SEYCHELLES HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM ASSOCIATION GETS VOCAL ON SOP’S AND OTHER #COVID19 REGULATIONS
(Posted 10th September 2020)
(Pictures courtesy of STB)
SHTA, the Seychelles primary tourism and hospitality private sector association, has in recent weeks been active to consult with members and then engage with the Seychelles government’ various departments responsible for the handling of the ongoing #COVID19 pandemic.
While the archipelago has very few active cases, only one from within the community and the others related to a fleet of fishing vessels operating in Seychelles’ waters, is there concern nevertheless on two main fronts, one to prevent the importation of cases from tourist visitors and two to kickstart the tourism industry on a broader scale, following the reopening of the airport nearly 6 weeks ago.
Data released recently suggest that since that date more than 2.000 tourist visitors arrived in the country and brought – according to a statement made by President Faure – a value of some 31 million US Dollars into the economy.
Tourism being the backbone of the Seychelles economy is it obvious that business owners, in this case represented by SHTA, are eying every move made by government with caution and have debated how best to make visits to the islands easy without compromising on the question of keeping the virus out of the country.
Vice Chairman Alan Mason, a leading tourism stakeholder, brought the sector’s concerns to President Faure during a meeting two days ago, when he spoke about SOP’s, cost burdens, the issue of work permits for foreign staff and more.
Said Alan Mason verbatim in his address:
Good morning Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have not personally travelled outside Seychelles since the commencement of the pandemic and neither, I dare say, have most of you.
Regardless, we have been able to access data and policy from across the globe, both from nations which in some way resonate with our own situation – for example because of extreme economic dependency on tourism revenue – and from those which constitute our principal markets.
Such information, whilst useful, does not however present the whole picture of how Europe, our key continental market, is operating on a day-to-day basis. Recently we have received first-hand accounts of life in a number of European capitals which, although anecdotal, provide further insight into what is happening to tourism sectors and what might develop in terms of European tourists returning to Seychelles. Therefore our position, in common with most, is based upon a mixture of knowledge and speculation.
Lately SHTA has been considering a number of key factors which have been identified nationally as impacting upon our ability to recover some of our lost economic ground. Testing, quarantine protocols, StaySafe hotels, health protection protocols etc etc. We have all been mindful of the crucial balancing act which exists between public health concerns and economic revival. At times these two domains have been in apparent opposition. This is, to an extent, inevitable, and such a situation is not unique to Seychelles.
We have also expressed concerns about the cancelation of GOPs and the block banning of tourist arrivals from countries categorised as ‘high risk’, most recently France. As stated, we are not the only country dealing with such issues, indeed Singapore recently announced that employment priority would be given to local workers ahead of the expatriate workforce which has, for decades, contributed to the country’s exceptional economic growth. Yet even there things are not straightforward, as we can see from this report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph of September 7th.
‘Adding to the sense of uncertainty, Mr. Loong, the Singaporean prime minister, on Wednesday warned that turning inwards would be a blow for the country during a record recession. Calvin Cheng, a Singaporean entrepreneur, said the country faced a “very delicate balance in the short term.” He said: “You have to make sure that while looking after your own citizens that companies also have access to the best talent to survive the recession.”
This is, of course, a challenge which is sadly very familiar to us.
At our last State House meeting we emphasised that we need to decide whether, as a nation, we trust the testing systems which have been put in place by governments (including our own) and airport authorities such as that in the UAE.
We emphasised that we need to maintain confidence in the robust measures devised by the public health authorities whilst doing everything we can to ensure that such measures do not collectively serve as an insurmountable disincentive to those who might wish to travel here.
We stressed the need to work together, share our distinct areas of expertise, and – through consultation, dialogue and collaboration – devise the best policies to achieve the twin objectives of health and economic resurgence.
Mr. President, SHTA continues to support these strategic objectives, and we feel that much work needs to continue to be done in order to avoid an economic catastrophe in 2021 every bit as pernicious as the one we are currently experiencing. Indeed, the situation next year – with European markets not expected to deliver meaningful activity until the later part of 2021, and airline passenger numbers not expected to return to pre-COVID levels until 2024 (airport and airline consensus) – could be even worse.
This is both a truly terrifying projection and a further justification for facilitating whatever business we can muster. Every tourist coming to Seychelles is a plus, contributing in some modest fashion to the mitigation of economic collapse, and also to the sustainability of airlines flying here.
Within this context SHTA believes that we should continue making progress regarding TORs for the creation and maintenance of travel corridors through the creation of ‘special status’ designations with our principal markets, with supplementary health measures introduced when required.
It is imperative that we do not delay this announcement for much longer as we are already starting to receive cancellations for October bookings. This is caused by uncertainty and a lack of confidence in the ability of the authorities here to devise and stick to protocols which work – protocols which allow responsible traffic from our main markets to move in a manner that both our visitors and the citizens of Seychelles understand and accept.
