File Photo: Visitors pictured disembarking at the Seychelles International airport, from an Air Seychelles flight in February this year. (Patrick Joubert, Seychelles News Agency)
With tourism being the main economic pillar of the Seychelles, 115 tropical islands situated just below the equator in western Indian Ocean, an increase of 19 percent in visitor arrivals from January to date, can be seen as a signal of economic growth for the country.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), a total of 182,089 tourists came to the islands for holiday or for business up to September 6 compared to 153,469 for the same period in 2015. The top 10 source markets were France, Germany, Italy, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, China, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and India.
Last year a total of 232,667 visitors came to Seychelles, which is expected to increase this year if the current trend continues.
The CEO of Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) Sherin Naiken has expressed her satisfaction with the performance up to now.
“For us we have started the year on a very positive note in terms of tourism arrivals and we have seen during those months especially March and April where the rate of growth was very large especially during the carnival and Easter period where we have record months in terms of tourism arrivals,” Naiken told SNA.
In March there was a total of 25,129 arrivals and April there were 25,038 visitors with growth of 23 and 8 percent respectively compared to 2014.
She said this trend continued for May, June and July which are usually slow months for tourism arrival. However, there was a significant increase in August with 25,393 visitors making it 24 percent more than for the same period in 2014.
Naiken said she is happy with the performance for August since last year was not a good month as the number of visitors retracted instead of growing.
“This year we established a good start and we can say that this is the time where our good travel peak season starts for us because this the European holiday break and with Europe making about 60 percent of our visitors this is the time when they travel the most and for a longer period of time.”
According to Naiken, for the next three months September to November the performance will be good but possibly not as good as August, the traditional European month for holidays. She expects arrival figures will pick up in the month of December for the last two weeks as it is another peak season, and hotels are already receiving bookings for the Christmas holidays.
Although Europe is still Seychelles' leading market to date with an overall increase of 11 percent this year and with one of the European markets the UK and Ireland recording an impressive 33 percent increase so far, there are also emerging markets, which are performing quite well.
“The emerging market performing better this year is India. India is a new market and it is now 2 years that we have a proper strategy and a proper budget for it. It is growing at present two or three times more than last year,” says Naiken.
A total of 4,795 visitors came from India for the period January to September 6, 2015, compared to 1,667 for 2014, representing a change of 188 percent.
STB's Chief Executive has attributed the rise in visitors from India to the fact that today there are direct flights 3 times a week from Mumbai (India) to Seychelles. Air Seychelles is also providing flights through their code-sharing agreement with Jet Airways for the possibility of other visitors from other cities in India.
Furthermore to maximize Seychelles visibility in India, STB was part of the fifth visit of Seychelles President James Michel to India in August this year.
“The visit of our President [President James Michel] to India was a great opportunity for us to get media visibility and it is for that reason that the activity we organized together with Air Seychelles was very much focused on media. We invited many well known television channels in India to attend our event we had as many articles as possible in the local papers in various sectors including tourism where possible. For us definitely we know there will be benefits because visibility is important and we must always find ways to stay in people mind,” added Naiken.
Other tourism operators in Seychelles believe that there are other factors contributing towards the increase in visitor arrivals.
The slashing of prices the hotels have had to make to compete with the other destinations is one of the factors the Seychelles Hotel and Tourism Association (SHTA), feels has contributed towards the increase.
Emirates Airline's decision to increase its flying capacity to the Indian Ocean island nation since June by introducing a second Boeing 777-300 aircraft on the Seychelles route and Air Seychelles' direct flights to Paris are also being viewed as initiatives giving a push to regain the traditional European Market.
The view is is also shared by Derek Barbe General Manager of recently built Savoy Resort and Spa a five star hotel situated in the north of the main Seychelles island of Mahe.
“Many of our clients are also happy that we now have direct flights to Europe and they do not have to travel via other countries,” said Barbe. He also added that the availability of facilities which are up to international standards like venues for conferences and weddings are becoming more popular.
Nevertheless, in an emailed response to SNA, the SHTA has noted that it is not at all satisfied with purely the increase [19 percent] over last year "as its members are suffering from the reduction in price they have had to put up to get the increase."
The association says the way forward is to continue to have discussions involving businesses in the tourism trade, the government, tourism ministry, STB and the airlines to have a common approach to tackle the difficulties.