MOURNING VICTIMS AND COMMISERATING FRIENDS
Two shark attacks in the space of two weeks, after in fact not seeing the great white shark in the Seychellois waters for decades, have rocked the tranquil archipelago’s tourism industry. While the first deadly attack on a French tourist received little media attention, the second one yesterday on a British tourist brought on the predictable media spotlight on a destination, which over the past 30 months has become the darling of the global travel publications.
Gifted by pristine beaches and crystal clear azure waters around the dozens of islands, a friendly people and more than half of its territory declared protected areas like marine and terrestrial national parks and reserves, the Seychelles depend on three main economic sectors for its survival, fishing, trade and tourism. The first two were for the past two years increasingly threatened by Somalia’s ocean terrorists, and had it not been for the robust responses of the Seychelles government, supported by friendly countries from around the world boosting the archipelago’s defensive capabilities, things might be much worse. However, a determined and robust engagement of any ocean terrorists daring to enter Seychellois waters and an open declaration that an attack on the economic interests of the Seychelles would be taken as a clear and present danger to the country’s security interests has paid off and cruise ships, albeit with ‘escorts’ on board, are again more often seen calling on Port Victoria.
That brings me to the latter item, tourism. After staring at a gloomy forecast at the height of the global financial crisis between 2007 and 2009, a response equally determined and robust came about, when government in a departure from old practice restructured the Seychelles Tourist Board and made the archipelago’s private sector the driving force in promoting the islands’ tourism industry and re-branding the destination. Success swiftly returned and record arrivals are now filling many of the existing resorts but also the string of new ones which have sprung up over the past two years in accordance with a carefully designed masterplan. A separate marketing campaign ‘Affordable Seychelles’ took roots and helps to bring in plenty of extra visitors numbers occupying guest houses, B&B’s and holiday villas, mostly owned and operated by indigenous Seychellois, who are finally getting a larger slice of the tourism proceeds the industry produces.
While some may say that the destination has ‘overplayed’ its hand in working the media, and the two shark attacks give opportunity for ‘pay back’, I do not agree with that. No destination can ‘overplay’ its hand, and the Seychelles, gifted by unique natural attractions deep in the Indian Ocean, only grabbed the bull by its horns and engaged with the media, over the past 2 ½ years and notably and especially now, that a great white shark has struck twice in as many weeks. The Seychelles Tourism Board has issued a full and comprehensive communiqué explaining what happened and what response was being designed, and has even overnight been answering queries from overseas media houses to be certain that the facts and not speculation could be reported.
Competitors aiming to exploit the tragedies would be ill advised to make negative capital out of these two sad events and as I write this column, a small armada of fishing vessels and even airborne spotters are circling the beaches of Praslin, to find and capture the monster. After the first shark attack a crisis meeting was called and a public private sector action committee formed, now boosted by added resources to find the beast and destroy it. A temporary ban on swimming off shore has been put into effect, around Praslin and neighbouring La Digue and every effort is being taken to prevent another attack before the shark can be tracked down.
Shark attack specialists have gone on record to say it may be a migrant from far off distant shores, as it was most unusual to even hear of sightings near the Seychelles, leave alone attacks on swimmers.
The coming days will tell what results the response teams can produce.
For now, it is sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two victims and a word of encouragement and support to my friends across the archipelago during these trying days – and a final reassurance, that the Seychelles, and in particular Praslin remains my personal dream destination.