Seychelles’ Blue Economy: Tourism

Seychelles Blue Economy: Tourism

Aerial St Pierre_Raymond Sahuquet

 

Introduction

 

When developing for the future it is hardly surprising that Seychelles’ tourism industry should look to its Blue Economy to chart its way forward. Surrounded by 1.4 s km of Exclusive Economic Zone, the Seychelles Islands were created with the all-enveloping ocean in mind and since the early days of settlement in the mid-eighteenth century, this small island state has been moulded, and continues to be moulded, by its relationship with the surrounding waters.

 

Strategic overview

Seychelles’ tourism strategy is to further grow maritime tourism activities and their contribution to the economy by further developing and promoting the sailing & cruising and diving & fishing sectors. This will generally help to grow tourism figures and also assist in making Seychelles an attractive port of call for lucrative super yachts and cruise ships via substantial improvements in the current infrastructure of port facilities and ancillary services and by encouraging private sector participation in the construction of marinas on other islands.

 

Situation analysis

Since the birth of tourism in the early 70’s, the great pull of the islands has always been the winning combination of a spectacular sun, sea & sand vacation combined with a near-perfect climate and a unique island-style way of life that allows travellers to ‘get away from it all.’ These ingredients are, in a nutshell, the very foundation of a Seychelles holiday which we must expand, embellish and build upon to achieve a prosperous and sustainable Blue Economy. Seychelles needs to be making greater use of the economic potential of its Blue Economy, not only in terms of growing the existing base sustainably but also by constantly improving and upgrading it so that it consistently meets the expectations of today’s discerning traveller.

Piracy is a major issue affecting the economic performance and effectiveness of all sectors of Seychelles’ Blue Economy and a major brake on the islands’ future prosperity. Despite the growth of Seychelles’ yacht fleet, it has been estimated that between 2008 and 2010, the aggregate business turnover of this activity dropped by some 22% in current Euro terms. In 2009 alone, the sector experienced a 27% drop in business turnover. The yachting & cruising sector employs a minimum of 100 Seychellois and consumes goods & services such as fuel, food, landing & docking fees, maintenance and repair services, harbor fees, souvenirs and land-based tourism services such as accommodation, taxis, car hire, restaurants and diving. Nonetheless, despite the piracy phenomenon evidence shows that the number of yachts operating in Seychelles continued to increase from 117 in 2010 to 129 in 2011. Accommodation afloat constitutes a substantial amount of the country’s bed capacity (12%) as many tourists spend their holiday, or part of their holiday in Seychelles aboard a boat. It is estimated that yachting activities attract about 15% of visitor arrivals in Seychelles.

 

Strategic objectives

Seychelles will create a suite of events designed to grow Seychelles’ maritime activities and their contribution to the economy, such as the Durban to Seychelles Yacht Race planned for 2015. These types of events are designed not only to offer a superior sailing experience to participants but also raise Seychelles’ international profile as a sailing destination par excellence, with positive benefits to the national economy achieved through the staging of side-events.

Seychelles will make concerted overtures to cruise ship companies to include the islands in their itineraries which will, in turn, strengthen the accessibility of the Vanilla Islands, the umbrella organisation formed for the marketing of the islands of the western Indian Ocean: Seychelles, La Reunion, Madagascar, Mayotte and Comoros, with a positive knock-on effect for all member economies. Seychelles will continue to improve the quality of its tourism products by increasing Seychellois involvement, commitment and shareholding in the industry. The range of holiday experiences and also the number of islands accessible to visitors will be expanded to strengthen Seychelles’ competitiveness in the already congested tourism arena. This will ensure visitors are receiving value for money and that the tourism product more than meets their expectations,

Seychelles’ diving industry already benefits from a reputation for offering excellent diving on both coral and granite reefs via both land-based and live aboard dive operators. Diving in Seychelles will continue to be promoted by the individual dive centres and Seychelles at international Dive Fairs, focusing on advertising the destination as pristine and offering relaxed diving schedules, uncrowded dive boats with a personal Creole touch and strong conservation credentials, in stark contrast to the congestion of other dive destinations. A further boost to the local dive industry will continue to be given by realigning the objectives of SUBIOS with the goals of the Blue Economy, again with positive, trickle-down effects and also by educating the local population about the importance of Seychelles’ marine resources and the need to protect them.

A long-time favoured destination for fishing enthusiast, Seychelles’ sports fishing industry is burgeoning. Seychelles will continue to help promote this sector which includes big-game and fly-fishing and which has already recently appeared on the front page of one of the world’s top fishing magazines ‘Bizbee’s World’ for offering some of the very best fishing on the planet. One of the strategies to be employed to further boost this sector is the organization of larger fishing tournaments with lucrative prizes to attract rich foreign competitors and so provide further endorsement and strengthen the upward cycle. Sustainability will be provided by adherence to strict tag & release regulations to protect fish stocks.

In order to promote excellence in people development and decent work within the tourism maritime sector, Seychelles will grow the capabilities and influence of the Maritime Training Centre which will be dedicated to meet the needs and skill requirements of the industry and also inject an element of Creole colour and personality into its operations.

Sustainability is the watch word across all sectors of Seychelles Blue Economy. As the islands continue to harvest its benefits sagaciously while educating the population at large as to the successful exploitation of Blue Economy resources, sustainability will remain a priority. This will be achieved by integrating sustainability in the daily operations of all areas in the maritime sector and by making sure that all boat and yacht operators sensitize their clients about the Seychelles environment and the need to preserve and protect the natural assets of the islands. Also, by ensuring that appropriate and effective policies and legislation are in place and in force to regulate the safe and efficient performance of this sector.

The Seychelles 115 islands, scattered across a vast Exclusive Economic Zone of and the grand diversity they offer are among the nation’s greatest assets. However, there is a need to make greater use of these slumbering treasures by addressing the issues of geographic and seasonal spread and by tackling the scourge of piracy in the region through increased coordination between and effectiveness of the efforts of the international community.

