get you there – See you in Seychelles, where else!