Interview with the Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture, the Hon. Alain St. Ange

Read the lastest updates about all aspects of Seychelles tourism from the proverbial horse’s mouth in a fresh and hot off the press interview.

INTERVIEW WITH SEYCHELLES’ MINISTER FOR TOURISM AND CULTURE ALAIN ST. ANGE

Published here is an interview held with the Minister at his offices in Victoria:

Dear Minister St. Ange,
good day and congratulations on a job superbly done at the recent

Carnaval de Carnivals in Victoria. Thank you for taking the time so

shortly before you depart for ITB in Berlin, to answer my questions:

1) It is now nearly a year since President Michel appointed you as
Minister for Tourism and Culture. Tell us about your successes and
challenges you faced during the past nearly 12 months.

One year has gone fast and I can say that I am satisfied with my
achievements to date. My first challenge was to put into place a mechanism
to work with the Tourism Board to continue to consolidate the Seychelles
tourism industry. We needed to work together to remain innovative, to
continue to act with intelligence and to continue to use all the resources
at our disposal. We needed to ensure that the annual marketing meeting,
where public and private sector meet to pan out the strategy for the
following year was maintained and strengthened. We needed to accommodate
the creation of a Ministry whilst having a semi-autonomous Tourism Board.
Twelve months later all is working and the proof of the pudding which is
in the eating, is showing continued growth in visitor arrival numbers when
other destinations are feeling the pinch and losing ground.


2) The Seychelles have for 2012 once again established a new visitor
record in the face of your core markets in Europe going softer. What is
the secret of the Seychelles’ success?

Seychelles has been proactive and Seychelles continues to look at its
tourism industry with a fresh pair of eyes. This has helped us to
continuously reposition our country and it has kept us relevant as a
tourism destination. We had lost ground in our core markets of Europe, but
we diversified fast, finding new potential markets as we worked harder on
our core markets to find a solution to the challenges we faced since
losing direct
[and] non-stop flights. Our success is due to us winning the
battle of relevance.


3) What new initiatives have you planned for 2013 and beyond,
considering you held a marketing strategy conference in January. What
new ideas will the team around Elsia Grandcourt at the STB come up with?

The world tourism industry for long haul destinations is facing strong
challenges. It is like being in a sail boat with strong head winds.
Seychelles is realistic that it cannot change the prevailing wind and that
it cannot fight the wind. But we also know that we cannot ignore the wind
of the day, so we become responsive to change. As economies converge we
realize that a greater variety of people will travel. This gets us to look
continuously at probabilities of potential markets instead of dreaming of
the possibilities that existed in the past. We have embarked at
determining what motivates and what impresses the market and at the same
time be updated on what confuses, disappoints and frustrates the markets.
As we remain practical and innovative we know that we need to get onboard
faster in the existing needed shelf in technology. We will leave no stones
unturned as we work our markets and claim our fair share of these markets.
Seychelles will nevertheless maintain its personalized tourism approach
and will continue to say no to mass tourism. This is the Seychelles Brand
of Tourism that President James Michel launched some two years ago. This
is the base of our industry and this we shall defend as it is the only way
to implicate our people into the industry and they then fell part of it
and will defend it in the same way we do it at the Ministry level.


4) Since your appointment as Minister there have been allegations of
‘green washing’ in sections of the local media. What is the ‘truth’
about the Seychelles commitment to remaining green and meeting global
best standards?

Seychelles is not green washing. We know that we need to be good
custodians of what was handed to us as unique selling points. The
commitment is displayed by us putting our money where our mouth is. As a
small country we have now declared over 50% of our total land area as
protected natural reserves. Our chosen path is not new, we have been going
down the path of protecting our natural assets way before the buzz word of
eco came about. We are an example and one we are happy for the world at
large to visit and appreciate.


5) The recent freak weather has done some significant damage to roads
and beaches I visited showed signs of erosion. Tell us what the
Seychelles government is doing to help affected people whose houses have
suffered damage or were destroyed and how beach conservation and
restoration is being handled.