Conclusion:

Who has not heard of the legendary beauty of Seychelles, its silver sands and warm, dappled sapphire waters? In a world that is becoming grimier by the day, the iconic image of having the opportunity to relax on a Seychelles beach, beneath swaying palms and swimming in its crystal waters continues to be a primary driver of its tourism. And yet, in the highly competitive arena of global tourism where every country on earth is busy selling its product, sun, sea & sand is not enough.

We live at a time when the travel industry is looking for more than just the basics. Travellers are becoming more sophisticated, more discerning and with greater expectations than simply to languish on a beach during their vacation. Time and again, research shows that today’s travellers are seeking experiences that allow them to get beneath the skin of the particular country they are visiting and take indelible memories of that experience home with them.

In the case of Seychelles, it only has to look at its surrounding waters to provide the answer because that ocean is rich in possibilities, many of which have still not been exploited.

 

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from my thriller: Kolony.

KOLONY           Chapter 4

            Handforth descended to the ocean floor with the silken embrace of its tepid waters coursing beneath the membrane of his dive-suit. Visibility was very good, excellent even; something he was coming to take for granted from the Indian Ocean. 

            As he began to orientate himself, a familiar tightness began to grip his head until, by holding his nose then forcing air out through his ears, the pressure regulated and relief came. He adjusted the inflatable dive jacket to the depth he wanted, which would be about twenty metres, and then peered up towards ‘Bells’ where the deep-vee hull hung inert in a windless sea with no visible play in the anchor chain. Despite it all, he was proud of her. ‘Bells’ was not yet in the condition she should be, or one day would be, but she was functional and her down-to-basics look had a curious appeal. He watched her outline shimmer in the delicate web of his bubbles. Now there was only the guttural murmur of the regulator to disturb an otherworldly quiet as he began to follow the follow the contours of the reef in a southerly direction.

            After a thorough study of the charts, the configuration of the reef and the prevailing winds plus every other scrap of information he had been able to lay his hands on, he had calculated that he should start the search for the wreck at a point roughly three hundred metres further on in that direction. It was a long shot, but he had to start somewhere; the reef shelf was not that long and, if ‘Valorous’ was down there, she must have struck it somewhere along its length.  

            Handforth guessed the ship may well have come in towards the lagoon on a reach which would have placed her, unknowingly, on a collision course with the south-eastern side of the atoll. The satellite picture showed that’s where one of the chief hazards for shipping lay, and so that was the assumption he would start with. Logically, it was now a matter of scouring the perimeter of the reef where ‘Valorous’ should have collided with some coral outcrop, filled with water, and sunk.  

            Somewhere ahead, a small shoal of caranx flashed a signal of electric blue which immediately became shot through with the silver streak of a predatory barracuda. Watching the silver missile slash left and right at its prey with needle teeth, Handforth could not help but admire the simple dictate of the ocean’s food chain: eat and be eaten.

            The current was favourable and nudging him along very nicely in the direction he wanted to go without his having to move much. That suited him because the effect of the drinking bout of the night before was still misting his senses like a cloying fog; not unpleasant, just present.

            To his left was the rampart of the reef, the natural coral barrier protecting a coralline island from the surrounding ocean and, to his right, the open sea. He hugged the barrier, knowing that after a certain time it would absorb the skeleton of a broken boat and then camouflage and hoard it, living creature that it was. As he free-floated through this silent underwater realm, false cleaner-wrasse came from their stations to nip morsels of skin from his unprotected legs while the rainbow forms of tiny clown fish ducked into the protective embrace of their anemones. 

            Different forms of coral made up the exterior wall of the lagoon, each colony with its own particular tenants and each one playing a specific role which would ensure the existence of the whole. Handforth noticed them without paying particular attention to them. As he rounded the promontory of the south point, he began looking for the tell-tale signs of coral overgrowing a ship’s hull, searching the dullness of the ocean floor for its presence and for the tell-tale signs of its disintegration.

            Two and a half kilometres out, the sea floor plummeted to a depth of several hundred metres and Handforth knew great fish would often rise from there to inspect the shallower waters for food: marlin, swordfish and the great ocean-going sharks. They would ride the swell at the border of the deep and the shallows whose journey would end only when it exploded onto the bulwark of the lagoon with massive force.

            Today’s swell was lethargic, like a beast that had fed. Nevertheless, Handforth remained alert and occasionally scanned the surface for any surge which might signal its quickening. He had passed the promontory now and was swimming across the straight, south-eastern face of the coral barrier where the sea floor was like a pitted and scarred moonscape with depressions and dark ravines which reflected little light. For the most part, they were too narrow to conceal a wreck but he peeked into all but the smallest just the same, the concentrated beam of his torch picking out the faces of its startled inhabitants.

            The way they looked at him triggered an impression that something about these fish was different; the majority of them seemed frightened and did not swim about in the nonchalant, relaxed way he had seen elsewhere. Now that he thought about it, they seemed to be on their guard and even the green job-fish which could usually be found brazenly cruising in open water, here kept close to the coral. He stopped for a moment, as if the feeling he was developing required immediate confirmation then spun around to face the open sea and stared out into the black-green universe but nothing seemed to move.

            The same sense of unease as before touched him with an icy finger as if something extant in the waters was percolating through him. Handforth noticed it in the involuntary tightening of the muscles around his neck and in the ever-so-slight increase in the rhythm of his breathing.

            Noticing that he had already been in the water for forty minutes, he forced himself to ignore these unpleasant sensations as he turned back towards the reef and continued his search. Clouds were forming overhead as the weather forecast had predicted and the sky was darkening as all around him as the vivid colours of the corals began turning drab in the fading light.

            In his mind’s eye Handforth pictured ‘Valorous’ caught in a maelstrom of heavy swells. He could well imagine the panic on board as the frigate foundered, probably at night; the crew finding themselves in the water, caught between the sinking vessel, the monstrous waves, the razor-sharp coral and, of course, the predators. 

            The big sharks would have feasted that day, speeding in from the abyss with their bodies gyrating in expectation of the kill and propelled forward by the excited, jerky movements of their sickle-shaped tails. He conjured up the screams as men were guillotined at the torso by hideous jaws thrust forward at the moment of impact and armed with forests of razor teeth.