In line with this SHTA once again urges low cost or free of charge PCR testing in Seychelles. We understand that rapid testing is now in place at the international airport and that, even in the case of a passenger testing negative who nevertheless carries the virus in incubatory form, a follow up test four or five days later would supersede the original negative test/s with protective action following swiftly. We further understand that this testing – applied at random – is free of charge to the passenger selected. This is as it should be, ethically and in terms of marketability.
The bottom line is that a holiday to Seychelles must be stripped of as many additional costs and bureaucratic obstacles as possible, whilst avoiding the creation of unacceptable risk levels to the health of visitors and locals.
SHTA believes that the abandonment of a charging policy inclusive of Travizory and testing costs, and which we have been overtly critical of recently, can contribute to our nation becoming a viable destination for some tourists. If Travizory costs $5 per passenger, then charge $5, or even $10, but not a cynical $50 which, within the context of encouraging people to come here, is completely unjustifiable. SHTA also believes that more work needs to be done to create a Travizory ‘one stop online shop’, whereby tourists can fulfil all public health and immigration requirements in order to have a seamless arrival/departure experience.
The concept of a ‘seamless’ travel experience stems in part from a mid-20th century convention which is being actioned, to an extent and in response to COVID-19, by a United Nations specialist agency. The Convention on International Civil Aviation, drafted in 1944 by 54 nations, was established to promote cooperation and “create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world.”
Known more commonly today as the ‘Chicago Convention’, this landmark agreement established the core principles permitting international transport by air, and led to the creation of the specialised agency which has overseen it ever since – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Article 22 of the convention states that members should make sure that ‘unnecessary delays’ presently being experienced because of the lack of a comprehensive PNR – Passenger Name Record system – should be mitigated by the introduction of procedures which bring together important data relevant to border control and customs officials, as well as relatively trivial data concerning meal and seat selection. In between we have potentially significant data which relates to passenger contact information, checked baggage etc. The incorporation of all data into an Advanced Passenger Information system which can be administered by Travizory, is something which will deliver a number of benefits to Seychelles – enhanced health security for example – as well as shorter border clearance times for the passenger. The principles embedded in the 1944 agreement therefore continue to have relevance today.
SHTA continues to advocate lowering or even abolishing domestic PCR test costs. Yet again our newspapers have recently reported that more testing and other health equipment has been donated, in addition to equipment already given. Any charge for PCR testing carried out in Seychelles should be low, if present at all.
SHTA continues to promote the consideration of more rapid, accurate and low-cost testing regimes, especially the new $5 credit-card sized devices which, working in a similar manner to a pregnancy test, can be carried out anywhere – airports, hotels, clinics, homes, schools etc. Of course, the demand for innovation is high, but we have the advantage of being small. Our needs are comparatively low and, with support from our diplomatic corps, we might be able to acquire the testing kits we need.
Mr. President, why do we need to work especially hard, and with an exceptional sense of urgency, in order to generate confidence in the minds of the residents and travel professionals in our principal markets?
The short and sharp answer is economic self-interest. But let us not deceive ourselves and expect significant numbers of visitors to return to our shores later this year. Or even next year. The potential numbers are modest, but if we do not initiate sensible and effective systems soon we run the risk of being overlooked by those few people prepared to travel to long haul destinations from our traditional client bases. I stress the word ‘few’ and I use this term relative to the visitor arrival numbers which we have been enjoying for many years.
At the beginning of my statement I mentioned anecdotal and experiential evidence coming from European capitals. The situation there remains unhealthy, and I do not just mean this literally. European city areas normally thriving and busy with tourists are empty. The loss of revenue is incalculable. The threat to jobs unprecedented. The tourism and hospitality industries across the continent are in ICU. Major government initiatives which have supported schemes such as half price dining and a proportion of a hotel stay offered free have done little to shore up sectors which rely – as ours does – on incoming business from outside national borders.
And, most important of all, the majority of people are not travelling, and they are certainly not travelling long-haul. Any destination such as ours will need to act with unity and determination if we are to attract even a modest number of visitors in the coming months. So in the light of this should we just give up? We think not. The message has to be sent to our overseas operators that we have in place a flexible and effective system which potential clients can rely on, one which they can be sure will not change radically and without warning. Such knee-jerk change has happened in the UK recently, causing chaos, anger and resentment towards the authorities from citizens returning home to punitive regulations which were not in place when they left.
Yesterday one major European nation saw an open letter from 20 aviation chiefs and airport CEOs urging their government to introduce comprehensive rapid airport testing immediately in order to remove or at least significantly reduce quarantine requirements for visitors and returning citizens. They warn that over 100,000 jobs will be lost if they are not listened to. There is some synergy between their position and that of the SHTA, however there are two significant differences:
Firstly, our economic dependency on tourism is eight times that of the country referred to.
