Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to this year’s virtual marketing meeting!
We are not able to meet in person this year, due to the pandemic, but in this “new normal” we have to adapt to circumstances. And technology affords us the possibility to remain in close contact and to continue our work and remain as efficient and productive as before. It shall continue to define the way we do business in the months and, most probably, in the years ahead.
To say that our tourism industry has been in freefall would be an understatement. Our arrival figures are down by 90 percent with a corresponding decline in earnings and revenue. Whilst we, as a government, have taken all the necessary measures to contain the pandemic in our country, we could not allow the situation to deteriorate further. To do nothing would be to commit economic suicide!
That is why Government took the decision to introduce a new policy, facilitating the arrival of visitors to Seychelles. It takes effect on 25 March. It is a risk that we must take, but one which is calculated, courageous and, above all, necessary. The decision was not taken in isolation, but in consultation with all stakeholders in the industry, underpinned by the success of our national vaccination campaign. As we meet, 90 percent of our targeted population have already taken the first dose of the vaccine, 45 percent have had both doses. This is bringing us closer to our target of reaching herd immunity by the end of this month. In itself, this is an enviable record, which no country is even yet close to achieving.
As of tomorrow, we shall be receiving more visitors and more flights. Visitors to Seychelles will henceforth only be required to provide a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours prior to travel. In addition, they will now be able to book accommodation in any of the 535 certified tourism establishments, vetted and sanctioned by the Department of Tourism, and not have to quarantine in a designated hotel, as is the case now.
For the time being, though, exception is being made for visitors from South Africa; they are not permitted to enter Seychelles while we continue to evaluate the impact of the new variant (or variants) of the COVID-19 and the response of their authorities and other authorities concerned. We hope that this will change in the near future.
I think that we all agree that these measures are vital to our survival as a nation. They constitute a major step in claiming back our tourism industry. The response to our policy change has been more than encouraging. Already, airlines such as Turkish Airlines, Kenya airways or even Aeroflot- returning to Seychelles after 17 years- have indicated their intent to resume operations in the coming weeks, while others like Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways are increasing their flights in frequency and capacity respectively.
Our national airline, Air Seychelles will also be resuming flights to Mumbai and Tel Aviv respectively. Also, from all indications that I have, our local DMCs are being practically inundated with reservations and forward bookings. The same applies to our tourism establishments.
All this bodes well for our country. We must now gear up for the influx of arrivals after a hiatus of almost a year. We must do so, bearing in mind the health and safety protocols in place. We must not relax our guard and must remain vigilant. Equally and as important, we must never forget that we are not the unique destination that we claim to be! Competition is fierce and unrelenting! Many other destinations, including in our own region (Maldives in particular with 555,494 visitors in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic), in the Caribbean, in the South Pacific, in Africa and in Europe itself (Greece and Spain and others) are vying for tourists with aggressive marketing campaigns.
The new measures that will take effect as of tomorrow are but the start of a long process of the rehabilitation of our tourism industry. We must offer value for money. The smile on our face as we welcome visitors to our establishments must not be artificial, but from the heart. We must ensure that the accommodation we offer is up to standard, and even superior to what is accepted. The same applies for services. Also, we should focus more on offering a greater degree of authentic and community-based tourism experiences reflective of our brand.
And as we look ahead, we must be equally determined to pay attention to and further refine our industry’s business model to ensure that sustainability remains the bottom line of that industry.
We must do all this and more to reclaim our tourism industry, without compromising on the health and safety of our people.
You are in the forefront of this whole process. I count on you to lead it and to help implement it. I assure you of my full support in your efforts and in this national endeavour.