            He imagined the concerto of shrieks from the helpless victims which were never enough to express the pain. He could almost see the blood spilling out and mingling with the sea’s spume, summoning the final frenzy as sharks, most of them probably tigers or white-tips, competed for bleeding ribbons of human flesh as they pulled their victims limb from limb.  Yes, he was sure that these waters had once witnessed a scene like that and in his uneasiness he turned around once more to face the ocean but nothing moved in waters which seemed to mock him with their stillness.

            He found himself wondering how many of the hundred or so men on board had survived; women, too. The little he had been able to make out from the papers indicated that a certain Sir John Furlough’s wife and daughter had been present on board. Had they survived?  Strangely, Handforth felt himself wishing they had not.

            Something in those yellowed notes pointed to a deeply divided band of survivors but, also, to something more ominous still. And what of the enmity between the captain, Liddle, and this Furlough which seemed to have torn the voyage apart; had that survived? The fate of the drowned and the devoured may have been a terrible one but Handforth was left with the chill impression that to have survived may have been far more terrible still.

            The most pressing question concerned the captain himself. That he had lived was clear from the fragmented contents of the papers but what, exactly, were the circumstances in play at the time of the wreck?

            Handforth usually had a first-hand instinct about people and the captain, in particular, interested him and he was developing suspicions about him which would surely make it worthwhile to comb any wreck for items of value which might have been carried aboard the frigate.

            The answers to these questions, and more, were locked inside that yellow stain; of that he was sure. Even now, the few fragments of the papers he had been able to decipher seemed to swirl before him and, sometimes, if only for a split second, promised to come together and make sense, only to burst again into obscurity. The simple fact remained: someone had taken the trouble to preserve the papers and there had to have been a reason for that.

            The water was murkier now, disturbed by a stiffening current. The double tank would give him air for roughly another hour but the sight which now greeted him meant he would not need it because, sprawled out amid the gloom of the ocean floor no more than twenty metres ahead of him, was the wreck of ‘Valorous.’ It had to be her and, judging by her condition, she looked as if she may have lain there for ages.

            In the exquisite excitement of the moment he felt that he was being starved of air as every sinew in his body demanded oxygen at once and euphoria threatened to suffocate him as he fought back by focusing on the rhythm of his breathing.

            The vessel had, somehow, remained relatively intact; the impact of the collision had smashed a gaping hole in the hull but it was still very much recognisable as a frigate. A large potato grouper swam close-by and, as Handforth approached, it darted inside the gloom of the wreck. Little remained of her various fittings and the cleanly cut stumps of her masts told of a salvage operation by the survivors which suggested that she had not sunk immediately. 

            When she did, ‘Valorous’ must have fallen into the small channel that now held her captive in stony jaws and which had, most likely, preserved the hull in the state he now found it. Otherwise, she would have disintegrated long ago in the violent undertow of the giant swells. Looking her over, Handforth guessed she might have been eighty-odd feet in length and roughly twenty-five abeam.

            A quick inspection satisfied him that nothing much of value remained for the coral had long since claimed it for its own and was giving little back now. He scouted the immediate vicinity for remnants of the catastrophe; they were undoubtedly there, part and parcel of the reef now, but to look for them would mean turning a search into an archaeological dig and that would have to wait. As he drew level with the gaping hole which exposed the cross-section of the ship he saw the sullen eyes of the giant grouper peering out at him.

            Rounding the hull on the other side, he registered movement at the edge of his field of vision. Further along the reef, a form seemed to have darted into the cover of a lozenge-shaped coral outcrop and he paused for a moment to watch, scarcely breathing. Again, there was nothing. 

            Then it struck him: there should be something in the open water; a shoal of mackerel; a stingray; or any number of those fish which liked to patrol offshore. Here, they were most conspicuous by their absence and every other living thing seemed to cling to the main body of the reef for cover, watching him from the safety of their warrens like colonies of terrified underwater troglodytes. 

            Movement again and more pronounced this time. Handforth squinted up the reef wall, glanced down at his air gauge and began to make his way towards it.

            Kolony is available as a kindle e-book.

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South African Safari

Picture 077 

 HAZEY VIEW- BOUND: Safari with the Passets.

 

 We left home in Beaulieu just after 9 am, gliding past industrial estates and the ever-widening highways constructed to realise the promise and potential unleashed by the recent FIFA World Cup. Giant, silver SUV’s seem glued in place on what looks like a conveyor belt to the horizon past high rises, electric-fenced compounds and community housing projects. All blur into one on the road to progress interrupted occasionally by, for example, Joburgh’s lesson to Italians in Tuscan architecture such as Monte Casino which would not look out-of-place in a Tuscan landscape. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, we leave the metropolis behind and our road becomes a silver spear through a vast, featureless landscape dotted with coal mines, surreally large development projects and the fat towers of power stations, belching columns of white smoke into a cloudless, cobalt sky.

 We pass a procession of mini dams that back up incongruously into the veld in a succession of  tiny creeks which act like a magnet for thin herds skinny cattle and flocks of scruffy sheep. There is a strange contradiction in the topography of the landscape we are streaking through in our pickup along magnificent highways free of vehicular traffic (as if the road ahead has been rolled out by some giant hand, just for us). It might well have been majestic and indeed sometimes lives up to that promise with sudden scenic undulations and miniature, very miniature, valleys punctuated by the odd, backed-up stream from one of those dams before collapsing once more into a featurelessness pockmarked by the scars of coal mines and scattered, smogged-out settlements.

 As we venture further, the  expanse becomes bewildering and you find yourself battling to keep a sense of scale to explain the logic of these tiny settlements and lone dwellings dotted randomly across this universe of high-veld wilderness, almost daring you, the observer, to make sense of it all.

 At the turning to Neilspruit, we peel off the highway into a more easily digestible, characterful landscape of hamlets and quaint, olde worlde settlements from another era which offer a tighter focus on our surrounds than the arid expanses of earlier. With words of praise about our venue for lunch already dripping from my hosts’ tongues, we pull off into an impossibly twee village with the equally unlikely name of Critchly Hatchet, a place so shamelessly English it might make Windsor seem alien – a throwback to days of empire when ivory-skinned ladies undoubtedly took tea here in the company of dashing, uniformed gentlemen.

