Island Style

It’s long been regarded as one of Africa’s luxury island destinations, and for good reason - stunning beaches, gorgeous views, great food, excellent service and stunning hotels that make the most of the beautiful surrounds. Now the Seychelles wants to be taken seriously as a MICE destination.

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It’s competitive, this tourism business, and as times get tougher and belts get tighter, those countries playing in this space and looking to bet their futures on this segment of the economy are going to have to evolve, adapt and ‘think outside the box’, if they are to get their hands on a sizeable chunk of what is a rapidly shrinking pie.

Specifically, those countries that rely heavily on tourism to survive and even prosper. The Seychelles is one such country. Yes, it is a country, but the reality is that it is a 115-island country, spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean approximately 1,500 kilometres east of mainland Africa.

Beautiful it is, with some of the most breath-taking beaches you’ll ever see. In fact, the locals are proud to tell you that beaches such as Anse Lazio (on Praslin), Anse Source d’Argent (La Digue) and Grande Anse (La Digue) are consistently up there when prizes for the best beaches in the world are handed out.

But beaches alone are not going to crack it and ensure that the Seychelles beats off its rivals in the ‘luxury island destination’ stakes, because there is plenty of competition out there. So much, in fact, that the Seychelles and six of its fellow Indian Ocean islands – Comoros, Reunion, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius and Mayotte – recognised the threat as global in 2010 and banded together that year to form the ‘Vanilla Islands’, pooling their marketing efforts.

Another challenge the Seychelles faces is that it’s perceived as a premium travel destination, with a focus on five-star hotels and a luxury experience. You only need to look at the list of luxury international brands (see sidebar) to get a sense of the premium hotel offering.

“We’re aware of that perception, which is mainly due to the number of high-end establishments as well as the number of celebrities who have chosen to spend their holidays in Seychelles, along with the beautiful images of the destination,” says David Germain, Regional Director: Africa & the Americas, for the Seychelles Tourism Board. “We are using tools such as consumer fairs to address this issue and believe we’re about 50% of the way there.”

Germain points out that Seychelles actually has quite a wide range of accommodation options, along with the luxury properties already mentioned, with guesthouses, self-catering apartments and lodges all available for those with a closer eye on budget.

The STB may want to consider ramping up efforts to reinforce that notion, particularly when it comes to selling the Seychelles as a MICE destination. In these budget-conscious days, there are very few corporates in a position to take large groups to expensive destinations, so the Seychelles has some work to do if it is to compete in this space.

Germain, though, is confident that the offering speaks for itself.

“There is day after day balmy weather, it’s one of the purest environmentally intact destinations on earth, there are no visa requirements, it’s safe with friendly people, it’s culturally diverse, and there is a wide range of accommodation,” he says. “As a venue for small conferences and select company incentives, Seychelles represents a powerful partnership of business and pleasure. It also has excellent communications infrastructure and reliable air links to Europe, Africa and Asia.”

AIR LIFT

Picking up on Germain’s final point, this is an area that the Seychelles has traditionally struggled with, but the last five years or so has seen the country, tourist board and national airline make significant strides in making the archipelago more accessible.

Most recently, Austrian Airlines started flying to the Seychelles for the first time in October with a weekly non-stop flight from Vienna to Mahé.

Arguably even more exciting for the country’s tourism authorities – in terms of connection with a major European hub – was the news that British Airways will fly direct from London Heathrow to the Seychelles from 24 March, 2018 until October of next year, using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for flights on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Before these more recent announcements, Ethiopian Airlines increased its flights to five a week in 2016, whilst Turkish Airlines launched its first flight to the archipelago, also last year.

Also in the last couple of years, Air Seychelles has been particularly active. Besides expanding its fleet, this year alone saw the airline expand its codeshare partnerships with Etihad and Alitalia, whilst 2016 saw Air Seychelles expand its agreements with Jet Airways and South African Airways, as well as launch a direct route to Durban.

2016 was a busy year for Air Seychelles, with the airline also launching flights to China and expanding its reach to Mumbai in India. This, after 2015 saw Air Seychelles enter into a codeshare with Air France, further strengthening its connections with Europe.

Air Seychelles was also busy last year beefing up its lounge offering, with a revamp of its Vallee de Mai lounge in Mahé, which now has seating for 102 guests and a fresher look.

Arguably the most exciting news in the airline space broke just over a year ago when it was announced that Seychelles could have a new international airport in Mahé in the next three to four years. The current Seychelles International Airport opened in 1972 and has more recently struggled with increased demand. The new international airport is expected to be built to the north of the current structure and will cost in the region of $150-million.

