Mauritius: Sherin Francis - "We attracted 3,321 visitors in the first six days of border reopening"

After 65% of its population had received one dose of anti-Covid-19 vaccination and nearly 40% both doses, Seychelles reopened its borders on March 25th. Its CEO for tourism and hospitality discusses the issues of surviving with traditional markets hit by a third wave of the pandemic...

On March 25, 2021, Seychelles officially reopened its borders with very low-entry restrictions. On the other hand, the pandemic is still affecting the world. Why this decision? After successfully launching the Covid-19 immunisation campaign on January 10, 2021, Seychelles took the very bold move to announce the opening of its borders to the whole world a week later, an event that was to be effective as from mid-March. The decision was taken, given the country's plan to have achieved herd immunity by then and the fact that our islands needed the relief after a long spell of extremely low tourists' arrival. The government was no longer able to continue providing support to the various relief plans set up at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. In early March, the reopening date was confirmed for March 25th, and ever since, extensive public relations and communications have taken place to ensure that the country reopens with a bang.

The country is mindful that we are still amid a pandemic and that immunisation does not work by itself. Safety of the population and of our visitors remains a priority in the process of easing restrictions for visitors to enter Seychelles and other decisions. For that reason, a negative Covid-19 PCR test within 72 hours from departure is still required for entry in Seychelles. Visitors are not required to quarantine, while in the destination; however, visitors must still observe the various sanitary measures, such as mandatory facemask wearing in all public places, social distancing, and constant hand sanitizing. Tourism establishments must keep on daily monitoring of their guests and send daily updates to the public health authorities as well. The procedures come with punitive measures for those who breach them.

Considering that Europe is still dealing with a third wave of the virus, are you planning on targeting new markets?

The cornerstone of our strategy has always been understanding consumer trends and behaviours and where travel demand is coming from. We are very mindful that our traditional European markets would take a while to become stable because of the evolution of the pandemic and various existing restrictions. Therefore, our efforts were concentrated on tapping tactically into new emerging markets where we see the return will be much faster. So far, the figures are looking promising as for the first six days after re-opening, the destination has managed to attract 3,321 visitors with UAE and Israel in the lead. On April 2, we saw the return of Aeroflot in Seychelles after 17 years with a full flight (402 passengers inclusive of crew members).

Maldives managed to get 200,871 tourists from January 1 to March 4. However, our issues are not the same as Maldives, which can easily contain the virus on one island, if need be. To what extent can Seychelles compete with Maldives? Maldives is a sun, sea, and sand des- tination like Seychelles. So, it is indeed a competition when a visitor is looking for a beach destination. However, we see ourselves differently in many ways. We offer more than just beaches, with amazing pristine nature, heritage, and culture amongst many more features. Being considered as upmarket and exclusive gives us an edge over other beach destinations.

What about Mauritius?

Just like Maldives, Mauritius is a competitor of Seychelles.

The tourism and hospitality sector is an essential pillar of Seychelles' economy. How are your hotels surviving in this crisis?

The government introduced various schemes to support the tourism value chain, as it was understood that the more resilient our operators were, the faster the country would rebound. However, since none of us knew how long this pandemic would last it was important for the country to start thinking of economic recovery in the first half of this year. So far, 552 hotel establishments out of 720 have already been safe certified for reopening.

Amid this border reopening, what is your forecast for 2021 for the tourism sector?

There is a wave of optimism, which has been created in the tourism sector because of the vaccine development to the point that many advanced economies are forecasting robust Q4 growth for 2021. Furthermore, trends, search history and other market intelligence data give us reasons to believe that, provided travel restrictions ease from both source markets and destinations, travel can pick up almost immediately. Nonetheless, the evolution of the pandemic with a third wave now hitting many countries and new Covid-19 variants emerging are reasons for us not to be overly optimistic.

Based on developing on-trend and airline confidence in the destination, we are forecasting that, as a best-case scenario, we can recover up to almost 50% of our 2019 figure this year and as a worstcase, we are looking at 25% of our 2019 figure. As it looks, we are well on our way to meet our April target, provided all things remain equal, as any economist would say. Of course, the operating environment is highly fluid and as we receive new information on-trend, the assumptions will change; therefore, our forecast will be adjusted accordingly.

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