We enter grounds rolling towards a miniature lake flanked by a Queen Anne style village that seems to an ideal location for an as yet unmade film on some chapter of English history. The very menu of the hotel restaurant queerly anchors in my mind  our location in the corner of some foreign field that will be forever England. No question about it,  we are in a delicious time warp and as much the prisoners of the colourful history of these parts as of its marvellous cuisine.

 Niel Passet, his charming wife Jenifer and I discuss Critchly Hatchet’s past over luncheon before setting off on our journey to Hazey View, still some 200 km to the north, the landscape morphing bewitchingly as the rocky, austere countenance of the high-velt slides away in favour of the pastels of the low-velt through which we now turn in a series of corkscrew bends, each one revealing a vista more magnificent and pleasing to the eye than its predecessor.  More and more it is striking me that this would be an ideal route for biking: superb road conditions; marvellously scenic, winding road with sparse traffic topped off by a succession of pretty villages in which to break the journey and a mesmerizing diversity of landscapes as well.  Our road is now tumbling down to farmland where vast banana plantations flank the road on either side and provides fresh panoramas of landscapes shot through with rivers, valleys,, soaring verdant hillsides and dense, forests whose imposing rampart of towering trees might easily conceal an entire army from Mordor.

  As I look about me, recalling where we’ve come from and all the transitions this wonderful landscape has made, it’s all a bit larger than life really. Our road flattens once again, signalling that we are now part of the low-velt and very close to our destination. A little further on sees us veering off to Hazey View where the creature comforts of my hosts’ bungalow beckon among the folds of Waterberry Hill.

Having tasted the pleasures of Hazy view and the delights of Jenifer’s cuisine for which she has come prepared in ample fashion and with a battery of provisions that would do a master-chef proud, we start out early the following morning for Kruger Park’s Philume Gate where formalities are speedily completed and we are solemnly reminded about the dangers associated with smuggling baby hippos out of the park..yeah, right!

Entering Kruger proper, a game park the size of Wales, a narrow road with a 50 km speed limit is our portal to a world where a succession of creatures drift nonchalantly from the brush on one side, eye us without much interest and then vanish like mist on the other. Ii the space of only a few hours we spot Elephant, both singly and in herds; tall giraffe nibbling on tall trees taller still ; baboons nursing their young at the roadside; kudu grazing; waterbuck strolling; crocodiles basking; hippos sunbathing; water buffalo snacking; zeebra strutting; meercats scuttling and a lone leopard silhouetted atop his castle of rocks.

 The dry season’s leafless trees allow the animals to be seen with ease and Kruger’s residents are most definitely on the prowl…and we are in awe as they strut their stuff – supermodels of the animal kingdom!  My hosts apologise that we missed out on lion and rhino. I assure them that, like fishing, spotting game is neither certainty nor supermarket. The value of the experience we have just enjoyed lies as much in what has eluded us as what we may still be fortunate enough to see again. Tomorrow is another day and life is designed never to be complete…a journey rather than  a destination.

In the coming days, the excursions we make from Hazy View to such gems as Graskop, Potholes, Lisbon Falls, God’s Window and Pilgrim’s rest introduce me to some of the most sublime landscapes I have ever seen.

 I have been privileged to lay eyes on amazing panoramas back in Iran, Turkey and the like but spread before me now are vast canvasses with horizons that seem to recede to unfathomable distances and encompassing every type of scenery imaginable: veld; plateau; ravine; mountain; valley; steppe; grassland and forest through which our empty road leads us, regaling us with fresh vistas at every bend and with a natural beauty as magnificent as it is astonishing.  Our first port of call is Lisbon Falls where water carves a spectacular path through a magnificent gorge…and then on to Potholes where Nature baffles us with her trickery.

 God’s window follows where, if the Creator ever chose a viewpoint from where to look upon his work, it might very well be from here where one has the impression of standing at the very edge of the  planet, gazing down at creation’s masterpiece from a dizzying height..and so we wend our way to the last port of call before heading back to Johannesburg and to the high-velt once again: Pilgrims Rest.

Here in this pioneer town, life seems to have stood still, perhaps in honour of the memory of its founders, those intrepid vortrekkers who, with ox-drawn cart, tamed these rugged, spiralling mountains that have claimed more than their fair share of modern 4 x 4’s. Their monumental feat of colonising this beautiful, yet dangerous land has been immortalised in this small town’s architecture, museum and very way of life and, even today, beggars belief.

Pilgrim’s Rest is a monument to Boer achievement and to the spirit of adventure and raw bravery it took to tame this land in the teeth of daunting odds. And so our voyage comes to an end. One for which I am greatly indebted to Niel and Jenifer…..one that I will not soon forget.

 With many, many thanks,

 

                                                                               

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‘Voices’ by Glynn Burridge: Around the World – page by page

Voices Today

Voices receives acclaim from globe-trotting bookworm!

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London -Tehran trek part 2

The Tehran trek 2

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My first published work, retreived: 1972 account of my overland trek, London-Tehran part 1.

The Tehran trek

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Convoy!

Seychelles on an EAST3ROUTE convoy through Southern Africa

By Glynn Burridge

Recently, the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Sherin Naiken, joined myselfConvoy and another 200 delegates from the African continent in a 50-vehicle convoy on a 6-day, overland expedition through Mozambique, Swaziland and Kwazulu Natal to promote cross-border tourism and tourism investment among these South African countries.

We flew into Maputu, Mocambique on Sunday 13th October where we joined the other delegates for a networking dinner and briefing before setting out the next day on the 6-day trek in which we covered a total of 2500 kms, studying certain tourism products of the three territories and possibilities for cross border investment.

Heading north through Mocambique, our convoy stopped at Bilene where a colourful welcoming committee was waiting in the town square before continuing to visit newly finished Humula Lodge with its luxurious conference centre and magnificent location on the shores of a magnificent, almost Seychelles-style lagoon, reminding us that Mocambique has strong tourism products and will soon become a regional competitor.