The change in weather patterns is a direct result of the climate change
phenomenon. In January we were hit by a freak torrential rain fall. We
were not equipped to deal with such an extraordinary situation and we some
of our districts get affected with floodings, landslides and other
associated difficulties. The Government of Seychelles immediately moved to
assist its people. A Relief Disaster Fund was immediately set up to raise
funds to assist those most affected. Seychelles is happy to say that many
a friendly country of ours have come forward with different forms of
assistance.

[adds this correspondent that
the Seychelles tourism private sector has also

generously donated in cash
and kind to the relief fund]
6) The Seychelles Tourism Academy is building a new campus and while a
little behind schedule, it is clearly set to become Africa’s top rated
hospitality and tourism training institute. STA has been signing MoU’s
with Shanghai, Oman and Malta – where do you want to see this
institution go and what role is it to play to get every willing young
Seychellois started with a career in tourism

Yes the Seychelles Tourism Academy is being rebuilt as new. It will be a
purpose built Academy to train firstly the young people of our country to
enter the workforce in the pillar of our economy – tourism. This was an
important step that needed to be done. The long term success of our
tourism industry is to have our people trained to be better prepared to
play their part in their industry. We are today working with many
hospitality and tourism training institutions in different parts of the
world and this increases staff and student exchange programs. We know that
this Tourism Academy in Seychelles will be a great institution. We shall
open our doors to take students from Africa, Asia and the Indian Ocean
Islands wanting to study in French and English languages and to do their
practical in a country dependent on tourism.

7) The Vanilla island initiative has been given a boost by the EU with
funding to expand the concept of inter island cooperation. What are your
main challenges, as after all you were and remain the driving spirit
behind the Vanilla islands.

The Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Regional Organisation is a grouping of
those islands of the Indian Ocean wanting to work together for the
consolidation of their own and for the region’s tourism industry. We are
having the support from the European Union as this is a regional
organization working for the wellbeing of a group of islands with a rich
cultural heritage, and one vulnerable to climate change. The main
challenge facing the organization remains the commitment by all the six
islands to be 100% behind the partnership. This grouping makes the
strengths
[of one] become the strengths of the rest and it dilutes the weaknesses
of individual members of the alliance. The region needs to be more visible
and better known. This will ensure that all the islands are then seen as
being close and this will increase the possibilities for twin or three
island holidays. In the longer term it will also become an inviting region
for cruise ship tourism because the diversity of this region is unrivalled.
The Indian Ocean region could also be home for smaller cruise ships which
are today having difficulty to finding an adequate and a suitable region
to be based.


8) You once upon a time were nominated by SHTA to become the Director of
Tourism Marketing, the private sector ‘implant’ into the ‘old’ STB and
then transformed the institution to what STB is today. How are your
relations today with your erstwhile colleagues in the private sector,
now that you have ‘crossed the lines’ and are now a government minister.

The Seychelles Tourism Industry, this is the private sector component of
our country’s tourism players remain the backbone of this vital
industry that is today more than ever before regarded as the pillar of the
Seychelles economy. Some two years ago it is indeed the private sector
body that nominated me to head the Marketing Department of the old Tourism
Board. They are the front line team of our industry and they need more
than any Civil Servant for the industry to work. I have maintained an open
line of communication with the Association and I make it a point to attend
personally their General meetings. I would say without any reservations
that I have a good relationship with the private sector.


9) There was talk sometime last year, opposed by key stakeholders in the
private sector, that the STB overseas offices were to move together with
Air Seychelles / Etihad. That partnership, while turning the airline
around, has raised concerns among private sector stakeholders over the
lack of nonstop flights from for instance Paris. How do you in
government reconcile such demands with the airline’s dictates on
reaching profitability again and keeping an eye on their bottom line?

The positioning of the Tourism Board’s Overseas Offices in joint Offices
with Air Seychelles and Etihad was but a proposition that had come up to
help in streamlining of our operation. This proposition was contested by
the Private Sector and it did not take place because Government heard the
reasoning being put forward. The airline side of your question is more
complex. Air Seychelles, as every other small regional airline faced
economic difficulties and needed to find a strategic partner. Air
Seychelles and Etihad joined forces together and today Air Seychelles is
seeing the benefits of this approach. But it is important to note that Air
Seychelles is today being managed as an airline and as such needs to be
profitable. The door of Seychelles remains open for other airlines to come
forward and operate flights to the region or nonstop direct services to
Europe. Seychelles is operating an open sky policy and with this policy as
the modus operandi the doors are wide open.

