Innovation and Trends in a New Era

By 4 October 2021Innovation

Innovation and Trends in a New Era

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By Julie King

Interview with Sherin Francis

In this fourth blog on Seychelles, Sherin Francis, CEO of Seychelles Tourism Board, explains some of the innovation experienced and trends observed during the pandemic.

What innovation have you seen come out of the destination that has surprised you in this COVID-19 period? And has there been any innovation undertaken by the Seychelles Tourism Board?

Yes, what we’ve seen is that the domestic staycation was the first one. This was not previously a big thing for Seychelles, and I hope this trend is here to stay. We’ve never seen the number of deals and offers on the table targeting the local population, and some of our properties have been pleasantly surprised at the response.

There were also various virtual initiatives coming out of this pandemic. One is armchair travel, so people are doing virtual tours and shows. For example, there was an artist who had a virtual show. You could buy your ticket at a very subsidised rate, much less than you would usually pay if you had to go and watch it live somewhere. You watched the show from home, with your family on your sofa or in your armchair, at the same time enjoying your drinks and everything else.

This trend will probably continue because I know several operators on the ground here who are working towards establishing that kind of experience for people who cannot travel but can still enjoy the beauty of Seychelles, the various colours of Seychelles virtually.

And of course, what I see more and more is a personalised kind of experience. For example, before, we would have had a big catamaran taking a hundred people on an excursion. You don’t see these anymore; what you see are much more personalised experiences where a small boat will take a family on an excursion.

When you’re taking a family on excursions, you can get more personalised in your approach. You can amend your itinerary, so you don’t have to ask one hundred peoples permission to amend an itinerary. And of course, there is an added value in the experience, because the visitor feels more special as they have their own private excursions.

“It’s more value for money at the end of the day, and it’s what people have been looking for, for a long time. They want more personalised experiences and to feel special, not just another number; when the host is calling you by your first name instead of group number two, three etc. And I believe it’s probably a trend that must also be developing elsewhere.”

I think one of the trends that we see at the moment is that the global travel has changed to local and then local travel will then go to global to be local or as we call it glocal. People are looking for much more connection with communities, having authentic experiences, and wanting to know that they’re giving back to the destination in what they do.

With that in mind, does Seychelles already have a lot of those experiences? Or is that something that you are developing for travellers who now have the expectation, beyond the pandemic, to enjoy that richer connection to communities and spend time with locals?

I’m a firm believer that this will be something we will see more in Seychelles. I was just listening to the Minister’s interview a few days ago. He placed a lot of emphasis on community tourism and individual communities setting themselves up to offer their experiences to visitors. That’s a means to get more experiences on offer and allowing people to have another reason to come back to Seychelles. They would know that they have not been able to do everything on the list, and they need to come back again to tick all the list. There’ll be so much to do that one visit to Seychelles would not be enough. We are heading in that direction.

We have so much on offer; we are so colourful as a nation that I have no doubt we will stand out as a destination once people discover more of the cultural side of Seychelles.

Another trend we are seeing is as a result of many travellers having challenges around booking terms and conditions when COVID-19 impacted the world. The need, moving forward, is to have more flexibility in those booking terms and conditions and around insurance etc. Have the Seychelles Tourism products taken this on board and are they looking to be more flexible in that regard moving forward?

We are also starting to see a trend that people will travel less, but they will travel for longer, and they want to spend a lot longer in destinations and immerse themselves and have that quality time. Seychelles has traditionally always been quite a long stay destination anyway – are you seeing since tourism has reopened, that average length of stay has changed at all?

I believe our properties in Seychelles have come to terms with the fact that if they want to keep the little business coming towards the destination, they need to be flexible. Being flexible also is a marketing tool right now. Because people are very unsure about travelling, they are only willing to book places where they know there is some level of flexibility because of the uncertainty, right now, with all the travel restrictions in place. Things are very fluid. One day, you are on the Safe List; tomorrow, your country can be removed from the Safe List or the Permitted List. It’s the same thing from their country’s perspective that, for example, in Europe right now, in many countries, citizens are being advised not to travel, and there are consequences if they do travel. I’ve just mentioned two here, but there are so many other uncertainties

At the beginning of the pandemic, I remember that it was a bit of a challenge for Seychelles; we heard from many concerned travellers who had to postpone or cancel their travel that our hoteliers were very rigid in terms of their cancellation policy. But I think it was because most of the industry players were still adjusting to the shock.

Remember, the pandemic hit us quite fast, and people were learning how to deal with this and were still adjusting. Things they had never considered before were suddenly on the table for discussion. So, six, seven, eight months down the line and right now, they realise that this thing is serious. You cannot always depend on the goodwill of the destination for something to happen; as a property, you also need to play your part.

Since we have reopened the destination, we haven’t had any enquiries to our office regarding rigid cancellation policies. No news is good news because, at the beginning of the pandemic, that was our number one concern. Now, we are not receiving those concerns anymore, so it means that the industry has adapted

In terms of length of stay we have seen that trend as well, as you know, historically our average length of stay has always been ten days. We have not received official figures from our National Bureau of Statistics. After a recent survey, we realised that we have more visitors staying between eleven to twenty days. And we have quite a few staying more than twenty days and more than a month. So, when the official figures are adjusted based on that survey, we will probably see a trend of a longer length of stay for Seychelles.

We’re also working on a scheme to welcome people who want to work remotely in the destination. This is being done together with many other partners such as the Seychelles Investment Board, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Tourism and Hospitality Association because we want to get it right.

We don’t want to develop the scheme just for now when we are in a pandemic period, but we think it’s a possibility for Seychelles, even for the long term, even after everybody has taken the vaccine and travel is back to normal. We see this potential for the destination as a long term strategy as well.

We have had many excellent case studies and success stories regarding people who use Seychelles as inspiration for their work. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond series; for example, all of his work was written in Seychelles. We already have great stories, which is why I said that it would be a strategy for the country, even beyond the pandemic.

It’s certainly a trend that we’re starting to see in several countries now and happy to see this being considered for Seychelles.

In Part 5, Sherin talks about the future and sustainability of the industry and gives her advice for destinations that are opening soon.

“As an industry we weren’t solving the problems that really mattered. We were disconnected from each other and not leading the way.”

Julie King
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