Mozambican-owned Humula has a superb location and, with its spacious rooms and full suite of facilities, is showing Mozambican tourism the way forward. Blessed with a scenic coastline, great game and legendary seafood, this southern African state has a lot to offer and with an economy growing at 8%, might soon be a significant tourism player. Their infrastructure is growing as well, as we saw only too well at the magnificent, new Chinese-built stadium before leaving the ‘Brazil of Africa’ in the direction of Swaziland, widely known as the ‘Switzerland of Africa’.

As we ascend the picturesque, mountain road towards Pigg’s Peak, Sherin and I concur that the epithet is well-earned. Spread before us on all sides and for as far as the eye can see, are rolling forests, gorgeous valleys and quaint hamlets, interspersed by sites of industrial development demonstrating that Swaziland, too, continues to make striking progress under its monarchy. With its offering of drop-dead gorgeous inland lakes, rivers and excellent roads, this is another African country that possesses magnificent tourism attributes and with an infrastructure to match.

The investment forum that next took place at the Royal Swazi Hotel, just outside the capital, Mbabane, was tagged as one of the highlights of the expedition and, with its lineup of distinguished panelists who included Ms. Naiken, it certainly did not disappoint. Here, many issues were tackled in front of a packed audience including obstacles to doing business in Africa, African banks’ financing of projects and Sherin’s excellent introduction of Seychelles as the East3Route’s newest member. It was clear that the curiosity of many in the audience regarding Seychelles and what the islands have to offer to investors was well and truly piqued as could be gauged by the growing number of media requests for interviews with the new CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board.

Leaving the ‘Switzerland of Africa’ behind, our convoy headed south on the final leg of its journey, crossing the border into Kwazulu Natal and heading down to inspect the new Zulu Heritage site at KwaBulawayo, Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park (the oldest game park in the world), the famous Shakaland compound where the film of the same name was made and finally the beautiful museum at Nongqai Fort.

There is no place like Zululand to showcase how culture can play a powerful role in a nation’s tourism and few countries can claim to count such a flamboyant people as the Zulus among their number. The way the history, culture and traditions of this amazing tribe are being worked into the fabric of Kwazulu natal’s tourism is a lesson to us all and what can be achieved by keeping communities at the heart of tourism products.

Wending our way through this spectacular land of the Zulus, we are now into the very final stage of our trek, destination: Richard’s Bay, where we conclude with a de-briefing, Gala Dinner and several press conferences, including a very valuable opportunity for Sherin Naiken to appear on SABC, the premier South African broadcasting network where she was quizzed about Seychelles’ future role in the East3Route initiative and her perspective on her recent expedition and the opportunity she sees for Seychelles to benefit.

At a packed gala dinner, Ms. Naiken was once again called on stage to give one of her, by now, popular addresses in which she gave a succinct account of Seychelles’ interest in and also mooted, future participation in the East3Route movement to an extremely receptive audience.    

 

 

 

 

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The little circus with a BIG Heart

DS3_8069The Little Circus with a BIG Heart

by Glynn Burridge

An orange sun sets, its rays caressing the taut fabric of a dark blue tent set at one end of Freedom Square in central Victoria where a phalanx of cars has formed, passengers slowly snaking into a line heading for the vestibule.  

In the soft twilight of the interior, young men and women with dark, exotic features are ushering the crowd past candy floss, toffee apple and soft drink stalls into the giant tent’s inner sanctum, inviting them to sit in tidy lines before a central stage while a film plays on a screen in the background. The crowd is swelling now and with each new arrival, so is the atmosphere: all eyes on the mouth of a tunnel where dark shapes flit busily to and fro. A sudden rustle from within the tunnel draws a gasp from the crowd, heightening the level of expectation now swirling about the tent in an almost tangible cloud.

I do not know the little boy who is sitting next to me, whose age I guess to be around eight. His eyeballs have already swelled to a point where they dwarf the other features of his young face, his spear-like gaze scanning the name above the tunnel: The Magic Circus of Samoa.

As the crowd settles down with popcorn, soft drinks and coloured light sabres, the music changes tempo and, suddenly, the circus bursts to life with the grand entrance of Bruno Loyale, the circus’ founder, striding into the ring with the springy gait of a professional wrestler, his massive frame pounding the floor. The expression on the face of the little boy to my right tells me we’re on!

Now in its 10th year, the Magic Circus of Samoa is unique, making a point of not so much visiting towns and cities but instead performing on remote islands of the South Pacific, bringing its special brand of magic to children of all ages with little opportunity otherwise to enjoy a show.

Created to enable South Pacific islanders to share in the delights of an old-fashioned circus, the Magic Circus’ real home is in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and while it may lack the spectacle and big-ring glamour of a large circus like Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, it most certainly succeeds in presenting a thrilling variety of quality circus acts, albeit on a more modest stage.

Founded by a Samoan, Bruno Loyale, the Magic Circus has traveled to almost all of the South Pacific Islands including the most isolated ones like Tonga, New Caledonia and the Marshalls & Solomons as well as the better known destinations of Tahiti and Fiji. Today, it is spreading its wings further afield to include, Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion and Mayotte, with plans to travel to the Caribbean before long.

After an eloquent introduction by Bruno, a spectacle in himself, his mighty torso etched in tattoos, a spotlight from somewhere in the roof of the tent captures the svelte forms of two tightrope walkers as they tip-toe impossibly up and down the wire, vaulting in turn each other’s quivering frames. Glistening from the effort, their bodies shine in the bright light, each face a mask of concentration as they defy gravity on the thin wire. The young beside me boy claps energetically.

The next act involves a hapless young man from the audience who is handcuffed to a long wooden board before a pretty knife thrower armed with a cluster of wicked-looking knives. Solemnly, he is presented as her target but, through clever sleight of hand, he is blindfolded just before each throw as each knife is planted noisily into the board behind him by the hand of a stage assistant. For the life of me, I can’t work out who looks more perplexed, the victim from the audience, or my young neighbor. Either way, they both seem mighty impressed.

Humour is injected into proceedings via the clown – a magnificent midget who ‘talks’ by blowing a whistle but whose wide range of facial expressions makes him one of the most articulate members of the troupe. Throughout the show, he appears in a variety of disguises, ranging from a mischevious boxer pitted against a much taller opponent and determined to level the odds; a miniature Elvis Presley; the energetic conductor of a cow-bell orchestra and a match-maker between members of the audience whom he coaxes with his whistle into a number of intimate embraces. He is clearly a favourite with the kids who later queue up to have their pictures taken with him in his trademark ‘thumbs up’ pose.

