How the Seychelles is racing to become the world’s safest destination
(CNN) – Just over a year ago, the prospect of a dramatic decline in the number of travelers to the Seychelles seemed almost unimaginable.
Revered for its beautiful beaches and jungle landscapes, the Indian Ocean archipelago has been one of the most alluring travel destinations in the world and has become increasingly popular.
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The number of arrivals increased by 4% and tourism officials prepared for another highly successful twelve months.
But of course the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted almost every plan or forecast for 2020, and the world as we knew it has changed irreversibly.
Like so many travel destinations that depend to a large extent on the income of international visitors, the Seychelle, which is 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Tanzania, was hit hard by the coronavirus.
While the 115-island nation managed to fight off the virus relatively well, with just 3,798 cases and 16 deaths at the time of writing, the economic impact has been immense.
According to the Seychelles Tourism Board, tourist arrivals fell 70% over the past year and the sector’s revenue for 2020 fell by around $ 368 million.
“The country was almost at a standstill in terms of tourism activities,” Sylvestre Radegonde, Seychelles Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, told CNN Travel.
“And since our economy revolves heavily around tourism, other activities have slowed down as well.
“Everything from fishing to farming, crafts, restaurants and bars. So we started the year in really bad shape.”
However, officials have pulled out all the stops to ensure that travelers can return quickly and, most importantly, safely.
As of Thursday (March 25), the Seychelles will lift restrictions on all visitors except those arriving from South Africa.
Although incoming arrivals are required to present a negative PCR test performed within 72 hours of their departure, travelers are no longer subject to quarantine requirements or movement restrictions during their visit.
“Over 300 passengers flew this morning. This is the largest number we have seen in a day in a long time,” said Radegonde just hours after the restrictions were lifted.
“It’s been around 200 a week so far, so it’s great to have a plane full of passengers.”
Around 100 more travelers were due to fly later Thursday, and the nation is expecting hundreds more in the days ahead.
“Aggressive” reopening strategy
The Seychelles will open their borders to international visitors from March 25th, excluding travelers from South Africa.
The move is nearing the end of an “aggressive” vaccination rollout program that aims to fully vaccinate at least 70% of the estimated 98,000 residents of Seychelles.
Officials kicked off the plan after receiving a donation of approximately 50,000 doses of vaccine from the United Arab Emirates government.
“Over 90% of our population have received the first dose of the vaccine and over 45% have already received the second dose,” explains Radegonde.
“We hope to have achieved our goal in the next few weeks or certainly in April.”
Of course, ever-changing border restrictions and the emergence of a third wave of coronavirus in Europe are likely to make many travelers reluctant to book another vacation.
However, the Seychelles Tourism team is encouraged by the number of bookings they have made so far and believes that now is the right time to invite travelers back.
“We feel good that we have achieved the immunity we deserve,” says Radegonde. “We trained the facilities. We set up the facilities.
“The health facilities are there and the measures that we have implemented are working. We feel good that we have achieved the immunity we deserve. So we can happily reopen.”
Following the first border closure in March 2020, Seychelles began a gradual reopening in June with the intention of gradually easing restrictions on visitors from countries classified as “low risk”.
Of course, while much of the world is still grappling with the virus, reopening it will not be without its challenges.
When the Maldives reopened unconditionally in July 2020, it became an even more attractive option for travelers, especially as competing destinations like Tahiti, Bali and Phuket remained closed to international travelers.
However, a few months later officials were forced to tighten restrictions again and all travelers were required to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival in the Maldives from September.
Despite these initial stumbling blocks, the exotic destination managed to keep infection rates down last year and attracted around 500,000 visitors before starting the introduction of six-month vaccination, which may be a positive sign for Seychelles.
Road to recovery
The popular destination’s revenue from tourism declined 62% in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the entry of international travelers 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 a hurdle.
The earliest date that Brits are expected to be able to go on vacation abroad is May 17th. It was recently announced that anyone who has previously traveled abroad from England for no valid reason may soon be fined £ 5,000 (US $ 7,000).The Seychelles are also currently on the UK Red List, which means UK and Irish residents visiting them must purchase a £ 1,750 ($ 2,400) “quarantine package” that includes government accommodation in one approved hotel, includes transportation to accommodation. and Covid-19 tests when they return home.
“Unfortunately, some of our traditional source markets still have restrictions and citizens cannot travel,” said Sherin Francis, executive director of the Seychelles Tourism Board.
According to Francis, many of the travelers who come to Seychelles are from Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, India, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.
“These are not markets that we normally rely on when arriving in tourism, but we have found that no market is insignificant.”
As in most parts of the world, visitors are required to wear face masks, adhere to social distancing rules, and regularly disinfect their hands.
However, Francis emphasizes that regardless of any constraints, the experience of vacationing in Seychelles remains unprecedented.
“There are very few destinations that are currently open to tourism with simple, straightforward entry procedures,” she says.
Travelers to the Seychelles are no longer subject to quarantine requirements or movement restrictions.
“And just like our slogan says, we really are a different world. I don’t think there is any other destination that this type of experience can offer.
“The nature, the slow pace of life, the green, lush vegetation, the beautiful beaches. Warm temperatures all year round.
“All of this together makes the Seychelles a truly magical place, especially at a time when people are looking for outdoor activities, for nature and for fresh air.”
Located near the equator, Bird Island is one of the most unique of the 115 islands in the Seychelles. It’s also home to a very special character whose presence makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
Around 535 hotels in the Seychelles have received the relevant training and are licensed to accept international travelers at the time.
While getting the tourism industry back on track is a major priority for the country, the safety of visitors and residents remains of the utmost importance.
“Security has always been a very strong unique selling point for us,” says Francis.
As a result, the new measures will be continuously reviewed to ensure that “the health and safety of visitors and the local population are not compromised”.
“Our health officials were involved in everything we did,” adds Radegonde. “Without their blessings, we would not have made the choices we made.
“We are sure that the measures we have taken are tight enough. Of course, this is a fluid situation, nobody knows exactly where Covid is going.
“You hear about different variations every day. So if there are changes we will adjust our protocol accordingly. It will never be 100% foolproof. People will still be infected, no doubt about that.
“However, with regard to the measures we have taken, we are confident that we will protect not only our people but also our visitors.”