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Sherin Francis

CEO, Seychelles Tourism Board

Through the work of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Seychelles has transformed from a niche destination catering to European couples to a multi-faceted tourism destination attractive to a global tourism audience. By diversifying to incorporate new demographics such as family vacationers and corporate events, as well as expanding amenities to accommodate travelers across the budget spectrum, the new Seychelles has something for everyone. China is another critical part of that shift and a growing market segment for Seychelles, which is looking to collaborate with investors to expand offerings and amenities tailored specifically to the Chinese traveler

The Seychelles Tourism Board came into existence in 2005. How has it shaped the nation’s tourism scene since then?

 When the Seychelles Tourism Board was created in 2005, it had a very broad mandate with the responsibility for marketing Seychelles as a tourism destination, as well as a myriad of regulatory responsibilities for the industry. About five years ago, the Department of Tourism was created and the regulatory function was moved to the department. The trends we’ve seen in this country in tourism are directly tied to the work the Tourism Board has done over the past few years. We’ve reduced our reliance on the European tourism market. While Europe is still our primary market, comprising 62 percent of our business, we have diversified and grown dependable alternative markets such as the UAE, China, India, and South Africa. Within Europe, we’ve traditionally relied on five main country markets: France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and Russia, but we’ve been able to sustain a large market share in Europe as well through diversifying into new emerging European markets.

Likewise, the way we market Seychelles has evolved. Seychelles has been traditionally associated with romance, catering to couples and honeymooners. We’ve realized we can’t rely on just that niche to grow our tourism industry. We’ve expanded the segments we cater to, for example, we now promote activities such as snorkeling, swimming, yoga, golfing, and other active recreational activities. We’re also creating products that can accommodate families and are building our capacity to host conferences and large events; we are moving with the rest of the world in terms of industry reach. We are offering travel options across the budget spectrum. This has helped us grow to 350,000 visitors from a whole array of countries that collectively give us a quite stable market. The organization has also gone through a digital revolution, which was my personal goal when I joined the Tourism Board. Today, we have a team of four people in the digital marketing section who work full time on our digital marketing strategy and are trained professionals in this space. We are making sure we are present and provide maximum information and content to our potential visitors.

"Our Chinese market segment has grown from almost nothing to 15,000 visitors annually"

The Seychelles Tourism Board decided to move into China in 2011, with offices in Bejing, Shanghai and Hong Kong today. How has the number and outbound Chinese tourism market in Seychelles evolved over the last seven years?

 Our Chinese market segment has grown from almost nothing to 15,000 visitors annually. When you compare China to our top market, Germany, which is the source for 50,000 visitors, China is certainly a significant market segment. However, in the past two years, we have seen a small decline in Chinese visitor numbers.


What do you think accounts for that blip in growth?

 Our strategy for the Chinese market has significantly changed in the last year. Instead of targeting overall volume, we are implementing a more targeted strategy, focusing on the travel savvy Chinese visitor. These visitors are well traveled and will come visit even if there isn’t a direct flight. We’re optimistic about this strategy, but of course, it takes some time to see the results. Rather than an increase in visitor number, what we are really looking for is growth in revenue from this market.

We are working with a whole new set of partners and shifting our investment away from some of our old partners. We are also narrowing our focus to four main cities, and focusing on attracting the right visitors. It will take a year or so to start to see the results. There may be also external factors contributing to the drop, for example, Chinese travel patterns to beach destinations, which we’ve observed have declined for long-haul holidays overall, but increased for short-haul trips. We also don’t have a direct flight from China currently.

"As we grow the market, products that are tailor-built to meet the needs of Chinese tourists directly would be very welcome."

What potential is there to add direct flight connections between China and Seychelles?

 We are in discussions with Chinese companies about the possibility of adding Seychelles to their route network. The eventual decisions have to be with the airlines. We can support the airlines in marketing, but they have to ensure that when they do launch that it’s a profitable run. So far, we’ve had a lot of discussions but nothing has materialized yet. It is something we’re always exploring.

What are the main selling points of Seychelles as a tourist destination?

 One of our top selling points is island hopping, we are a multi islands destination, and no two islands are the same. If you come several times, you can have a new experience every time. However, even if there are new activities at each destination, what stays consistent is that the natural beauty is unparalleled in Seychelles. But of course, as a destination, we cannot just be content with that. We continue to modernize and stay relevant with current travel trends. For example, authentic experiential travel is in demand. Tourists are interested in cultural and heritage tours to learn about Seychelles. We get people in touch with the soul of the destination.

If you were a Chinese investor, what would you consider to be the best opportunities for investment?

 We could use some more Chinese signature restaurants to serve our Chinese visitors. I also know that there are a number of existing hotel properties interested in investment, so that could be an area for Chinese investors who want to develop a product more geared towards the Chinese tourist. As we grow the market, products that are tailor-built to meet the needs of Chinese tourists directly would be very welcome.

Last year you told local media that the average occupancy rate was at around 62 percent. What are you doing to increase year-round appeal?

 Seychelles no longer has the low and high seasons that we used to have. The arrivals throughout the year are fairly constant. Hotels tend to be higher occupancy, whereas the smaller self-caterings and  guesthouses have lower occupancy rate. visitors want hotel properties for the amenities and facilities that come with them. These properties are sold not only through direct online bookings, but also tour operators and travel agents. According to forward keys an average of Fifty-five percent of our business still comes through an agent or tour operator. The Department of Tourism is working on fine tuning a brand that would group the smaller establishments that will allow us to sell them better. This will create some consistency across the smaller establishments, and as a visitor, you’ll know what to expect.

"Other island destinations cannot replicate what we’ve been able to achieve as a small country in terms of our environmental protection and preservation"

When promoting Seychelles abroad, particularly in Asia, are there any common misconceptions or challenges in increasing brand recognition?

 We’ve done a lot of work on Seychelles’ visibility in China. We are trying to differentiate ourselves from the other beach destinations and highlight our uniqueness as a diverse archipelago. We have the year-round sun, sea, and sand, like all the other beach destinations, but we are more than that. We have an outstanding natural beauty which cannot be compared with anywhere else in the world and diversity.

How would you describe the Seychelles and its spirit to someone who has never been here?

Seychelles is an island nation unlike any other. Other island destinations cannot replicate what we’ve been able to achieve as a small country in terms of our environmental protection and preservation. It is a beautiful place to visit. The only way you can really understand it is to come here yourself.

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