Fifteen members of both local and international press were invited aboard Air Seychelles’ inaugural flight to Hong Kong on 24th March 2013 to mark this historic moment in the continuing growth of Seychelles’ national carrier, Air Seychelles, now in partnership with Etihad Airways.
Only days before, Air Seychelles took delivery of the newest addition to its fleet, its 2nd Airbus 330-200, aptly named the Vallee de Mai, which together with its sister aircraft, Aldabra, will fly increased frequencies to Johannesburg, Mauritius, Abu Dhabi and now Hong Kong.
There was a distinct Chinese atmosphere to the airport prior to departure where a reception for all those invited on the flight was held at the CIP lounge where his Excellency the Chinese Ambassador made the opening address followed by Seychelles’ Minister for Internal Affairs and Transport, Joel Morgan; Alain St. Ange, Minister for Tourism and Culture and Cramer Ball, the CEO of Air Seychelles.
After the short flight to Abu Dhabi where the aircraft in its new Air Seychelles livery, was greeted by a water-cannon salute, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony between senior officials of Air Seychelles and Etihad Airways, HM86 took once more to the skies heading for its newest destination: Hong Kong
Some seven hours later, Air Seychelles’ inaugural flight to Hong Kong landed at its International Airport where it was greeted by yet another water-cannon salute, marking its historic arrival in the Chinese city.
Immediately after arrival, we members of the press were invited to a special press conference held by Air Seychelles and its partner Etihad Airways where Air Seychelles CEO Cramer Ball and Etihad Airways commercial executive Peter Baumgartner made opening remarks and Seychelles Ministers Joel Morgan and Alain St Ange gave speeches highlighting the significance of the flight as well as Seychelles’ attractiveness as a tourism destination.
There was then an opportunity to ask the panel questions from the floor and the additional attraction of a cocktail reception that same evening at the Ritz Carlton’s spectacular Ozone Club where we of the 70-strong Seychelles delegation had the chance to mingle and network in a refined atmosphere, serenaded by the moody, island-style tones of our very own Creole-to-the-bone Seychellois band.
The following morning, we were treated to a tour of Hong Kong especially organised by Air Seychelles in collaboration with the Hong Kong Tourist Board which took us first on a cross-harbour tour by traditional Star ferry and the oldest form of transportation in the city before introducing us to the delights of spectacular Victoria Peak by olde worlde tram and then to one of the bustling open-air food markets of Hong Kong for a spot of sight-seeing.
Camera shutters clicked furiously as we tried to keep pace with all we were witnessing in the kaleidoscope of sights, colours, sounds -and smiles – that is Hong Kong. The Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation crew were also on hand to record these special moments, to be eventually woven into a documentary for the people back home, no doubt eager to learn all they can about this fascinating Chinese city, until fairly recently a British Colony for well over a century.
After still more sight-seeing we were hosted to a special halal lunch at the Habibi restaurant near the city centre to be seduced the flavours and wonderful middle-eastern kitchen. Personally, I can’t avoid noticing that my ancestors were once here and for a rather long time at that. Names like Bude and Granger Streets jump off the walls at me to remind me that Hong Kong was very much ‘that corner of a foreign field that is forever England’. You will be forgiven for harbouring the impression that some streets are actually a carbon copy of those in central London!
The guide from the Hong Kong Tourist Office was always on hand to expertly lay bare every nuance of Hong Kong life, from the respective property prices per square metre of the various suburbs, to the intricacies of the local gambling scene; the challenge of haggling with vendors at the various open-air markets and the price of a good guesthouse in Kowloon. Her knowledge of her city was just as prodigious as her English was polished and faultless.
She chaperoned us with the lightest of touches like a true pro as, after lunch, she once again set off on a tour of yet another market, always allowing her flock a little personal time before once again directing us almost imperceptibly towards yet another experience of this extraordinary island, once so western and now so eastern with its 8000 double-decker buses, efficient metro and imminent connection to the rest of China’s high-speed rail network.
It was a day trip that left us wanting to learn more about this bustling metropolis, parts of which boast the densest human population on the planet but through which the masses move in a fluid, effortless way as if choreographed by the Creator himself.
Here, they are always ready with a smile which, refreshingly, seems to acquire almost the status of a currency in this wonderful, exotic place full of history, legends, charm and spectacle.