Cindy Vidot was named Chief Executive of Seychelles Investment Board (SIB) in December 2017, after her role as head of international sales at Air Seychelles. Here, she explains how the SIB makes the investment experience smooth, the ideal investor profile for Seychelles, and the most interesting sectors for Chinese investment
How would you evaluate the current investment climate in Seychelles today?
Seychelles has experienced positive economic growth over the year, and that significantly contributes to what we do. If we look at the main key performance indicators for the Investment Board – foreign direct investment (FDI) and local investment – for the first quarter of 2018, both of these numbers are on the increase. In terms of FDI, we topped $35 million, which is an increase of 26 percent compared to the same period last year. This puts us on par with the first quarter of 2016, which is important because in 2015 Seychelles announced a moratorium on large developments. This impacted FDI, particularly in the tourism sector, where we had seen the bulk of investment. So we are very pleased that the first quarter of 2018 is back to the 2016 levels because it shows that there is a confidence and that investors are diversifying their portfolios from the original tourism focus. We track investment coming through SIB on a weekly basis to understand where our investments are coming from and are seeing a much broader range of investment today than we had in the past. This is encouraging because it means we have a diverse range of opportunities and that we aren’t dependent on one sector.
The SIB was set up in 2004 as a one-stop-shop for investors. What can you tell us about the services you offer to incoming investors?
We have two main roles. Our first role is being the promotional body for investment. We watch what is happening and plan all of our promotional and marketing efforts around where we see the businesses coming and what other competitive jurisdictions are doing. We do this to adapt and keep up to date with all the methods of promotion such as participation at investment forums and digital marketing. Our second role is to hold investors’ hands. We are a facilitator. If investors have an idea of a sector in which they would like to invest, we will sit down with them, consult our technical team of experts, and guide them in terms of all the documents they need to prepare. It’s a step-by-step process and we coordinate all the requirements across multiple government bodies. Later, we go back to the investor and give them the green light when they are ready to proceed. Depending on the nature of the investment, different bodies or agencies are involved. The technical team will know that this investment in a hotel, for example, needs to look at the environment, tourism and health aspects. So we coordinate it all and deliver the feedback in one single document to the investor. There are instances where we have certain challenges in processing a particular investment, in that case, we also coordinate meetings where the investor can discuss the project with the relevant parties. In other cases, we have foreign investors coming in who want local partners. They can come to us for help with matchmaking, we can identify that potential partner and facilitate a meeting where they can talk business.
What are the key competitive advantages of Seychelles as a jurisdiction of choice for Chinese investors?
I see Seychelles as having the right balance of being small and pragmatic. We are ecologically aware and haven’t been over-developed moved into mass tourism. We are a blue economy, and that’s how we promote ourselves – but in a way that we’re able to match our goals with investment. Seychelles is a world leader in environment. We’ve just negotiated the debt swap, which is the first of its kind in the world. One very specific example is that we’re moving toward a 30 percent commitment of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for conservation, but at the same time the fisheries sector is the second pillar of our economy. So, we are able to balance promoting investment and business in that particular sector, whilst also being a leader in preservation and conservation of the environment.
For Chinese investors, which sectors of the economy are most promising?
For us, financial services is one of the main sectors where we see opportunities for Chinese investors in Seychelles. We already have very positive numbers in this regard. Because of that, most of our efforts for promoting financial services will be done in China and other countries in Asia. We have Chinese investors coming into real estate, which is also very important. And we have some high-end and eco-friendly tourism infrastructure projects that Chinese investors are involved in.
What scope is there to position Seychelles as a stepping stone into Africa for China?
Geographically, we are between both continents, which makes us a logical choice. And with all its modern infrastructure, Seychelles is strategically capable to form that link between Asia and Africa. And, at the moment, the development of our port is ongoing. Of course, we have all the links via sea and air to connect mainland Africa and Asia. We have most the big international airlines flying to Seychelles, and shipping lines also operate via the Seychelles Port. Also, the fact that Seychelles is completely out of the cyclone belt means that weather-wise, we’re very safe and secure.
What sort of Chinese investor profile is best suited to Seychelles?
The dilemma that Seychelles has with all investors is in relation to our size. China has some very big players and in Seychelles, we simply do not have economies of scale or large terrains to set up big manufacturing plants. We don’t have the market for them to make the billions in turnover, so for us, it’s key to find those mid-range investors who are willing to invest in a smaller market. We say our market size is under half a million annually when we think of the local population, expatriates and visitors into the country. It’s not a bad problem to have, however, because, at the same time, we are walking the fine line of being environmentally conscious and not getting into overdevelopment. A big part of our land and sea is protected. But in terms of welcoming the opportunities to come, we do have Chinese investors who are very interested in coming to Seychelles. Many times a week, we have mid-sized to large Chinese investors walking through the door, so that’s a very encouraging sign. We also have a very environmentally focused strategy which means the investor also needs to incorporate that element into their investment. For example, if somebody is coming to open a tourism establishment, they can move towards a more ecological and green type of investment versus the big city block, solid cement project. So we do encourage investors who have that understanding. Because of our size and nature, we’re all about marrying Seychelles’ strategy and character with investments. That’s what we’re all about.
How would you characterize the openness of the Seychellois government toward entrepreneurship, and what would you highlight as the key factors in Seychelles’ business-friendly environment?
There’s a big effort nationally now to improve the investment landscape of Seychelles, and we are very involved. For instance, our vice president leads a high-level committee on ease of doing business that SIB takes part in. The fact that it is being coordinated at the highest level shows the level of commitment across the country. We also have a Department for Investment, and they are putting a lot of effort into improving policies and legislation to make Seychelles more investor-friendly.
What is the final message you would like to send to the Chinese business community and policymakers?
The numbers speak for themselves in terms of our economy and the positive trends in investment. Our GDP per Capita based on the World Bank gross national income (GNI) per capita framework has moved the Seychelles economy into the high-income group and we are able to welcome investors, something SIB is proactively promoting. Sometimes investors are happier in their traditional sectors, but we present a new option. And SIB remains available to help those who want to enter Seychelles. We are here to answer any question – that is the core of what we do. Any questions investors may have, even if they are broad like –“what can I do in Seychelles; where is there a demand?” – we can answer. We have done the research and scoped out the investment opportunities. We also have the support of our government and other agencies, so we can coordinate and help them find out how best a business can thrive in Seychelles.