How the Seychelles is racing to become the world’s safest destination
(CNN) – Just a year ago, the prospect of the Seychelles experiencing a dramatic drop in travelers seemed almost unthinkable.
Respected for its beautiful beaches and jungle landscapes, the Indian Ocean archipelago has risen to one of the most attractive destinations in the world and its popularity has only grown.
Centuries ago, the impressive island nation of the Seychelles was a playground for pirates. CNN’s Richard Quest continues the hunt for one of Mahe’s most infamous buried treasures.
The number of arrivals increased by 4%, and tourism officials focused on what appeared to be another extremely successful 12 months.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic paid off almost every plan or prediction made for 2020 and the world, as we knew it had changed irreparably.
Like many destinations that rely heavily on international visitor revenue, the Seychelles, 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Tanzania, has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
While the nation of 115 islands managed to eradicate the virus relatively well, with just 3,798 cases and 16 deaths at the time of writing, its financial impact was enormous.
According to the Seychelles Tourism Council, tourist arrivals fell by 70% last year and industry revenue in 2020 fell by about $ 368 million.
“The country was almost shut down in terms of tourism,” Seychelles Foreign Minister Sylvestre Radegonde told CNN Travel.
“And as our economy revolves a lot around tourism, that means other activities have slowed.
“Everything, from fishing, agriculture, arts and crafts, restaurants and bars. So we started the year in a very bad situation.”
However, officials have pulled all stops to ensure that travelers can return quickly and, most importantly, safely.
As of Thursday (March 25th), the Seychelles is lifting restrictions on all visitors except those traveling from South Africa.
Although incoming arrivals must show a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure, travelers are no longer subject to quarantine requirements or traffic restrictions during their visit.
“More than 300 passengers flew this morning, the largest number we have seen in a single day in a long time,” Radegonde said hours after the restrictions were lifted.
“So far, our weekly figures are around 200, so getting a passenger plane is great.”
About 100 other travelers were due to fly later on Thursday, and the nation is still waiting for hundreds in the coming days.
“Aggressive” strategy of reopening
The Seychelles will open its borders to international visitors, excluding travelers from South Africa, from March 25.
The move comes at the end of an “aggressive” vaccination distribution system that aims to fully vaccinate at least 70% of Seychelles’ estimated 98,000 population.
Officials are launching the plan after receiving a donation of about 50,000 doses of the vaccine from the UAE government.
“Over 90% of our population has received the first dose of the vaccine and over 45% have already received the second dose,” explains Radegonde.
“We hope to achieve our goal in the coming weeks, or certainly in April.”
Of course, the ever-changing border restrictions and the emergence of a third wave of coronavirus in Europe will probably mean that many travelers will be reluctant to book a holiday yet.
However, the Seychelles tourist team is encouraged by the number of bookings they have received so far and believe that now is the right time to invite travelers back.
“We are proud to have achieved the immunity we deserve,” said Radegonde. “We have trained the institutions. We have the facilities.
“The health facilities are there and the measures we have implemented are working. We are comfortable that we have achieved the immunity we deserve. That is why we are comfortable to reopen.”
After closing its borders for the first time in March 2020, the Seychelles began to open gradually in June with the intention of gradually easing restrictions on visitors from “low-risk” countries.
Of course, reopening while much of the world is still facing the virus will not be without its challenges.
When the Maldives reopened unconditionally in July 2020, it became an even more attractive choice for travelers, especially as rival destinations such as Tahiti, Bali and Phuket remained closed to international travelers.
However, officials were forced to tighten restrictions a few months later, requiring all travelers to prove a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival in the Maldives in September.
Despite these initial obstacles, the exotic destination managed to keep infection rates low last year and attracted about 500,000 visitors before launching its six-month vaccination campaign, which may be a good sign for the Seychelles.
Road to recovery
The revenue of the popular destination from tourism decreased by 62% in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While allowing international travelers to enter regardless of their vaccination status is an important step in the right direction, the current travel ban in the UK, one of the Seychelles’ largest European markets, remains an obstacle.
The earliest date British people are likely to be able to take a holiday abroad is 17 May. It was recently announced that anyone caught traveling abroad from England for no good reason before then could soon be fined 000 5,000.The Seychelles is also currently on the UK red list, which means that residents of the UK and Ireland visiting must purchase a 7 1,750 ($ 2,400) quarantine package that includes accommodation in an approved by government hotel, on-site transfer, and Covid-19 tests when returning home.
“Unfortunately, there are still restrictions on some of our traditional resource markets and citizens cannot travel,” said Sherin Francis, chief executive of the Seychelles Tourism Council.
According to Francis, many of the travelers arriving in the Seychelles now come from places such as Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“These are not markets in which it usually depends on tourist arrivals, but we have realized that no market is insignificant.”
As is the case all over the world, visitors are required to wear face masks, maintain social distance rules and disinfect their hands regularly.
However, Francis emphasizes that the holiday experience in the Seychelles remains unparalleled regardless of any restrictions.
“There are very few destinations that are currently open to tourism with just simple entry measures,” he says.
Travelers to the Seychelles are no longer subject to quarantine requirements or traffic restrictions.
“And as our motto says, we really are” another world. I do not think there is another destination that can offer this kind of experience.
“Nature, the slow pace of life, the green vegetation, the beautiful beaches. Warm temperatures all year round.
“All of this together really makes the Seychelles a magical place to be, especially at a time when people are looking for outdoor activities, nature and fresh air.”
Close to the equator, Bird Island is one of the most unique of the 115 islands of the Seychelles. It is also the home of a very special character, whose presence makes you feel like you have traveled in the past.
About 535 hotel units in the Seychelles have received the appropriate training and are currently licensed to receive international travelers.
While upgrading its tourism industry is a huge priority for the nation, retaining both visitors and residents is absolutely worrying.
“Security has always been a very strong USP for us,” says Francis.
As a result, new measures must be constantly reviewed to ensure that “the health and safety of visitors and the local population is not at stake.”
“Our healthcare providers have been involved in everything we have done,” Radegonde added. “We would not have made the decisions we made without their blessing.
“We are comfortable that the measures we have implemented are quite strict. Of course this is a fluid situation, no one knows exactly where Covid is going.
“You hear different variations every day. So if there are changes, we will adjust our protocol accordingly. It will never be 100% silly. People will continue to get infected, there is no doubt about that.
“However, with regard to the measures we have implemented, we are confident that we will not only protect our population, but also our visitors.”