10) You are literally everywhere, making it appear at times to have a
clone or two out there. How do you manage to fly on overdrive all the
time. And how do you relax, and where as there seems not a week over the
past year you were not out in the wide world promoting the new Brand
Seychelles.

When I joined Government some three years ago this month I was mandated to
turn the turn the industry around. Then as CEO of Seychelles Tourism I was
expected to consolidate the achievements made by the Tourism Board. As
Minister I have the overall responsibility to ensure that we have a
tourism industry that is managed on a secured footing for the long term.
Key to our success is visibility and this I cannot achieve by sitting in
an office. I need to find opportunities to be present at, and then turn
these opportunities into avenues to work with the press. Seychelles has no
budget to buy space in the press in the four corners of the world, but
meeting the press is free, and this you can only do when you know the
press and when you have a message to give to the press. So far it has
worked for me as the head of Seychelles Tourism. Yes this approach makes
me travel, but I can assure you that each of the trips I undertake I bring
positive results for Seychelles. The second area that gets us coverage is
to be accepted as a Speaker on the Industry’s Circuit. Today I am invited
to address many tourism forums, and in so doing I spread in the most
positive means possible the word Seychelles. I do relax, of course I do, I
enjoy writing and I am working on a few books to document the history of
our islands. This is relaxation for me.

11) When ITB kicks off you will mark your first full year in office –
what are your plans, and challenges, for the second year. I know
Seychelles is lobbying to be elected a member of the UNWTO Executive
Council and you have applied to UNESCO to grant the Mission Lodge WHS
status. What else of notable importance is on your agenda.

Yes it was at ITB last year that news about my appointment as Minister for
Tourism and Culture broke. It will be a year soon and the time to
consolidate the achievements to date is now upon me. The Ministry of
Tourism is now being remodeled to be more in line with what the private

sector trade have requested and at the same time to ensure that marketing
of Seychelles remains a key function of what we need to be concentrating
on. We have the product because Seychelles is a destination that still
rings the holiday of a lifetime note. But we need increase ways and means
to be more visible still, because as times get harder in the market place,
we need to be present, be seen and to remain relevant as a tourism
destination. We need to increase the visibility of our region and of our
continent, as we get but a pitiful number of visitor arrival on a global
scale. This is one of the reasons that has prompted us to put Seychelles
as a candidate for the Executive Council Member of the UNWTO. We need to
work to get Africa greater visibility and then to be more in demand for the would
be traveler. For this bid we count on Africa to support us because we are
a serious player in the field of tourism, and I hope that it is accepted
that what will be good for Seychelles tourism will be good for Africa. On
the question of trying to get our Slave Ruins of Mission Lodge to become a
UNESCO World Heritage Site we are doing that because we believe in
protecting where we come from for us to know as a Nation where we are and
where we are going. Seychelles has shown that it is a serious partner of
the UNESCO because we have invested and continue to invest in our existing
two sites, the Vallee de Mai of Praslin and the Aldabra Atoll. But often
the procedures are procedures instead of jumping to grab a proposal and
protect, like in our case, what Africa is trying to protect from its
history and this site is unique as it is the remains when young slaves
lived as they were liberated. It is a project with meaning and with deep
historical value. What else is on our agenda, well firstly to work with
South Africa, the Kingdom of Swaziland and Mozambique on their East 3
Route project, to get the region to be the cruise destination where
Africa, Asia, India and the Vanilla Islands all pull together to offer a
cruise route that stands out by itself. After that it is just wait and see.


12) and in closing, cruise tourism, will it come back to the archipelago
in the former big way?

Yes with the Somali bandits falling into line because of the overwhelming
support of the Community of Nations the sea routes off the coast of
Africa are becoming safe again. We will now be working together all the
countries of the region to reposition ourselves at Cruise Ship Fairs as a
region that wants cruise ship business and that will work with cruise ship
companies to get our region included on their routes.

Thank you for your time Minister and for speaking with eTN.

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