Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association writes open letter to their minister

SHTA MINCES NO WORDS AS THEY WRITE DETAILED LETTER TO GOVERNMENT ABOUT THE SECTOR’S CHALLENGES

(Posted 14th August 2019)

SHTA PUBLISHES OPEN LETTER TO
MINISTER DIDIER DOGLEY

The SHTA Board recently decided to take action on behalf of its members and write publicly to the Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports & Marine, about a number of long standing sector concerns.

The letter, which is being made available to all through the Seychelles media, is of course designed to influence and lobby for improvements for the tourism sector. However it is also a communication rooted in frustration because so many of the solutions to our industry’s problems already exist, either in the form of adopted policy or legislation. The trouble is that in this period of political stalemate and the inertia which accompanies it, there has been little action taken by the authorities to deal with problems which not only affect our core business but also the social fabric within which we all operate and which tourists experience. The fact that social problems impact negatively upon tourists’ experiences and subsequently do damage to our reputation and marketability lies at the core of the open letter, which is inserted below in full.

Dear Minister Dogley,

The members of the SHTA Board met recently and decided to write to you concerning our views on priorities and concerns for the tourism industry in Seychelles. In the interests of transparency and in order to assist purposeful and effective public debate on these issues the Board further elected to write to you in the form of an ‘open’ letter.

This letter summarises not only input from our elected Board members but also from SHTA members. We believe that, whilst by no means inclusive, the content of this letter touches on a significant number of matters which concern both government and the private sector.

We have identified a number of key issues for consideration. These form the second part of this letter. However we also wish to make a number of general observations which we feel are critical.

These concern the general state of the nation and the increase in social problems which not only have the potential to derail our tourism industry but which also erode the quality of life for many of our citizens on a daily basis. There is nothing new in what follows – indeed these issues have been discussed over and over again at meetings both public and private, from the smallest consultation to the multi sectoral events which were initiated to address tourism-related issues from all sides. The sad reality is, however, that despite this we are failing to progress as a society and we are watching, almost helplessly, as an increase in the anti-social behaviour of a minority of our citizens risks our long-held (and hard won) reputation as a warm, welcoming and friendly destination. Focus is often placed upon the deterioration of Beau Vallon, the so-called ‘golden mile’, however declining standards impact across the main three islands, with one SHTA member citing the New Port area as a meeting point for large numbers of young locals who drink, party and then leave the residue for someone else to clear up. The police are apparently unable or unwilling to control littering, loud music on beaches and in residential areas, packs of stray dogs, drug dealers operating openly and with impunity (to the astonishment of visitors), aggressive hawkers selling everything from unlicensed boat trips (which often fail to materialise following payment) to 500 rupee coconuts; the list can be continued and completed by anyone living here. These issues have not been addressed and, as a consequence, they have increased in frequency and severity. Existing laws are not enforced and, as a consequence, a relatively small section of society believes that it can behave in any way it wishes, regardless of the negative impact upon our tourism industry and our society as a whole. And why shouldn’t they feel this, for they have been getting away with treating the authorities with contempt for so long they consider it their right to continue to do so. There is a deep and serious problem when members of society confuse their constitutional rights with ignoring the laws of the land. There is an ethical problem also when the same people selfishly put themselves and their own interests above the health of their community and country.

SHTA believes that we stand at a crucial cross roads with regards to our tourism industry. The sad reality is that the only locations which are immune from the social ills described above are the high end island resorts where the tourist’s experience is controlled and safe-guarded. But this is for the few and not the many.
SHTA believes that it is time for serious action to be taken, for our beaches and general environment to be cleaned up and for those who continue to laugh at the laws of the land to face the consequences. It is time for our police officers to be respected and their interventions obeyed. It is NOT the time for more meetings, fresh policies or even new legislation. We already have the tools required to sort out the problems, however these tools have been left on the ground, rusting away. It is time to pick them up and deploy them. The authorities need to take whatever action required to restore a sense of collective responsibility across society. Unfortunately it is far too late to try to achieve this through education or public awareness campaigns. It is surely time for a collective effort to be made in order to enforce the laws which have been on our statute books for some time and which were written to protect our citizens and our society. If the police are incapable of doing this then outside assistance should be sought, as has been the case in the past when our small nation has been faced with crises. There is nothing shameful in a small country with limited resources asking for help from its larger neighbours.

Minister, we feel confident that such determined action would be short-lived. The vast majority of citizens would welcome decisive action and the restoration of the Seychelles which they remember and love. We believe that, with the required political will, order and a respect for not only the law but also one’s fellow citizens can quickly be achieved.

The specific points which follow differ from the above in that they refer to specific matters which currently bear upon the operational side of our sector, however we would request that they be read within the context of the overall concerns expressed.