Secondly, that country has registered 350,000 COVID cases and 41,500 deaths. Our statistics are, even when weighted, very different.
Both of these differences suggest to us that the creation of an effective and stable system which facilitates what modest levels of tourism we might expect is even more necessary here than in larger nations with greater economic diversity and where the expectation of a ‘second wave’ of infection is very real indeed. Here, we never really had a first wave, thanks largely to our public health officials.
Mr. President, the government rightly carries the ultimate responsibility for health and economic strategies which have to be responsive to both a constantly evolving pandemic and the harsh financial realities which face us.
Measures have been taken by government in order to support some businesses and individual employees. Large sums have been borrowed, partly to pay for the raft of fiscal initiatives put in place. These large sums have to be repaid of course, and there are those outside our country who are cautious about our ability to do this. Without a steady revival of tourism over the coming five years they might be proved right.
SHTA urges consideration of what lies ahead – specifically beyond the end of this calendar year, when many support schemes reach the end of their initial term. We accept the obvious difficulties in doing this – political uncertainty being the main one – however we believe that support for an extension of key initiatives should be expressed now by all major parties, and kept to regardless of the outcome of October’s election. We believe that the 13th month salary – always a flawed and suspect concept – has to be abandoned. To do otherwise would be the death knoll for many businesses. There is no justification whatsoever for the payment of a 13th month salary at the end of a year when hardly anybody in the country has been ‘at work’ in the normal sense of the term.
Mr President, yet again SHTA urges consultation across government, other political parties, NGOs and the private sector in order to realise common national objectives which have an unprecedented – and accelerating – urgency.
Thank you for your attention.
Given that a general election for President and members of the National Assembly will take place in about 7 weeks from now across the Seychelles will government no doubt listen carefully to what the private sector has to say.
In fact, a day after Alan Mason addressed the president did the Seychelles Tourism Board issue a statement through their Facebook website, and while it is not clear if this was in direct response, it nevertheless addresses some of the concerns the private sector expressed in past weeks:
Seychelles boosts visitor’s confidence through the creation of Special Status for main source markets.
In an effort to provide more confidence to tourism partners in key source market countries the authorities in Seychelles has decided to provide special status to a group of seven countries.
The initiative will come into force as of October 1, 2020, will include main source market countries namely United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the United Arab Emirates.
The decision was made by the tourism task force, a committee chaired by Minister Didier Dogley, Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine mandated to oversee all issues relating to the re-opening the destination during this period dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
This initiative aims to provide more confidence to visitors coming from these selected countries and to reassure them that even when their country does not feature on the permitted list of countries they will still be able to travel to Seychelles.
Under this new initiative, visitors will be allowed to travel to Seychelles however; more stringent sanitary measures will apply to ensure the safety of both visitors and the local population.
The advisory, to be published by September 18, 2020, will confirm the authorisation for visitors from distinctive countries considered prime markets for the destination to travel under special conditions if their countries of departure do not feature on the permitted list of countries to enter Seychelles.
“This is in particular when there is a spike or a rapid surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in their country of residence. Under normal circumstances whenever this happens and the number of cases goes beyond a particular threshold, visitors from these countries would not have been allowed to travel to Seychelles,” said the minister.
Minister Didier Dogley further informed that the decision was made based on the assessment of how the country has been performing since June 1, 2020, when Seychelles removed the air travel restrictions for the destination.
“Our performance as a small country handling arrival of visitors since June 1, 2020, has been a success. We have been able to open our borders to foreign visitors and reactivate our tourism industry in a meaningful manner, with some degree of confidence, while meeting our primary objective of protecting our local population from Covid-19. Providing special status to our key source market countries is of vital importance to ensure continuity during a period of much instability,” said Minister Dogley
Other important prerequisites for travelling to Seychelles from the selected countries will include that prior to departure from their country of origin; visitors will have to submit a negative PCR test certificate from an accredited laboratory done within 48 hours from their time of departure. Furthermore, they will be expected to have valid travel insurance with full medical coverage for the duration of their stay.
Designated hotels and other forms of accommodations with the right facilities and amenities will be permitted to accommodate these visitors for the first 5 days of their visits. Throughout that period, they will have to stay on the premises of the hotel.
On the 5th day, visitors will be subjected to another Covid-19 PCR test, provided their test is negative, the visitor will be allowed to continue to enjoy their holiday as they would normally have. If the test results are positive, the visitor in question will be required to stay in a designated stay-safe hotel until cleared by the Seychelles Public Health Authority. The test will be free of charge.
The chairperson of the task force explained that for these selected markets, the only time visitors will not be allowed to enter is when the situation in that particular country is considered to be out of control and therefore the risk is too high.
Additional measures and procedures set by the PHA, which are subjected to change, can be viewed under the advisory available on the Tourism Department and Department of Health websites, which will be kept updated.