Island Style
Business Traveller Africa|December 2017

It’s long been regarded as one of Africa’s luxury island destinations, and for good reason - stunning beaches, gorgeous views, great food, excellent service and stunning hotels that make the most of the beautiful surrounds. Now the Seychelles wants to be taken seriously as a MICE destination.

It ’s competitive, this tourism business, and as times get tougher and belts get tighter, those countries playing in this space and looking to bet their futures on this segment of the economy are going to have to evolve, adapt and ‘think outside the box’, if they are to get their hands on a sizeable chunk of what is a rapidly shrinking pie.

Specifically, those countries that rely heavily on tourism to survive and even prosper. The Seychelles is one such country. Yes, it is a country, but the reality is that it is a 115-island country, spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean approximately 1,500 kilometres east of mainland Africa.

Beautiful it is, with some of the most breathtaking beaches you’ll ever see. In fact, the locals are proud to tell you that beaches such as Anse Lazio (on Praslin), Anse Source d’Argent (La Digue) and Grande Anse (La Digue) are consistently up there when prizes for the best beaches in the world are handed out.

But beaches alone are not going to crack it and ensure that the Seychelles beats off its rivals in the ‘luxury island destination’ stakes, because there is plenty of competition out there. So much, in fact, that the Seychelles and six of its fellow Indian Ocean islands – Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius and Mayotte – recognised the threat as global in 2010 and banded together that year to form the ‘Vanilla Islands’, pooling their marketing efforts.

Another challenge the Seychelles faces is that it ’s perceived as a premium travel destination, with a focus on five-star hotels and a luxury experience. You only need to look at the list of luxury international brands (see sidebar) to get a sense of the premium hotel offering.

“We’re aware of that perception, which is mainly due to the number of high end establishments as well as the number of celebrities who have chosen to spend their holidays in Seychelles, along with the beautiful images of the destination,” says David Germain, Regional Director: Africa & the Americas, for the Seychelles Tourism Board. “We are using tools such as consumer fairs to address this issue and believe we’re about 50% of the way there.”

Germain points out that Seychelles actually has quite a wide range of accommodation options, along with the luxury properties already mentioned, with guesthouses, self-catering apartments and lodges all available for those with a closer eye on budget.

The STB may want to consider ramping up efforts to reinforce that notion, particularly when it comes to selling the Seychelles as a MICE destination. In these budget-conscious days, there are very few corporates in a position to take large groups to expensive destinations, so the Seychelles has some work to do if it is to compete in this space.

Germain, though, is confident that the offering speaks for itself.

“There is day after day balmy weather, it ’s one of the purest environmentally intact destinations on earth, there are no visa requirements, it ’s safe with friendly people, it ’s culturally diverse, and there is a wide range of accommodation,” he says. “As a venue for small conferences and select company incentives, Seychelles represents a powerful partnership of business and pleasure. It also has excellent communications infrastructure and reliable air links to Europe, Africa and Asia.”

AIR LIFT 

Picking up on Germain’s final point, this is an area that the Seychelles has traditionally struggled with, but the last five years or so has seen the country, tourist board and national airline make significant strides in making the archipelago more accessible.

Most recently, Austrian Airlines started flying to the Seychelles for the first time in October with a weekly non-stop flight from Vienna to Mahé.

Arguably even more exciting for the country’s tourism authorities – in terms of connection with a major European hub – was the news that British Airways will fly direct from London Heathrow to the Seychelles from 24 March, 2018 until October of next year, using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for flights on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Before these more recent announcements, Ethiopian Airlines increased its flights to five a week in 2016, whilst Turkish Airlines launched its first flight to the archipelago, also last year.

Also in the last couple of years, Air Seychelles has been particularly active. Besides expanding its fleet, this year alone saw the airline expand its codeshare partnerships with Etihad and Alitalia, whilst 2016 saw Air Seychelles expand its agreements with Jet Airways and South African Airways, as well as launch a direct route to Durban.

2016 was a busy year for Air Seychelles, with the airline also launching flights to China and expanding its reach to Mumbai in India. This, after 2015 saw Air Seychelles enter into a codeshare with Air France, further strengthening its connections with Europe.

Air Seychelles was also busy last year beefing up its lounge offering, with a revamp of its Vallee de Mai lounge in Mahé, which now has seating for 102 guests and a fresher look.

Arguably the most exciting news in the airline space broke just over a year ago when it was announced that Seychelles could have a new international airport in Mahé in the next three to four years. The current Seychelles International Airport opened in 1972 and has more recently struggled with increased demand. The new international airport is expected to be built to the north of the current structure and will cost in the region of $150-million.

ISLANDS

So, you’ve got a fair bit of background on the Seychelles, and judging by the airline news above, you’ve probably worked out the easiest route to get to the Seychelles, with the options now a lot more plentiful than say they were five years ago.

But do you know exactly what you’re getting in to and do you really understand the Seychelles?

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