Issue 1: Mass tourism

Tourism is predicted to continue to rise globally and exponentially. Tourism contributes almost nine trillion dollars to the world economy and is currently growing at the rate of 4% per annum. One would expect our immediate reaction to this projection – as a nation which relies directly and indirectly on this sector for most of its income – to be entirely positive. However the situation in Seychelles is complex and embraces much more than raw revenue figures. The issue of visitor numbers against yield has been extensively debated and it is understood that an increase in the first does not necessarily lead to an increase in the second, per capita.

Within the industry there is a strong feeling that we need to redefine our destination identity – our ‘brand’ if you will. Many feel that ‘Affordable Seychelles’ has been problematic, encouraging the downgrading of our product and attracting the consideration of visitors who previously would not have contemplated Seychelles as a viable holiday location due to its ‘high end’ reputation. This sounds, to an extent, unpalatably elitist, however we have a responsibility to ask questions regarding the number and type of tourists we wish to attract. Whilst it is egalitarian to suggest that Seychelles is for a wider economic bandwidth than previously thought, this attitude can (and perhaps already has) backfire/d. Every visitor places demands on the national infrastructure. Services such as power and water, transport, health facilities and buildings are used by all, whether they are staying at a 5* resort or an Air BnB. The balance between what visitors bring and what they cost is a matter deserving of thorough consideration and this consideration should manifest itself through subsequent marketing strategies.

Put bluntly, there should be an effective interface between the private sector, government and those responsible for the generic marketing of Seychelles. This is something which the SHTA will be happy to contribute to.

Issue 2: The National Airline

Air Seychelles clearly has a very different mandate to other airlines flying to the Seychelles. Not only does it have the usual business-oriented priorities and the need to at least balance income and expenditure, it also has what can best be described as a social responsibility. This is based upon the provision of cheap and accessible inter-island flights for Seychellois and residents, something which mitigates profitability or even break-even points being reached. To an extent higher fares charged to foreign passengers subsidise the loss, however the figures would suggest insufficiently so.

Additionally Air Seychelles exists as a kind of ‘safety net’ against other airlines pulling out. The SHTA is about to enter a dialogue with the airline management to address a number of issues. In view of this we would like to communicate with you again after this consultation has been concluded.

Issue 3: Training and Shannon College students

The recruitment and retention of quality, trained staff within the tourism industry in Seychelles is, as you are well aware, particularly challenging. Hotels and DMCs continue to rely on foreign labour in order to deliver quality of service and experience to guests. Most industry players struggle to hire Seychellois with the required skill sets and attitude. Disparity of productivity between locals and foreigners remains an issue and despite fresh initiatives designed to tackle this issue (enhanced sensitisation programmes on the tourism industry as well as concepts such as productivity within the formal and extra curricula of state schools for example) the situation is unlikely to change in the near future.

SHTA has been responsible for the successful delivery of targeted training courses for inservice personnel. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) remains one of our priorities for the foreseeable future and we look forwards to working with STA and the government in order to identify course content which is most needed by tourism professionals.

There is also the issue of expectations.
Put bluntly the expectations – financial and other – of foreign tourism sector professionals is, within market parameters, realistic, but those held by returning Seychellois are frequently not. A plethora of anecdotes surround the typical returning Shannon graduate. They tend to expect rapid promotion or, even worse, immediate appointment at a senior managerial level. They expect unrealistically high salaries and benefits based purely upon their qualification, since they have no experience. SHTA feels that steps need to be taken to inculcate a more realistic attitude whilst students are in Ireland as well as through an orientation programme upon returning to Seychelles.

Issue 4: Viability of the industry

In 2019 the industry is viable but subject to ongoing refinement, change and audit. We have to continually question whether we are meeting the expectations of our visitors and take action when we are not. One example is that concerning sustainability and pro-environmental policies and actions. Our principal markets are increasingly conscious of whether a destination is sufficiently ‘green’ to warrant their dollars and euros. Today’s viability could erode swiftly if we do not collectively commit to sustainable practice across the industry. This will have to involve government action, for example tougher legislation and policing with regards to plastic and other ‘high profile’ pollutants. Alternative renewable energy options will have to proliferate; apart from environmental reasons our tourists will expect to see such systems in place in even the most modest establishment and will increasingly vote with their feet if this is not the case.

The NGOs will need to be empowered as engines of advice and change. Financial incentives will have to be provided in order to effect change at grass roots level – particularly for small tourism businesses where even modest capital expenditure can be a headache. All subsequent policies and legislation should be drawn up against a template which valourises sustainability and best ‘green’ practice.

SHTA also believes that the value of niche marketing has not been fully understood. In market terms action has been taken – most notably addressing the needs of the short-term stay of cruise ships – but in terms of what the IMF described in a meeting once as ‘what to do when it rains’, little work has been done. There is scope to develop cultural tourism, eco-tourism, health tourism, sports tourism etc. Some ground work has been carried out by NGOs in terms of developing best practice, however outcomes have been few. SHTA would urge the reintegration of Tourism and Culture within one Ministry and an enhanced synergy between the ministries with respective responsibility for Health, Tourism and Sport.
There is also the issue of operating costs, which brings us to Issue 5.