Each new act carries all before it, transporting the audience to a place where laughter, oohs and aahs resonate, boys and girls scream with pleasure and adults guffaw. Bruno weaves a magic thread between acts with his powerful performance as master of ceremonies – every inch the circus maestro and most definitely in command. He says just enough as he introduces each new performer, retreating instantly into the shadows as the show begins and some new display of circus magic is born somewhere in the tunnel.

This time, it’s a pretty ‘Princess’ from India who nimbly climbs a rope to the very roof of the tent and then performs a series of elegant passes, suspended upside-down from a length of white tissue, body arced over itself, toes lightly touching her forehead, arms spread wide. Soon it’s the turn of an unlikely bunch of gymnasts dressed as a baby, a buxom nurse, a construction worker and a transvestite who proceed to trip over each other and a ‘blind’ spectator in a series of cleverly choreographed moves which leave the audience in stitches.

They are left breathless at the spectacle of the ‘rubber man’ from Ethiopia as he contorts his body in a way that defies the possible, threading it through the string-less head of a tennis racket, locking his shoulder blades and pushing his joints inside out to achieve one amazing feat after another. The boy next to me drops his candy floss onto the floor and, spellbound, does not seem to mind in the least that his feast is melting at his feet.

As the interval comes around, it’s anyone’s guess who is most in need of the break; the performers after their constant supply of miracles or the bleary-eyed spectators from watching them. As the circus gathers momentum for the second half of the show, a steady stream of onlookers climbs onto the stage to have their picture taken with the clown and then receive a memento of the occasion mounted onto a key ring for posterity.

We’ve barely caught our breath when the Samoan show is off again at a gallop: the human fountain from India first consumes vast quantities of water and then turns into a one-woman waterspout before swallowing no less than four live gold fish which she then regurgitates, alive and kicking, into a bowl; a young man with a body that would do a Michael Angelo model proud ascends a wobbly tower of stacked chairs almost to the roof of the tent before dismantling it again as he struggles to keep his balance.

Bruno makes an entrance and invites an onlooker to defy the sharp blade of a guillotine, silencing the crowd as he holds the blade by a string before letting it fall onto, and right through, the young man’s neck, who walks away unscathed. In an ecstasy of excitement my young friend has just trampled the candy floss into the grass beneath his feet.

One young lady dancer catches two torches burning at both ends and proceeds to wield them in a fire dance, twirling them around her as she leaps wildly about the stage while a contortionist from Nepal holds burning candles with both arms and feet (and even on her forehead) as she rolls from one incredible posture into another.

Hello, Bruno’s back! This time with some cunning feats of magic, pulling lighted cigars from a young boy’s ear before the show makes way for the one-wheeled cycle riders, including one act on a crazy, zig-zag bike and another on the world’s tallest monocycle as the crowd bellows its approval.

Almost mercifully, the tempo slows with some traditional Samoan dances, but that just proves to be the calm before the storm which takes the form of some insane motorcycle riding inside ‘the dome’ where two riders hurtle past, beneath and over the top of one another at close to full throttle. By now, my young friend has grabbed my hand and is squeezing it like a lemon, his jaw somewhere down near his fallen candy floss.

Bruno springs to the stage to bring the show to an end and to invite all the performers to take a final bow. As the cheers finally subside and we wend our way outside, we are all left with the indelible memories of a magnificent performance by a team of true professionals and, although night has by now fallen, many I’m sure will have joined me in hoping that it will be a very long time indeed before the sun sets on the remarkable feats of the Magic Circus of Samoa.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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The Seychelles Islands: Jewels in an azure sea

Seychelles: Island Jewels in an Azure Sea

by Glynn Burridge

The 115 islands of the Seychelles Archipelago lie scattered across their secret corner of the western Indian Ocean like precious gemstones set in a universe of azure water – stepping stones to the east coast of Africa, some thousand miles away, and natural gateway to the many treasures of the continent.

These islands were first discovered by the brave Arab mariners of the 9th century B.C. who first began to chart the unknown waters of an ocean they called the ‘bahr al zanj’’ or ‘sea of the blacks’, leaving traces of their presence in the names they gave to certain of the islands such as Aldabra which is sometimes appropriately translated from Arabic as ‘the rock.’

With nothing in the way of historical records to fall back on, we are left with little more than conjecture to fathom the precise history of these spectacularly beautiful islands which may also have received visits from the Phoenicians; from a people who once sailed from the other side of the planet to eventually settle the island of Madagascar and from the famous 1472 Chinese treasure fleet of Admiral Zheng. Whatever their past, the waves have long since washed away all trace of those early settlers and explorers.

After having served as a hideout for the pirates of the 17th and 18th century, one of whom, Olivier Le Vasseur, also known as La Buse, is believed to have buried a massive and as yet undiscovered treasure hoard on the main island, Mahé, the islands were finally settled by the French in 1756. They remained a French colony until they passed to the English after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 and it was they who administrated the islands until their independence as a sovereign republic within the Commonwealth in 1976.

The islands’ legendary loveliness has long acted as a magnet to travellers in search of the Holy Grail of pristine tropical beauty and many famous travellers have beaten a path to its shores including the likes of Ian Fleming, author of James Bond, who visited the islands to receive inspiration for one of his Bond books.

The islands finally emerged from their slumber of ages in 1972 when they became connected to the rest of the world via a new international airport which saw the birth of the islands’ tourism industry.

Seychelles, straddling the western Indian Ocean between 6 and 10 degrees south of the equator, is divided into 6 island groups with the Inner Islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue together with their neighbouring isles forming the hub of the islands’ tourism industry, the economic life of the nation and its political and social infrastructure.

