(Front left is Mr. Peter Moncherry who oversees the project of transforming STA into an African Centre of Excellenc)
Big plans are afoot at the Seychelles Tourism Academy to turn the institution into not just a source of national pride but to catapult it to the top of the rankings for hotel and tourism schools in Africa.
The Seychelles depend overwhelmingly on tourism income and investments, but the same investors often used to employ scores of foreign staff, citing lack of competence and skills amongst the Seychellois workforce. Even though the doors of the STA predecessors opened already in 1973, the institution then called the Hotel Training College at Mt. Fleuri, before becoming the Department of Hotel and Tourism of the Seychelles Polytechnic, it took until 1995 to transform it first into the Seychelles Hotel and Tourism Training Centre before being renamed again to Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Training College in 1997 and moved to the location of the former American listening outpost at La Misere, one of the most commanding hilltop positions of the islands with vistas second to none.
The structural reforms instituted by the government of President James Michel, which saw the entire tourism public sector undergo major changes towards private sector principles of management and performance measures, also saw the Seychelles Tourism Academy being formed in 2007 to succeed the SHTTC and was then put under the direct mandate of the equally restructured Seychelles Tourism Board, now overseen by a committee of professionals including some of the archipelagos top hoteliers.
As reported here before, a strategic plan developed by Principal Joubert and his team was approved last year by the Seychelles government and construction has now started on the new facilities for STA which will make it a true state of the art campus fit for the 21st century. Financing was secured from Middle Eastern financial institutions on a 20 year concessionary loan with an initial grace period, allowing the new academy to be completed before repayments set in. The government of Seychelles in turn is putting in a 10 percent share of the multi million US Dollars project cost as their direct contribution.
Temporary wooden buildings were put up in preparation to keep classes on campus and students on site while construction will be ongoing, expected to last until 2015, when the third and final phase of the new academy will be getting ready.
For now, a purpose designed multistory classroom block is the first building to go up, which will upon completion house all the certificate and diploma course classes with a full capacity of some 650 Seychellois and foreign students. Also new will be a dedicated building for hospitality management students, a new training kitchen for aspiring cooks and chefs, a new restaurant which will be open for outside diners and tourist groups for lunch and dinner, aimed to present them with the finest Creole and international creations the trainers and students can conjure up. These facilities will be supplemented by a Conference Centre, also available for use by corporate clients or institutions from the islands, a new state of the art Spa where local students can acquire the skills of body care treatments and massage techniques, a fully fledged 3 star hotel where students can learn to apply their theoretical skills from the classroom and at least two luxury villas, very likely equipped by and named after leading resorts on the islands, where butlers and valets can train before joining the workforce.
It is in fact this level of cooperation with the private sector and leading hotel groups on the archipelago, like The MAIA, Hilton, La Meridien, Constance Hotels and Beachcombers including the in house career academies on Mauritius of Constance and Beachcombers, which are considered a major factor towards making graduates employable and get them ready for a smooth transfer from the classroom to the workplace. The concept of apprenticeships is further aiding the hands on orientation of courses and the present curriculum is undergoing further evaluation and adjustments towards the next academic year to offer relevant course contents which can provide the required skill levels when entering a career in the hotel and tourism industry. No longer will employers be able to claim lack of skills when the graduates of the STA apply for positions, and to the contrary it was ascertained that often the best students are offered jobs well before they graduate, as progressively Seychellois are taking over from expatriate staff, a key commitment to create jobs for the youth given by President Michel himself.
Also new at STA is the appointment of a quality assurance officer tasked solely to ensure that required contents are taught and that a measurable output can be certified as a reassurance to future employers and cooperation partners like the Guild of London and the Shannon Institute in Ireland which respectively offer certification of courses and facilities to complete a Bachelor Degree programme.
The transformation of STA is overseen by Peter Moncherry who will also upon completion of the construction manage the hotel, restaurant, conference centre, the Spa and the villas.
I was privileged to see the latest developments on site and speak in length with Peter when visiting the Seychelles on the occasion of the Carnival International de Victoria, using time graciously set aside by my hosts for some R&R but seemingly better used to roam the island, check out new resorts and most important, call on the Seychelles Tourism Academy and keep up todate with this exciting project. The new STA will catapult the Seychelles into the front row of African hotel and tourism training institutions, a big achievement considering the size of the country and having to compete with institutions of some pedigree on the continent. My welcome was warm and friendly, it was good to see familiar faces again and the enthusiasm of Peter Moncherry was undeniable, especially when he stood in front of the STA model which showed what the campus at La Misere will look like in a few years. He was beaming with pride to explain the three phases of construction and the time frame and was as fine an ambassador for his academy as they come.
I felt more than a little envious I must admit, having been chairman of Ugandas national hotel and tourism training institute for some time, and seeing how others have the good fortunes of foresighted political leadership to invest in training staff in the hospitality and tourism sector, putting their money where their mouth is, unlike in my case, where the completion of a new classroom and administration block was all my board could achieve as the written promise of 40 acres of land for the construction of a purpose build new campus for as many as 1.200 students never did come about.
In closing, one tag line comes to mind, time and again, when writing about the archipelago: Seychelles, ANOTHER WORLD where the future is taking place right now already.