, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 17- Lying about 1,500 kilometres east of mainland Africa, the Republic of Seychelles is an idyllic archipelago nation, with the smallest population of 90,000 in the continent.
The small State solely depends on tourism as its major contributor to the economy and bearing this in mind, the country has had to do all it can to ensure the sector thrives despite facing a myriad of challenges just like Kenya.
So, what are some of the lessons Kenya can learn from Seychelles to revive and sustain its tourism sector?
I happened to meet with Seychelles Tourism Board Marketing Director, Rose-Marie Hoareau during this year’s Africa Travel Association (ATA) in Kampala, Uganda and during our chat she explains to me how her country has managed to flourish in the sector even in hard times.
Put in proper damage control mechanisms
One of the recent challenges we had to deal with was the shark attack in 2012 and we haven’t had it like in over 100 years. We knew it would be all over the media but they key thing we learnt here is to do damage control; be human about it. We first dealt with family and tried our best to comfort them by showing compassion. In short you have to make a bad situation bearable. Then talk to the press at the best time without delay and explain to them what happened by putting everything into perspective.
As a tourist destination, be proactive and flexible
First of all you should be ready to re-invent yourself, always. For example, Seychelles used to be very dependent on the European market. But when the recession hit in Europe our numbers started to decline. So we had to look elsewhere. This is when we started courting the Chinese and the Indian markets and we now have these two emerging markets doing wonders for us. In the last two years, Chinese arrivals to Seychelles have grown by 207 percent. UK which was on our top six. It is not even in the top 10 now.
Be keen on what the markets needs are and expand the products
When you go out to court new markets, you also need to educate yourself as a destination, what the markets needs are. For example the Chinese needs may be very different from what the Europeans like. Traditionally, sun and sea was not what the Chinese were looking for. So we had to promote the eco-tourism for them, the flora and fauna and the hiking. So you don’t have to be just on the beach. We have had to be very adaptable!
Simple visa policy
From day one, we have had no-visa policy. This is because tourism is the pillar of our economy. So if you want people to come and visit you, you need to make it easy to do so; and visa processing can be sometimes very long and tedious. The no visa policy has really worked well for us. I remember when the cold war ended, we were one of the few countries in the world where Russians did not require visas and we saw an influx of this nationality that we had never even catered for.
Bring the world to your country through major events
We usually hold tourism related events that end up bringing people who will go and tell the actual story about your country. They become ambassadors. For me it’s my first time in Uganda, and I am blown away by this place and it’s because a tourism event brought me to this place.
Don’t ignore the media, they tell the story
You need to build relationships with the people who will get your news out there for you. In the context of Seychelles, we are very small and that means we have very conservative budget to work with. That is no excuse. So, we have to create a strong rapport that will make that person at the big media house tell our story.
Tourist arrival were up by 10.7percent to stand at 230,272 in 2013 – a new record – while tourism earnings jumped to $343.6 million (Sh30.9billion).