ISLANDS

So, you’ve got a fair bit of background on the Seychelles, and judging by the airline news above, you’ve probably worked out the easiest route to get to the Seychelles, with the options now a lot more plentiful than say they were five years ago.

But do you know exactly what you’re getting in to and do you really understand the Seychelles?

As already explained, it’s made up of 115 islands, but you can’t take in all of them, as it would probably take you the better part of the next couple of years. So, why don’t you stick to the tried and tested, at least for your first trip to the Seychelles, after which you can branch out, get adventurous, and seek out those really remote islands. For now, though, the three main islands are a good place to start.

The Inner Islands, which are mostly granitic, cluster mainly around the principal islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, forming the cultural and economic hub of Seychelles, as well as the centre of its tourism industry. Together, they are home to the majority of Seychelles’ accommodation facilities as well as almost the entire population of the archipelago.

MAHE

It’s the gateway to the 115-island archipelago and home to the capital city of Victoria, and whilst the temptation may be to land at Seychelles International Airport and quickly catch a connecting flight to one of the smaller islands, Mahé does have much to offer, even if it is perceived as the ‘big city’ of the country.

That’s all relative, and even though Mahé accounts for approximately 85% of the Seychelles population, that number is still only in the region of 75,000 people. The island itself measures 28 kilometres long by eight kilometres wide, and is the largest island and cultural and economic hub of the Inner Islands. Further to that, the population reflects the Seychelles’ diverse ethnicity and descent from African, Indian, Chinese and European populations. Mahé is also the seat of government and the chief centre of commerce.

With a backdrop of towering 1000m granite peaks, Mahé is a treasure trove of flora that has evolved over centuries of isolation. Rare endemic plants found nowhere else in the world adorn Mahé’s mist forests in mountain strongholds, such as the Jellyfish Tree, the carnivorous Seychelles Pitcher Plant and the Seychelles Vanilla Orchid. If you fancy your plants and ticking off rare species, then Mahé is for you.

Mahé is also the transportation hub for island-hops and day excursions to neighbouring islands and all other islands within the Seychelles. All scheduled domestic flights by Air Seychelles originate from Mahé to the serviced islands.

A leisurely tour of the island by car will take two to two-and-a-half hours and reveal the lion’s share of Seychelles’ accommodation facilities, places of cultural interest and other attractions.

AIRPORT EXPERIENCE

It’s a quaint, yet highly functional airport with international check-in desks that open onto the street/ drop-off zone. The security and immigration procedures are efficient and painless, after which you’ll find yourself in a comfortable departure lounge with a few retail options, providing that last opportunity to purchase a souvenir for a loved one.

The Air Seychelles Salon Vallee de Mai premium lounge is located on the upper level of international departures. It’s a fairly basic lounge with a limited food offering, but the wi-fi is speedy and the revamped lounge also offers PCs, comfortable seating, international newspapers and magazines, and showers. Air Seychelles Pearl (business class) passengers and gold members of the airline’s frequent flyer programme may access the lounge at no charge. All other passengers must purchase access.

RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES

Take in the Saturday morning market in Victoria. It’s a trip that will expose you to what the city centre looks like, together with its old, historic buildings and notable sites such as the clock tower. Just a few hundred metres away is the Victoria market, where you can get just about anything in terms of local produce.

More importantly, it’s where you can pick up fish from the local traders. The Port of Victoria is home to the tuna fishing and canning industry, but the Red Snapper – or Bourgeois as the locals call it – comes highly recommended and is the fish dish you’ll find in most hotel restaurants. It has firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavour that lends itself very well to everything from hot chillies to subtle herbs. It’s also excellent for grilling, if you plan on cooking it yourself.

Alternatively, visit Kenwyn House, one of the oldest and best examples of French colonial architecture on the island and a place to shop for arts and crafts.

Another popular option on Mahé is the island’s rum distillery, Takamaka, where you can learn about rum making – and get a little taster. If you’re craving healthier, outdoor activities, head to the highest point in Seychelles, Morne Seychellois – at 905 metres. It’s a three-hour hike and sits inside a national park that claims an impressive 20% of the whole island.

POPULAR MAHÉ SNORKELLING SITES

Anse Royale – south-east; accessible by car
Port Launay Marine Park – west coast; accessible by car
Anse Diri – located near Port Launay Marine Park; accessible only by sea
Sainte Anne Marine Park – Comprises six small islands (Cerf, Round, Moyenne, Long, Saint Anne and Ile Cachee); five kilometres off coast of Victoria; accessible by boat hire
Anse Major – north-west; accessible by sea or through paved walk trail
Baie Ternay Marine Park – north-west; visited by glass-bottom boat, dive excursions

PRASLIN

Once you’re done with Mahé, Praslin should be your go-to option. With a population of 6,500 people, Praslin is the Seychelles’ second-largest island. It lies 45 kilometres to the north-east of Mahé and measures 10 kilometres by 3.7 kilometres. A leisurely tour around the island by car will take approximately two hours.

