(CNN) – Just over a year ago, the prospect of the Seychelles experiencing a dramatic drop in the number of travelers seemed almost inconceivable.
Revered for its beautiful beaches and jungle landscapes, the Indian Ocean archipelago was flying high as one of the most attractive destinations in the world, and its popularity was only growing.
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The number of arrivals rose by 4%, and the tourism authorities were preparing for what seemed destined to be another 12 months of enormous success.
But it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic ended almost all plans or forecasts made for 2020 and the world as we knew it has changed irreversibly.
Like so many destinations that rely heavily on the revenue of international visitors, the Seychelles, which are located 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Tanzania, have been the victims of a major coronavirus blow.
According to the Seychelles Tourism Board, tourist arrivals fell 70% last year and sector revenues in 2020 fell by about $ 368 million.
“The country has almost stalled in terms of tourism,” Sylvestre Radegonde, Seychelles’ minister of foreign affairs and tourism, told CNN Travel.
“And as our economy revolves a lot around tourism, this means that other activities have also slowed down.
“Everything from fishing, agriculture, crafts, restaurants and bars. So we started the year in a very bad state.”
However, employees have taken all measures to ensure that travelers can return quickly and, most importantly, safely.
As of Thursday (March 25), Seychelles will lift restrictions on all visitors except those traveling from South Africa.
Although arrivals are required to submit a negative PCR test done 72 hours before departure, travelers are no longer subject to any quarantine requirements or restrictions on movement during their visit.
“More than 300 passengers flew this morning, which is the largest number we have seen in a day for a very, very long time,” said Radegonde just hours after restrictions were lifted.
“So far, our weekly numbers are around 200, so getting a plane full of passengers is great.”
Another 100 or more travelers were due to fly on Thursday, and the country expects hundreds more in the coming days.
‘Aggressive’ reopening strategy
Seychelles will open its borders to international visitors, except travelers from South Africa, starting March 25.
The move comes towards the end of an “aggressive” vaccination scheme that aims to fully vaccinate at least 70% of the estimated population of 98,000 inhabitants in Seychelles.
The authorities put the plan into action after receiving a donation of approximately 50,000 doses of vaccines from the UAE government.
“More than 90% of our population received the first dose of the vaccine and more than 45% have already received the second dose”, explains Radegonde.
“We hope to have reached our goal in the coming weeks, or certainly in the course of April.”
But the Seychelles tourism team is excited about the number of reservations received so far and believes that now is the right time to invite travelers back.
“We are comfortable that we have achieved the immunity we deserve,” says Radegonde. “We train the establishments. We have the facilities on site.
“The health units are there and the measures we have implemented are working. We are comfortable that we have achieved the immunity we deserve. Therefore, we are comfortable to reopen.”
Of course, the reopening while much of the world is still struggling with the virus will not be without its challenges.
When the Maldives reopened unconditionally in July 2020, they became an even more attractive option for travelers, mainly because rival destinations like Tahiti, Bali and Phuket remained closed to international travelers.
However, authorities were forced to tighten restrictions again a few months later, requiring all travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test on arrival in the Maldives in September.
Path to recovery
Tourism revenues for popular destinations decreased by 62% in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While allowing international travelers to enter regardless of their vaccination status is an important step in the right direction, the current travel ban in the UK, one of the largest European markets in Seychelles, remains an obstacle.
“Unfortunately, there are still restrictions in some of our traditional home markets and citizens are not allowed to travel,” said Sherin Francis, executive director of the Seychelles Tourism Board.
According to Francisco, many of the travelers arriving in the Seychelles now come from places like Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, India, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
“These are not markets that we would normally depend on for tourist arrivals, but we realized that no market is insignificant.”
As in most parts of the world, visitors are required to wear masks, maintain social distance rules and regularly hand wash.
However, Francis stresses that the holiday experience in the Seychelles remains unparalleled, regardless of any restrictions.
“There are few destinations that are open to tourism with simple and direct entry measures,” she says.
Travelers to the Seychelles are no longer subject to any quarantine requirements or movement restrictions.
“And, as our slogan says, we really are ‘another world. I don’t think there is any other destination that can provide that kind of experience.
“Nature, the slow pace of life, the lush greenery of vegetation, the beautiful beaches. Mild temperatures all year round.
“All of this together really makes the Seychelles a magical place to be, especially during a time when people are looking for outdoor activities, nature and fresh air.”
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Approximately 535 hotel establishments in the Seychelles have received the appropriate training and are licensed to receive international travelers at this time.
While putting the tourism industry back on track is a top priority for the country, keeping visitors and residents safe remains a primary concern.
“Security has always been a very strong USP for us,” says Francis.
As a result, new measures must be continually reviewed to ensure that “the health and safety of visitors and the local population is not compromised”.
“Our health workers were involved in everything we did,” adds Radegonde. “We would not have made the decisions we made without your blessing.
“We are comfortable with the fact that the measures we have implemented are rigid enough. Of course, this is a fluid situation, nobody knows exactly where Covid is going.
“You hear about different variants every day. Therefore, if there are changes, we will adapt our protocol accordingly. It will never be 100% error-proof. People will still be infected, there is no doubt about that.
“But in terms of the measures we have implemented, we are confident that we will not only protect our population, but also our visitors.”