EMPTY RESORTS – EMPTY STREETS AT NIGHT – EMPTY AIRPORT AND EMPTY POCKETS BUT LOOKING WITH POSITIVE ENERGY INTO THE FUTURE
(Posted 17th April 2020)
It was two and a half months ago, when a discussion emerged among tourism stakeholders in the Seychelles, what the future would hold vis a vis constantly climbing visitor numbers, establishing arrival record after arrival record for the past decade.
I remember the 2007 / 2008 global financial crisis, when the paradise islands stared at a downturn of arrivals of as much as a third, and then brought in Alain St. Ange as Director of Tourism Marketing to reshuffle the deck of marketing cards and have the wind of change blow through the corridors of the Seychelles Tourism Board.
He started the juggernaut of marketing, with the Seychelles punching well above their regular ‘weight class‘ and turning the islands into one of the most desired island tourism destinations in the world.
Those were the days of the Carnival de Carnavales, the International Carnival Festival in Victoria, when at the launch event some 150 media houses from around the world had been invited to give prominence to the islands’ many attractions and to witness the friendly enthusiasm the Seychellois people displayed.
I was privileged to attend all the carnivals up to the time the last one was staged together with the Festival Creole a few years ago, before the idea was put back into the drawers.
Tourism was booming and I, during media conferences along the way with the then Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St. Ange, repeatedly asked the question of carrying capacity – this being the crucial moment when the islands’ infrastructure and services would reach their limit in receiving more visitors.
Electricity, water, supplies and crucially also staffing was an issue, as were suitable locations for new resorts. This led to a moratorium on the construction of new large scale resort projects across the islands, one that still exists.
In 2019 did the Seychelles receive 384.204 visitors, up from the previous year’s record of 351.235 and for 2020 was the 400.000 mark in sight – when COVID19 struck.
Available bed statistics from the tourism ministry confirm that across the islands there are about 589 licensed tourism establishments in operation accounting for 6,332 rooms.
Deliberations are no doubt continuing where the magic cut off figure may stand, at 450.000 or at 475.000 or even at the half million mark but for now, are the resort and hotel beds empty, staff has been laid off on significant scale and most airlines, apart from cargo flights, have halted their services, including the domestic flights between Mahe and Praslin. The few additional flights coming and going were given permission to fly in empty to evacuate stranded tourists to their home countries and while some still remain, have the numbers dwindled to insignificant.
This left new hotels due to open in a financial doldrum while existing hotels too were stripped of income and yet have fixed costs to bear on a monthly basis.
A night time curfew, despite the relatively low case load of the Seychelles – only 11 cases have been reported so far largely as a result of the prompt and resolute reaction of the government when the crisis broke out – now has the Seychelles people stay at home from dusk to dawn, as the active cases are being treated and tests are carried out among potential contact groups to see if more positive individuals might be found.
Non essential services too have been halted across the islands with ‘essential services‘ being described shops selling necessary commodities like food and groceries, banks, public utilities and health care facilities. Construction sites have been closed though fishing is ongoing to provide food for the people.
‘This is the worst situation in my living memory‘ said a regular source from Victoria before adding ‘Tourism has seen a steady growth over the decades and despite a crisis here and there, like the Gulf war, the post 9-11 era and the financial crisis of 2007/8, we always stayed afloat. We had many challenges to overcome, high taxes, recruitments, the high cost of utilities and imports but we always succeeded in moving forward. Now, this is unprecedented and never have the islands been empty of visitors like this. Yachts cannot enter our ports, cruise ships are banned and the airport is closed for all but essential cargo or evacuation flights. Our only hope now is that once the outbreak is contained in our main tourist source markets, markets which are the heaviest hit in the world by the pandemic, visitors will return to the islands again.
We count on the goodwill of our media friends like you to help promote us but numbers will be low, challenges especially financial problems will be high and we need every ounce of goodwill to prevail‘
ATCNews wishes all readers based in the Seychelles well, especially of course those in the tourism industry in the widest sense of the word and will stand by you until the next visit is safely possible again.