Praslin stands at the forefront of the Seychelles’ tourism industry, with a strong tradition of hospitality and wide range of accommodation facilities. It also provides a base for excursions to neighbouring islands, some of which are important sanctuaries nurturing rare species of endemic flora and fauna. These islands include La Digue, Curieuse, Cousin, Cousine, St Pierre, Iles Cocos and Félicité.

AIRPORT EXPERIENCE

You can get to Praslin via either a 45-minute ferry ride or a 15-minute flight from Mahé. Air Seychelles operates these flights and they take off from the Seychelles International Airport domestic terminal. Air Seychelles uses a 20-seater for these flights, and the views of the islands from the air are spectacular. Praslin’s airport is even smaller and even more quaint than the airport on Mahé, but it works, is efficient and easy to get in and out of.

VALLEE DE MAI

The jewel in the Praslin crown is undoubtedly the Vallee de Mai – one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Seychelles. It’s a 19.5-hectare area of palm forest that remains largely unchanged since prehistoric times. The flagship species consist of the island-endemic Coco de Mer, as well as five other endemic palms. The Coco de Mer, a monocot tree in the Arecaceae (palm family), has the largest seeds (double-nut seed) of any plant in the world. Also unique to the park is its wildlife, including birds such as the rare Seychelles Black Parrot, mammals, crustaceans, snails, and reptiles.

BEACHES

The island features truly exquisite beaches such as Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette, which have both appeared on the top-10 list of the world’s best beaches in recent years. Anse Lazio comes highly recommended, particularly if you take some time to spend an afternoon on the beach, following a big lunch at Bonbon Plume restaurant, which is located on the fringes of the beach, but still offers the option of sitting at a restaurant table with your feet in the sand.

POPULAR PRASLIN SNORKELLING SITES

Cote D’or beach – east coast; popular beach accessible by foot or car
Chauve Souris Island – accessible via swimming from Cote D’or beach
Curieuse Marine Park – island to the north-east; accessible only by boat
St. Pierre Marine Park – accessible only by boat

GOLF

Praslin is home to the only 18-hole championship golf course in the Seychelles. It’s located at the Constance Lemuria Resort & Spa, in close proximity to the airport. In fact, when you fly into Praslin, the flight path takes you over the golf course, just before landing. The course was designed by Rodney Wright and former European Tour winner Marc Farry, and opened in October 2001. There have been a lot of changes over the years, including sand bunkers being converted to grass bunkers, ponds being filled and fairways widened. But perhaps the biggest change has been the move from Bermuda grass to Seashore Paspalum grass.

LA DIGUE

La Digue is the fourth-largest island in the Seychelles and is in close proximity to Praslin and its satellite islands, Félicité, Marianne and the Sisters Islands. Apart from hosting the Seychelles’ Black Paradise Flycatcher, one of the rarest birds on earth, La Digue’s biodiversity features such stars as the Chinese Bittern, the Cave Swiftlet, Waxbill and two rare species of terrapin.

La Digue’s forests also contain a wealth of flora in the form of delicate orchids and tumbling vines of vanilla, as well as trees such as Indian almond and takamaka. Gardens blaze with hibiscus and nepenthes against a backdrop of swaying coconut palms.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of La Digue is the preferred mode of transport – bicycle and ox-cart. Traditional methods of boat building and refining of coconut products (copra) are still practised, whilst the friendly atmosphere of this intimate island with its languid pace of life, traditional architecture and breath-taking beaches, such as legendary Anse Source d’Argent, make it an absolute must for visitors.

If that isn’t enough to get you fired up, then perhaps the idea of taking a leisurely 20-minute ferry ride from Praslin to an island with some of the world’s most stunning beaches will.

Once you’ve disembarked, either pop into the Seychelles Tourism Board office 50 metres away, or continue round the corner to the right to get your hands on a bicycle for hire. You can ask for directions, or you can just head off down the road and take your chances.

Two minor roads circle the interior of the west coast and an extension of one crosses to three of the island’s most splendid beaches on the south-east coast – Grande Anse, Petite Anse and Anse Coco. From there, a footpath skirts the headland to Anse Caiman. It’s worth noting that STB urges caution when swimming in the months between May and October, as it can be dangerous.

POPULAR LA DIGUE SNORKELLING SITES

Anse Source d’Argent – accessible by bicycle; shallow waters
Anse La Reunion – accessible by bicycle; immediate proximity to La Digue Island Lodge

Alternatively, get yourself on a glass-bottom boat and head off for one of the Marine Parks already listed.