Measuring 27km long and 8km wide, Mahé, the principal island is a mountainous, granitic island that boasts no less than 65 beaches. It is home to the capital, Victoria, and also to the international airport and to the vast majority of the 90,000, mainly Roman Catholic population. Commanding spectacular views of the surrounding ocean, Mahé contains the lion’s share of the archipelago’s hotels, tourism amenities and retail outlets. The charming capital, Victoria, has many fascinating nooks & crannies and points of historical interest including its bustling market that supplies much of the island’s fresh produce: fresh fish; vegetables; fruits; condiments and spices.  Mahé also showcases a surprising variety of flora & fauna including many indigenous species, discoverable at the Botanical Gardens or on organised excursions along popular walks and trails. The fascinating underwater treasure houses of the Ste. Anne and Cap Ternay Marine National Parks, meanwhile, can be visited on snorkelling expeditions and a variety of excursions. 

Seychelles’ second largest island, Praslin, lies 45 kilometers (24 miles) north-east of Mahé and is accessible by Air Seychelles domestic flights in 15 minutes or by fast catamaran ferry in 45 minutes. It is home to the legendary Vallée de Mai in which grows the fabulous Coco-de-mer and possesses some of the most striking beaches of the archipelago such as Anse Lazio, widely acclaimed to be the most beautiful beach on earth.

Praslin stands at the forefront of the country’s tourism industry with a rich assortment of hotels and guesthouses whose strong tradition of Seychelles’ hospitality over a period of many years has proved a favourite with visitors.

The island is ideally situated for holidaymakers wishing to island hop to a handful of nearby exotic destinations such as Chauve Souris, Cousin, Curieuse, St. Pierre, La Digue and the Aride bird reserve.  It is also a haven for nature lovers seeking rare endemic species such as the black parrot for which Praslin is the last habitat or wishing to explore the island’s network of footpaths.

La Digue, known as ‘the island where Time stands still’, is situated forty kilometres (25 miles) from Mahé and 7 km (3.5 miles) from Praslin and is the fourth largest island in the Seychelles after Silhouette. This granite island, with its unique, languid pace of life, receives its visitors mainly by boat at the quaint jetty at La Passe and is a popular destination for holidaymakers wishing for a taste of the traditional.Here is a place where the bicycle and ox cart still hold sway on shady island pathways and where a distinct sense of antiquity pervades the island’s customs, architecture and general way of life.

Anse la Source d’Argent is among the island’s most famous beaches, celebrated for its granite boulders that seem to have been sculpted by a divine hand to adorn a beach of breath-taking beauty while at the Union Estate, visitors will have the chance to view some of the traditional local industries of times past.  Nature lovers will have the opportunity to seek out the rare Black Paradise Flycatcher, once thought to be extinct but now protected in the La Digue Vev Special Reserve which is also home to two extremely rare species of terrapin. The woodlands of La Digue are especially attractive and nurture several species of delicate orchids. The island is also an ideal stepping-stone for the nearby island attractions of Grande and Petit Soeur, Félicité, Coco and Marianne.

 

The remaining five groups of Outer Islands represent the far frontier of the Seychelles holiday experience. Here, shimmering atolls and reef islands, thread like pearls on strings of surf and unaltered since the days of their origin, offer the summit of island-style living. Currently, only three such islands offer accommodation: the islands of Denis and Bird located 100 miles to the north of Mahé and Desroches Island in the Amirantes, 140 miles to the south-east. Here the fishing, diving and sailing are superb in places where the only sail on the ocean and the only tracks on any beach will be your own.

 

Overall, all the islands have been blessed with many natural assets and attributes including possessing a near-perfect and disease-free climate; an endless list of world-beating beaches; a sanctuary for some of the world’s rarest species of flora & fauna and an enviable conservation record whereby almost half of the 455 sq.km landmass has been set aside as natural parks and reserves.  There are also no less than two UNESCO World Heritage Sites:the extraordinary Vallée de Mai where the legendary, double-lobed coconut, the Coco-de-Mer grows high on ancient palms in a setting so surreal it was once thought to be the original site of the Garden of Eden, and Aldabra atoll, the planet’s largest raised coral atoll.

Nowhere else on earth will you find the mysterious Jellyfish Tree of which only 8 specimens remain; the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher; the world’s smallest frog; heaviest land tortoise; largest population of giant land tortoises (150,000) living in the wild and the Indian Ocean’s only flightless bird. Between them, the islands also boast some of the most spectacular seabird colonies on earth as well as 13 species and 17 sub-species of birdlife that occur in Seychelles and nowhere else, making the islands a true birdwatcher’s paradise.

The surrounding waters, meanwhile, are a natural aquarium boasting a dizzying array of coral reef fish, turtle, ray, shark, dolphin, marlin and sailfish as well as colourful coral growth and a host of other marine organisms. The world’s largest fish migrates to these waters: that gentle giant of the seas, the 40 ft. whale shark – one of Seychelles’ many protected species.

Also on offer is an amazing degree of diversity which takes in the contrast between 41 towering granite isles and the 74 shimmering sand cays, reef islands and atolls of the Outer Islands while the multi-ethnic roots of its relatively young society lend themselves to a varied and vibrant culture with all its people and major religions living beside one another in perfect harmony. The diversity also extends to contrasting styles of architecture and beyond to the delicious, Seychellois Creole cuisine with its magical blend of European, Indian and Chinese culinary influences.

And when it comes to things to do, there is a wide choice of world-class fishing, sailing and diving as well as spa & wellness holidays, honeymoons & romance, trekking, island-hopping & golf. All of these can be enjoyed from an equally diverse array of accommodation options that includes the ultimate in pampering at exclusive 5-star resorts and island hideaways, the Creole intimacy of the smaller hotel and guesthouse and the flexibility of any number of self-caterings. These are the stepping stones to your unique experience of Paradise, where the innate tranquility of the islands forms the ideal backdrop against which to recalibrate mind, body and soul and enjoy the vacation of a lifetime.

No account of Seychelles’ riches can be considered complete without mention of its reputation as ‘The Islands of Love’ and it is little wonder that that lovers are inspired to take their vows and wed in this gentle and romantic atmosphere. Sensual Seychelles creates the idyllic ambience for an unforgettable wedding day, honeymoon or anniversary upon the silver-soft sands and beneath the swaying palms of discreet island hideaways.