Issue 5: Costs

This is a matter which SHTA has been prioritising for many years. The private sector has, to many, appeared to be akin to the proverbial golden goose, squeezed with fresh taxes whenever the government needs to raise revenue. True, some concessions have been granted in the past but collectively these go nowhere near to the frequently excessive taxation schedules which neutralise them. Naturally it is tempting to comment that of course the private sector will complain; this is normal. No one enjoys paying taxes and everyone wishes to maximise their profitability. However as with the visitor number/yield equation this issue concerns balance. There is a delicate fulcrum upon which the viability of a tourism business rests. Any increase in operating budgets, whether through direct taxation or through increased labour costs, is likely to make us less competitive both regionally and globally. Never before have travelers had such destination choice and never before have they had access to data on every aspect of a destination – from climate idiosyncrasies to the state of the roads, from the cost of a bed to the cost of a coffee. The internet shines an intensely brilliant light upon every destination and there is no longer anywhere for the below-par performer to hide. Accommodation and services costs are similarly illuminated.

SHTA has registered disappointment with regards to past government decision to implement a 13th month salary for all and without any reference to performance, without consultation. More recently we criticised the increases to minimum wage, once again announced without any consultation. The fact that increasing costs for the employer has become the default position for government whenever it seeks to increase revenues or curry political favour is a matter of deep concern for the tourism sector. SHTA would welcome the opportunity to work with the ministries responsible for tourism and finance in order to find ways of addressing these concerns.

Issue 6: Employment of Foreign Workers

Minister, the SHTA has a number of serious concerns regarding the new GOP procedures which, whilst not implemented without consultation, have been written in complete disregard of the points raised by the private sector and which were at the time of dialogue, notionally accepted as valid. This in itself is a worrying situation, whereby tokenistic consultation can be seen as as negative as no consultation at all.
The new procedures represent, in our view, a lack of awareness of the consequences for our industry and therefore the national economy.

The decision to attest contracts prior to GOP application will cause the following difficulties for businesses.

Firstly time will be lost (and unnecessary costs incurred) as the contract will need to be couriered for the candidates signature.

Secondly the employment department, which suffers from limited human resources, will be placed under further pressure as a consequence of the new policy. This will provoke potential litigation as the period of the employment set on the contract will, if delays are as we expect, not reflect the period of the GOP issue.

Thirdly, certain countries restrict the number of hours which constitute a working week, for example an employment agency in Nepal will not allow a 60 hpw contract as their legislation restricts terms to 48 hpw. This is currently circumvented by the employee only signing the contract once in Seychelles, however the new regulations will not allow this.

In addition to the above SHTA regrets that no reference has been made to the need for the issuance of No Objection Certificates (NOCs). The absence of this endorses the present situation whereby an employee can arbitrarily leave employment and the Seychelles without the employer’s sanction. This omission has the most serious implications for the tourism private sector. The advantages of having NOCs can be summarised as follows:
Employers are protected from staffing shortages and the failure of employees to comply with the terms of their contracts. The NOC system would protect the employer within the context of transparency and fairness for all parties.

Through the issuing by the employer of the NOC, the immigration office would also be able to control the unsanctioned departure of staff. At the time of consultation this point was taken positively by PS Baker who confirmed that all our points would be taken into consideration. His failure to do this is discouraging and does not bode well for future fruitful collaboration between the private sector and the government.

Minister, what may be done to mitigate the potentially harmful effect of these ill-considered policies? SHTA would respectfully suggest that the tourism industry be made exempt from those elements which will, if enforced, be detrimental to our industry and the national economy. There are precedents, with the tourism sector receiving exemptions and special consideration within the context of prior fiscal legislation in order to rightly protect and develop our industry. Such measures are drastically needed now in the light of these new implementations and this is why SHTA is extracting this section of this open letter and sending it to Minister Telemaque, the Minister of Employment, Immigration & Civil Status. We very much hope that your Ministry will join with the SHTA to make appropriate representations on this matter which will lead to the potentially negative consequences of the new policy framework being neutralised. We will be very pleased to hear from you concerning how this might be realised.

We feel that to an extent our industry is being penalised for the ill-doings of employers in other sectors and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to foreign labour issues is crude and potentially harmful to tourism. We would advocate a customised approach to such legislation which is mindful of the unique operational character of our industry and also our important contribution to GDP.’

Minister, these are the main points concerning the health of our industry which we would like you to consider. We will shortly be holding a series of regional meetings for our members, after which we will possess further data with regards to concerns, proposals, training needs and achievements. We will of course share this with you.
We look forward to working closely with you in order to address any and all matters pertinent to the growth and security of our tourism industry in the interest of Seychelles and all Seychellois.

Yours sincerely,

Sybille Cardon
Chairperson
Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association

Your comments are welcome and will receive a response in due course.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.