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CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board addresses the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) historic Tourism Ministerial Meeting in Seychelles

CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board addresses the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) historic Tourism Ministerial Meeting in Seychelles ( Sherin Naiken, the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, was one of the few experts and high officials from the different tourism bodies who was invited to address the historic Tourism Ministerial Meeting that was held in the Seychelles last weekend by the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association).

Miss Naiken's Address won her an all-round applause, and delegates made it a point to express their appreciation for the Seychelles representative for her knowledge of the industry and for her ability to recognize the industry's challenges.

We reproduce in full, the address delivered by Ms. Sherin Naiken, the CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board:

“Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies&gentlemen,

I am honored to have been given the chance to address at this important and historic IORA meeting in Seychelles.

If you think air connectivity is important for you who shares borders with so many other countries, then think of the island destinations of which the only form of convenient connectivity for people movement is by air.

Ladies and gentleman, Seychelles tourism is pivotal on air access; the success on our various targeted markets hinges on how well connected we are with the particular market.

Indeed, The air lift capacity determines your limits, the frequency gives your potential visitors the choices, and with this flexibility, potentially win over more visitors, direct flights, appeal to those who have no time to loose, who hates the hassle of transiting, families, as well as the elderly segments. Hubbing allows your destination to be connected to so many more points across the world and provide twin-center destination possibilities for the potential visitors.

However, there are the challenges - the cost, especially the one associated with long haul and the non-availability of seats through hubbing as when it is the peak season for Seychelles, it is peak season everywhere else.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I will leave the more technical discussion on air access, benefits versus cost, the economics of it, to the experts in this domain. I will try to talk from the point of view of a tourism board. How do we see it? And hope the gaps can be bridged.

As we are all aware, tourism is a people industry and first and foremost about the movement of people. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to have a tourism industry WITHOUT assuring a means by which people when embarking on their holidays, can travel effectively to the destination of their choice.

If this is important as a general rule, then it is a prerequisite when applied to Seychelles, isolated as our islands are, by the ocean, in a secluded corner of the Indian Ocean, 1,000 miles from anywhere.

For Seychelles, the third most dependent country on the planet with regards to tourism, discussions about air access and air connectivity acquire a whole new dimension, because they are not mere accessories… they are absolute necessities!

As a tourism destination, we are in the travel business and also in the business of winning over the customer to our way of thinking. Whether it be about the hotel they are about to stay in, the excursion they are thinking of paying for, or the car they are considering renting, each of these options has to appeal to the consumer for the value it offers and the convenience it provides as being superior to other deals on offer in an ever more crowded market place.

And if I may borrow from Pascal's presentation earlier where I quote 25 years ago we had 150 tourism destination… today, it's 5 times more - 700.

Air connectivity is no different, and if we want tourists to continue to come to our shores then we must provide them with convenient means to do so… and that means convenient to them… NOT to us!

Why should today’s pampered modern traveler struggle with long, cumbersome connections in crowded airports when a direct flight is available to somewhere else? We can understand the rationale of that a few decades ago when choices were far less available.

If it holds that an increasing number of today’s travelers make holiday choices based on where they can enjoy the simple convenience of Wi-Fi connections, then where on Earth does that leave air connectivity as a potential choice-maker?

Distinguished guests, Ladies&gentlemen, tourism is highly organic in nature and is constantly evolving, and we must stay ahead of the curve if we are to achieve success.

Today’s traveler is savvy, street-wise, clued-up, and has all the tools he or she needs to select the best from the rest. The power of the Internet extends to every nook of the product, and the traveler is king!

Mrs. Sengupta in her earlier presentation has beautifully illustrated that!

I will close my intervention with some thoughts and questions for you to ponder on:

If air access is really that important, then as a region, we need to collectively adopt a liberal air transport policy.

We heard so often that what the country may need is not viable for the airlines. Then for any country which is highly dependent on tourism, does it not make economic sense for the government to intervene? There are today creative models being looked at by governments to encourage airlines to look at their destination.

Airlines so often talk about having critical mass, however, you need to break the egg to make the omelet. I am reminded of a meeting I just had with a Chinese tour operator last week in China. They were in 2011 sending 400 visitors to Mauritius, and it was in this year the direct flight was introduced. Figures to date, 4 years after, the same tour operator is sending 12,000 Chinese visitors to Mauritius.

Ladies and gentlemen, I, therefore, believe our member countries should not be satisfied and complacent with having multiple carriers flying to their countries through hubs. We need to find economic models which can support direct flights to our destinations from our core market.

While we talk about air access, we need to actively push air link amongst our member countries. We, amongst the IORA, can provide intra-regional tourism destination. As close as we are, being connected by the same ocean, we can easily be beaten by a destination much further only because of better air accessibility.

While we look to collaborate, let us start by looking at our neighbors first. Let us make it easier to choose an IORA country as a holiday choice, be it by air connectivity or visa facilitation.

Air connectivity is one of a number of critical elements in having a successful and viable tourism industry; others being infrastructure, airports, accommodation, restaurants, dive centers, touristic site etc. You start and end by air connectivity.

Therefore, air connectivity must be foremost, affordable, convenient; meaning as direct as possible, frequent, hassle free in terms of the customs, immigrations, visa formalities.

The overall experience will determine whether you are a desirable destination.

Governments and regulations need to create an enabling environment for air access. Perfect example today are Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, or Qatar. Their airlines and airports have been given priority and center stage. The results speak for themselves.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, If we cannot make it attractive, or even comfortable, for a holidaymaker to beat a path to our door, then let us not be surprised in this day and age of infinite choice, if he goes somewhere else for his holidays.”


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