Periodically, opportunity arises to speak with leading tourism stakeholders, and Alain St.Ange, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, has established a reputation in recent years to be one of Africa’s foremost tourism gurus, considering how he and his team turned around the fortunes of the Seychelles tourism industry since coming into office in 2009. They stemmed the tide of the global downturn and created “Brand Seychelles,” now acknowledged and observed, if not intensely studied from around the world.
eTN: Seychelles made waves around the world with their first ever and hugely successful carnival festival with participants from all traditional carnival nations. What made you opt for the global instead of local preparation?
ALAIN ST.ANGE: Seychelles saw a window of opportunity in having a carnival of carnivals exactly because everyone else was doing their own event for themselves and for their people. The world needed an event that went beyond day-to-day politics, religion, and country differences. We wanted to stage an event where people are people and respected for what they are. This is primarily why we have launched ourselves with the task of organizing this unique event now called the carnivals of carnivals where the best and the most famous carnivals parade side by side with cultural groups from the Community of Nations coming from the four corners of the world.
Seychelles is the ideal place for such an event that aims to bring the world together, because we remain first and foremost a safe destination. Our safety label remains one of our unique selling points, especially now when so much is happening in the different parts of the world. Secondly, Seychelles, as a country prides itself that it remains “friends of all and enemies of none” in the countries that make up the Community of Nations. Thirdly, in bringing the cultures of the world together, we felt we were well suited because the unique blend of our people is a reflection of the Community of Nations in itself because of the settlement of Seychelles that saw arrivals from the four corners of the world.
eTN: With number one gone so supremely well, what have you in store for us for the 2012 second edition of the Seychelles carnival?
ST.ANGE: The 2012 edition of the Seychelles “Carnival International de Victoria” will be even better than the 2011 edition. Already we have new countries confirming their participation, and those who were part of this year’s event are confirming that their delegation will be bigger and better. We hope eTN will again honor us with its presence at this unique event, which we stage as the melting pot of cultures where the world’s best and reputed carnivals join cultural groups from all over the world to stage an explosion of cultural mix. The carnival procession will be shorter in 2012, because we realized that the established route was a bit long. We shall have more music from the Community of Nations to turn Victoria into the capital where cultures meet and mix. We promise those participating that we shall ensure adequate press coverage of their participation, and we will ensure a big press delegation again in Seychelles for our unique carnival of carnivals.
eTN: Certainly the tourism world, especially across Africa, sat up and took notice that “little” Seychelles and not the big boys on the continent like South Africa staged such a hugely successful event. In fact, media coverage continues, and your team and you in particular seem to have been singled out as Africa’s latest tourism gurus, and you are portrayed as the savior of Seychelles’ tourism industry.
ST.ANGE: You are embarrassing me with such glowing remarks about my work. I am simply a committed Seychellois with no hidden agenda. I was mandated by the President of our Republic to redress and relaunch the Seychelles tourism industry, and I have been working hard to deliver on what I had been mandated to do. I am very much a people person, which enables me to network well. Tourism, you know, is a human industry, and as a people person, I am at ease in this industry. I am not a difficult person and my political past has enabled me to dialogue as easily with grassroot masses as with the leadership. I am also very innovative and not scared to be involved personally and to lead my team in needed actions. I operate an open door policy and believe that my team remains the backbone of my successes. I have empowered our people giving them the most important and crucial positions in the organization and know that they all remain as committed as I am because they are Seychellois first and foremost.
eTN: Don’t be so humble now, you have earned your recognition many times over. Have not other countries like Gabon invited you, the Seychelles that is, to help them out in literally creating a tourism industry there and turning it into a success, have not others in Africa come to study your recipe of success and are liaising with you on how best to copy it?
ST.ANGE: Our desire to work with others has been well accepted. We [indeed] have a tourism industry that is working [very well now]. Last year, we were 11% up in visitor arrival numbers on the year before, and this year we are already up by more than 9% over the same period as last year. We are respected as a leader in the field of tourism and it is true, we have been asked to assist other countries in looking at their own tourism industry and see how we can best assist them to develop their own potential.
eTN: Coming to a very current hot topic regarding the Seychelles, how do you feel about the decision of the royal couple to travel to the Seychelles for their honeymoon?
