MASS TOURISM? WHAT MASS TOURISM?
Local media reports about the Seychelles being turned in to a ‘mass tourism destination’ met with acid comments to this correspondent, all suggesting that the writer had absolutely no clue about the concept of mass tourism, what mass tourism constitutes and what in stark contrast the Seychelles’ tourism industry did differently to remain an exclusive and continued upmarket destination. One regular source, not wanting to be drawn in by name into the ongoing public spats between government officials and the media house in question, had this to say in a mail received earlier in the day: ‘Seychelles has only just exceeded the 200.000 arrival mark. We cautiously project a growth for the current year of about 4 percent. The Maldives last year received over one million tourists and no one in his or her true mind would suggest that the Maldives are a mass tourism destination. The same is true for Mauritius. They had arrival below the million mark but again, who would call Mauritius a mass tourism destination. Mass tourism destinations in the understanding of the tourism industry would be the Spanish Mediterranean coast line, or some of the islands like Majorca or Gran Canaria. Las Vegas is a mass tourism destination and so are some of the North African resort cities along the Mediterranean. Mass tourism is based on very large numbers of visitor arrivals, using special tourist charter flights to these destinations and the main market segment is drawn from the middle to the lower end of the global market.
None of those criteria apply to the Seychelles. As you know, we have a dual approach how to market our country. One is the high profile, high visibility, luxury end of the market and that is what we are mostly known for around the world. Secondly we promote our indigenous properties, bed and breakfast, guest houses, self catering, holiday apartments and holiday villas, mostly owned by Seychellois. Often those have just a few rooms but others may have 20 or 30 rooms. That marketing concept we call ‘Affordable Seychelles’ and it is aimed at for instance the African market but also certain segments from Europe or the Gulf. None of our holiday packages are cheap, as the word mass tourism suggests. When we say affordable, it is still in comparison a few times more expensive to come to Seychelles and stay in a B&B or guest house or self catering resort than flying from any points in Europe to Spain for instance. Spain too has very upmarket properties but the bulk of their business takes place in the mass market. We discussed many times about the cap which one day may come into place. That figure, and it has not been determined at this point in time, may be anywhere between 300.000 visitors to maybe 350.000 visitors. The final number will be determined by several factors, among them sustainability. We require matching amounts of water, ability to generate electricity, have trained staff and so forth. To call such numbers mass tourism is ludicrous and reveals an ulterior agenda. The Seychelles government must provide a business environment which can create jobs. If we would not do that, the same people would cry wolf for failing to generate new jobs for young people. Striving towards full employment for Seychellois must be taken seriously. We are expanding STA with the aim to train young people who want to start a career in tourism, in hospitality. There can be no compromise in working towards that end. There is no mass tourism to Seychelles, there never will be mass tourism to Seychelles. Growing numbers yes, but never to anywhere near a point where the word ‘cheap’ might have to be used. This debate is bound to raise issues, is bound to get emotional but those are the facts. Let’s stop to mislead the public, let’s stop to turn tourism into a political issue. It is not going to happen and the present new projects are going to be vetted fully to make sure our environment does not suffer. Let me remind you, the same things were said when the Constance Ephelia was built. It is too big some said. It will destroy the mangroves said others. Now look at the mangrove forests and how they prosper because they are protected and cared for. Life is a compromise in so many ways and we will find compromises for the new projects too so that we can grow as a destination. But not by dropping our most important assets, our crystal clear waters, our pristine environment and our commitment to a green future’.
A storm in the proverbial tea cup or, as has been suggested, a deliberately created spat to make political capital out of it? It is clearly hard to tell what exactly the motives for this campaign are, but the majority of feedback from a significant number of contacts across the islands, appears clearly leaning towards a well regulated upsizing of resort beds across the islands. Only four contributions were opposed to new resorts and one of them was honest enough to say that increased competition is the main factor, not the other issues which have been pushed to the fore. And the figure of 400.000 which is floating about, that one is the number of seats on all the combined flights to Mahe taken together, as was ably pointed out a few days ago by the Chairman of the SCAA Capt. David Savy. Perhaps a mix up in how this figure is to be seen and interpreted? I suggest his comments are re-read to more fully appreciate the relationship between airlines and destination, between the number of seats on offer and those taken up, called load factor. That said, next opportunity, when back on the islands, I will take the time to talk to more people and see if indeed this is the situation as described here or else if there is perhaps a silent majority opposed to new resorts, and by prolongation to new jobs too. Time will tell, so watch this space.