 

Transportation, both in between and around the islands, makes the visitor’s dream of island-hopping a reality and besides Air Seychelles’ domestic flights, fast ferry transfers or passages on traditional, sail-assisted schooners all bring the principal islands and their satellites within easy reach.

A varied choice of excursions, both land and marine, is available through local ground handlers that will introduce you to the very best that Seychelles has to offer while hire and chauffeur driven cars and taxis are also available for you to enjoy your personal voyage of discovery around the main islands of Mahé and Praslin. A wide network of bus routes on Mahé and Praslin caters for most itineraries for those who wish to sample an aspect of the typical Creole lifestyle.

Further memorable experiences can be had via Seychelles’ suite of events that includes the Carnaval International de Victoria, soon to have its fourth edition in April 2014; November’s SUBIOS: Seychelles Festival of the Sea; February’s increasingly popular Eco-friendly Marathon; August’s Feast of La Digue; September’s Tourism Ball and the perennial Fet Afrik and Festival Kreol.

The islands have been made accessible as never before thanks to the arrival on the aviation scene of major players such as Etihad which is now in a dynamic new partnership with the national carrier, Air Seychelles, offering daily frequencies to make Seychelles virtually one stop away from anywhere on the planet with the added advantage of zero visa requirements for any nationality.

Meditation techniques invite us to close our eyes and imagine Shangrila, a mythical place of ultimate harmony where tired spirits can be refreshed and worries washed away. Somewhere with the space to breathe the purest air and ample room to stroll the trackless, powder-soft sands of breathtaking beaches. A place for the senses to feast on the endless delight of fresh experiences.   

 

Creation has blessed Seychelles with all of this and more. Against the backdrop of its unique island beauty, it is a place where harmony, tranquility and Nature at its very best will conspire to leave you with the memories of a lifetime.

 

 

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Seychelles Tourism: an overview of 20 years

Seychelles Tourism: 20 years on

Seychelles’ tourism industry has evolved much over the last twenty years. Two decades ago tourism was in the hands of the government’s Ministry of Tourism and the landscape, both internal and external, was very different to what it is today. Up to that point (and for some time still to come), promotion of the industry was very much in the hands of the government which executed that function in traditional ways and there was little individual marketing at a time when personal websites and individual marketing aids were all but unheard of.

After a decline to 90,050 visitors in 1991 because of the Persian Gulf War, the number of visitors rose to more than 116,000 in 1993 as growth was restored through the introduction of casinos, vigorous advertising campaigns, and more competitive pricing. In 1991 France was the leading source of tourists, followed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and South Africa.

Europe provided 80 percent of the total tourists and Africa, mostly South Africa and Reunion, most of the remainder with European tourists being considered the most lucrative in terms of length of stay and per capita spending. The highly popular early tourism slogan was Seychelles: Unique by a thousand miles. Gradually, during the 90’s the pace began to quicken as government began encouraging foreign investment to upgrade hotels and other services with the incentives offered giving rise to an enormous amount of investment in real estate projects and, over time, to new resort properties and enhanced infrastructure.

The birth of Air Seychelles international in the early 80’s saw the advent of a new tool with which to attract a greater number of tourists to the islands. One of the significant catalysts of change came in 1999 with the formation of Seychelles’ most concerted effort yet to market Seychelles on the international scene: the Seychelles Tourism Marketing Authority. Under its auspices came the construction of a powerful, dedicated tourism website to market Seychelles products and a new suite of collateral materials and destination videos with which to aggressively push the name of Seychelles to the forefront of consumer conscience. The highly-structured drive that followed featured the targeted marketing of Seychelles, its attributes and niche markets and was crowned by a brave campaign featuring black & white imagery under the tagline Seychelles…as pure as it gets. Seychelles was slowly but surely beginning to breach the knowledge gap about the islands and place itself squarely on the global tourism map for all to see.

Over the intervening years and compounding this dynamic has come the gradual appearance of new, internationally recognised brands such as Banyan Tree, Berjaya, Constance Hotels, Le Méridien and Hilton and, more recently, Four Seasons, Maia, Raffles and the residential project on Eden Island. Together, these have signalled the birth of a new era in Seychelles’ tourism and the arrival of a new demographic of tourist while the individual and collective marketing clout of these establishments and similar entities was always destined to slingshot the name of the Seychelles Islands across the globe as never before and make the real difference in attracting visitor numbers.

In 2006 Seychelles rebranded again as the Seychelles Islands…another world, reverting to colour in its imagery and stressing the ‘grand diversity’ of its tourism products – a phrase which has since become one of the main pillars and highly effective ingredients of Seychelles’ many tourism marketing initiatives. In 2009, in a watershed move to consolidate the industry, the Seychelles Tourism Board was restructured under the leadership of private sector appointee Alain St. Ange.

In mid-2010 President James Michel re-qualified Seychelles’ brand of tourism as being more than just ‘sun, sea & sand’, urging the industry to make fuller use of the country’s many attributes to attract tourists. This has launched Seychelles’ tourism into a new phase in which a greater focus is being placed on events such as the Carnaval International de Victoria, SUBIOS, Miss Seychelles, Festival Kreol, Fet Afrik, La Fet La Digue, Seychelles Eco-healing Marathon and the Seychelles Ball which have  helped somewhat in raising Seychelles’ profile in the international arena as has the islands hosting of the RETOSA, CAF and ROUTES conferences.

Today, the tourism landscape is different indeed to what it was 20 years ago and is evolving still. Seychelles has been made accessible as never before by the arrival of such major global airlines as Etihad, Emirates, Ethiopian and Kenya, joining our very own Air Seychelles, now in a vital new equity partnership with Etihad Airways which has already seen the national airline post its first profit of U.S. $1 million and play a key role in the current surge in tourism arrivals to the islands as 2013 figures to date show a 16% rise over 2012.

Along with its suite of activities and also new amenities that includes marinas and a plush, new shopping mall, Seychelles is also diversifying its tourism beyond its valued, core European markets into the Middle-East, Africa, the Americas and Far East, all of which are experiencing promising growth as the islands continue to maximise their enormous tourism potential and attempting to balance its benefits against sustainability.

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