ST.ANGE: The British royal couple have been in the news since their spectacular wedding. We in Seychelles followed the wedding on television like the whole world did. Out High Commissioner in the UK, HE Mr. Patrick Pillay attended the wedding on behalf of Seychelles, and as a former British Colony with close ties to Great Britain and with the people of Great Britain, we shared in their joy. Our President, Mr. James Michel, sent a congratulatory message on his own behalf and on behalf of the people of Seychelles.
We have never said that they were in Seychelles, and we would never speak about any such high-profile visitors. We receive many stars and VIPs and, as a country offering a personalized style of tourism, we always ensure they retain their privacy and freedom.
eTN: How much of a boost will this “secret honeymoon” mean to your team’s and the Seychelles’ tourism industry’s efforts to promote the archipelago abroad?
ST.ANGE: The hype in the world press and in the UK press will boost our visibility. This is a fact. The press has been speculating a lot, and the name Seychelles has been mentioned. It is obvious that this is publicity for our islands and will help in our continued promotional efforts of the Seychelles.
eTN: You were just given huge recognition by Emirates Holidays as the most supportive national tourism organisation.
ST.ANGE: Yes, we were recently singled out by Emirates Holidays as their most supportive national tourism office in the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. It was a great recognition for our sincerity to our responsibilities and dedication to our work. The Seychelles Tourism Board has today a great and fully dedicated team; this is why we are receiving such recognitions.
eTN: What does the double daily of Emirates mean to the tourism sector in the Seychelles?
ST.ANGE: Emirates has brought Seychelles to be seen as a tourism destination that is but one stop away from any country. This is a big, big plus for our islands. Gone are the days where we said which day you could travel to Seychelles; today, travelers decide and pick their travelling days and that can be any day. The 14 flights announcement by Emirates has been a positive announcement, which showed the confidence this airline sees in the tourism industry of the Seychelles.
eTN: Qatar Airways has announced they will go daily from Doha bringing even more passengers to the islands. How are resorts coping with the added demand and how many rooms are under construction right now to cater to the extra traffic; how many new resorts and which top hotel and resort brands are now queuing up?
ST.ANGE: Yes, Qatar Airways has also announced that they will be increasing their flights to seven a week. This will again increase out available seat capacity and will help grow our tourism arrival numbers. Last year (2010), we finished the year with an increase of 11% in visitor arrival numbers over the 2009 figures. This gave Seychelles a new record in visitor arrival numbers. This year, to date we are recording a plus 9% in visitor arrival numbers over last year. These are positive indicators for our hotel owners, but the accommodation beds also grew considerably last year, and we have today around 9,000 beds in the islands, inclusive of floating accommodation units, boats, and cruisers. Early this year, Raffles opened their Praslin Resort, and by the end of the year, Kempinski Hotels will open their Mahe Resort. We now have all the main and important brand names, and we are satisfied that those we see amongst the best are here.
eTN: You now have the annual carnival and SUBIOS; are you planning for more such visible events, which can further improve “Brand Seychelles” recognition across the globe?
ST.ANGE: In March this year, we staged the very succesful Seychelles “Carnival International de Victoria,” which is now known as the carnival of carnivals, because it is the only carnival that has the best carnivals of the world parade alongside cultural groups from the Community of Nations. In November, we are staging the 23rd Edition of SUBIOS, The Seychelles Festival of the Sea. Both these events will play a major part on our calender of events. They are part and parcel of the “Seychelles Brand” of tourism, because they encourage the human connection between visitors and the Seychellois. Events bring people and attract press coverage. Thjs helps visibility for our islands, and it is a win-win for our people, our country, and provides a bonus for our visitors. We also have an Eco-Healing Marathon in February, the International Sailing Regatta in May, the National Day Celebrations in June, a La Digue Island Feast in August, a Seychelles Ball in September, and a Creole Festival in October. It is by all accounts an impressive list of events. We are a fun-loving people and our “joie de vive” remains one of our unique selling points alongside our diversity in islands, people, and food, and the best in sun, sea, and sand holidays.
eTN: Thank you Mr. St.Ange for your time in answering our questions.