The year 2019 saw strong growth in tourism in Seychelles, with a 6 percent rise in visitor arrivals. To be exact 384,204 tourists seeking sun, sand and relaxation visited the island nation last year.
That growth follows efforts by the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) here and abroad, including from Edith Hunzinger director of STB's office for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Last year Germany was the leading tourism market for Seychelles - 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean - with around 72,509 visitors.
But as of April this year, Hunzinger will be leaving STB after a successful career spanning over 30 years.
SNA spoke to the woman who through her dedication and hard work helped turn the German market from 5,000 visitors in 1988, to what it is today.
SNA: Give us a little background about yourself.
EH: I was born in 1957 in Victoria as part of a very large family. In total, we are 11 brothers and sisters.
My father - Ferdinand Sauzier - was a popular singer and the composer of the song "Ferdinand mon bon zanmi." He was quite strict, and he had planned out my entire career in banking and finance.
When I finished school at the Regina Mundi Convent in 1975, he made sure I got a job at the foreign exchange department at Barclays.
I must say that my short training in finance didn't hurt me later on when I had to do a lot of accounting work as part of my job in tourism, but other than that, I couldn't see myself spending the rest of my life at a bank.
I wanted to travel, see the world, and learn languages. For some reason, since I was a child, I had always been fascinated by the German language. So on February 29, 1976, I headed for Stuttgart, hoping to enroll in German Studies at a German university.
SNA: When did you start your career in tourism?
EH: It started in April 1978, when I started to work at the Stuttgart airport. This gave me some valuable insights and a lot of hands-on experience. After that, I briefly departed from the travel industry but again gained very useful skills and knowledge in marketing working for Swatch in Switzerland.
At that time, I also met my husband, Max Hunzinger. We got married and he has been Honorary Consul for Seychelles since 1992 and is now Honorary Consul-General. We are known as the Seychelles "power" couple out here!
SNA: When and how did your career with Seychelles' tourism start?
EH: I took over the Seychelles Tourist Office in Frankfurt as Regional Manager, in 1988, and that's where I spent the next 32 years - with the exception of a brief period in which the office had been temporarily relocated to Munich.
SNA: What were your different responsibilities?
EH: The Frankfurt office was in charge of three countries with a population of over 100 million, but it was essentially a one-woman show. I had to organize not only the daily routine but events, fair attendances, media trips, travel-agent educationals, general marketing - whatever needed to be done. As I mentioned before, my training in both finance and marketing came in handy.
SNA: Germany is Seychelles' leading tourism market. What led to this?
EH: Germans always loved to travel, and due to the state of their economy, they can afford it. Of course, they are spoiled for choice. With their passports, they can travel to virtually any country on the globe, and they do. And this is the reason my job was not as easy as it may appear.
Our greatest challenge is to direct their travel towards our destination, rather than any of the million other choices they have. Germans love security (who doesn't), and they would like to travel with a clean conscience, which means first and foremost: no exploitation, neither of people nor the environment. A lot of destinations cannot deliver on that, but we can.
SNA: What were the constraints or challenges you faced?
EH: Of course, we have always had a limited budget - a small one, compared to many competing destinations. The challenge was thus to spend our funds as efficiently as we could, counting on the "multiplier effect": If you educate a travel agent, you will reach hundreds of clients, if you attend the right fair and get extra exposure, you reach thousands, and if you can place Seychelles in a top slot on a popular TV program, you are likely to reach millions.
SNA: What is your biggest accomplishment?
EH: I don't want to toot my own horn, but if you compare the visitor figures at the beginning and at the end of my tenure, I think, they speak for themselves. This cannot be explained by the German economy or German prosperity alone.
On top of this, Austria and Switzerland started out as a minor market, but now they are both amongst our top ten source markets. Switzerland now has its own seasonal nonstop flights. So, altogether, these three countries accounted for 95,000 tourists in Seychelles in 2019 - that is 36 percent of the European market.
When I started, few people even knew we existed, now we are a household name. We were a "partner country" for major fairs year after year. Seychelles appears in nature documentaries, major TV movies, travel blogs, even on quiz shows, on radio, in print media - multi-page spreads. Without sounding immodest, I think I had a little to do with this.
Over the years, it has always been my goal not only to generate quick success but to establish Seychelles as a premium brand in the hearts and minds of the consumer. I think I have accomplished this. So whoever will follow in my footsteps will inherit an excellent platform to build on. I hope that future success can build on that foundation - then I have left a legacy that I can be proud of.
SNA: How do you see the future of the tourism industry in Seychelles?
EH: With all our - justified - enthusiasm overgrowth, we have to keep handling our assets with care. Since our well-preserved and well-protected environment is one of our main attractions, we must not jeopardize it with excessive tourism. If we continue to maintain the proper balance between economy and ecology, we will remain the most precious jewel in the Indian Ocean, but we have to keep a watchful eye on developments and keep checking and rechecking our priorities.