OTHER ISLANDS

Below is a little taste and selection of the some of the other islands in the Seychelles archipelago.

Fregate is the size of Monaco yet with only 16 villas, and it’s a Jurassic Park-like retreat. The current 2,200-strong population of Aldabra giant tortoises were bred from a population down to just 150 only 25 years ago, and they now roam freely across the island. Fregate is also responsible for saving the little Seychelles magpie robin from disappearing forever, and there are now more than 200 of these dainty little birds back in the archipelago. Fregate’s popularity is further bolstered by its seven beaches and the excellent Rock Spa resort.

North Island – which has just 11 villas – is also known for its conservation work, with its ‘Noah’s Ark Project’ involving rehabilitation and restoration of a once ecologically devastated island. Like many in the Seychelles, North Island’s natural state was destroyed by intensive plantations more than a century ago, but the mission since has been a return to its pre-human state. Many species of birds have returned, while hawksbill and green turtles nest on its beaches once again.

Cousin and Curieuse both have strong conservation stories to tell. Curieuse is the only other island where coco de mer grows today, but in its past the island was destroyed by fire, pillaged of its resources and tortoise population, and used as a leper colony. Its story now is a very positive one, as it’s managed as a reserve you can visit by day trip. Cousin Island Special Reserve is another success story. This former coconut plantation is now a species-saving sanctuary and has become the most important nesting site in the western Indian Ocean for the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

Félicité is a larger island where the new Six Senses Zil Pasyon took up residence this year, occupying less than a third of the island, with 30 villas and 17 private residences.

The hot new hotel opening for 2018 will be Four Seasons Resort Seychelles on Desroches Island, which will open on 1 March as the only resort on that island. Home to 40 suites, here days might be spent with a picnic and hike into the jungle, checking out 15 kilometres of beaches or bumping into some of the 150 giant Aldabra tortoises.

THE SEYCHELLES BUCKET LIST
  1. Take a half-day or day sailing cruise around the islands
  2. Visit a Seychelles beach
  3. Snorkel the turquoise shallows of the islands
  4. Take a guided tour into the mountains
  5. Visit Praslin’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vallee de Mai
  6. Visit a Seychelles coral island
  7. Indulge in Creole cuisine
  8. Visit La Digue, where bicycle and ox-cart are the modes of transport
  9. Take a fishing expedition
  10. Sip a cocktail, whilst you watch the sun go down on a sunset cruise
BIG HOTEL BRANDS IN SEYCHELLES
  • AVANI (Mahé)
  • Banyan Tree (Mahé)
  • Beachcomber (Saint Anne)
  • Constance (Mahé & Praslin)
  • Four Seasons (Mahé)
  • Hilton (Mahé & Silhouette)
  • Kempinski (Mahé)
  • Le Meridien (Mahé)
  • Raffles (Praslin)
  • Tsogo Sun (Mahé & Praslin)

All of these hotels are in the five-star range. So, if you’re looking for something further down the star range or more within your budget, your best bet is to consult Seychelles Tourism or www.seychelles.travel

BEST TIME TO VISIT

As the Seychelles islands are blessed with a year-long warm, tropical climate, it’s always a good time to visit, although different times of year may be better suited to your particular interests.

Two opposing trade winds generally govern the weather pattern: the north-westerly trades blow from October to March when wind speeds average from 8 to 12 knots; and the brisker south-easterly trades blow from May to September with winds of between 10 to 20 knots, bringing the cooler and windier conditions ideal for sailing.

The periods of calm between the trades produce fairly warm and wind-free conditions throughout April and also in October. Conditions for swimming, snorkelling and especially diving are superb during April/ May and October/November when the water temperature sometimes reaches 29ºC and visibility is often 30 metres-plus.

The ‘SUBIOS Underwater Festival’ showcases Seychelles’ extraordinary underwater world through a series of film shows, talks and competitions, while the ‘Festival Kreol’ (a week-long celebration of Creole heritage and traditions) is held in October each year.

The Seychelles Sailing Cup, an international sailing event, is held in January and the International Fishing Competition in November. Further local fishing competitions are held throughout the year.

WHY THE SEYCHELLES?
  • All year round destination
  • No cyclones
  • Rich in flora and fauna
  • Malaria-free
  • No visa required for any nationality
  • Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Vallee de Mai & Aldabra Atoll
  • Low crime rate
  • Beaches voted some of the most beautiful in the world
  • Rich in culture and cuisine
  • Only island-hopping destination in the Indian Ocean
  • Rich marine life
  • Excellent diving sites
  • Fishing all year round

For further information, visit www.seychelles.travel

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