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Affordable Seychelles

A bold headline and a statement that many travellers to this idyllic destination are quick to defend or dispute, depending on their personal experience, but a statement that the Seychelles Tourism Minister defends vociferously, writes Des Langkilde.

Asked at a press briefing held prior to the 2013 Caranval de Victoria (see article on pages 20 and 21 of the Tattler magazine), if the ‘Affordable Seychelles’ marketing slogan is capable of being lived up to, Minister of Tourism, Alain St.Ange replied; “Seychelles will never be a mass market for budget travel – with over half of our islands already set aside as conservation areas and several declared as World Heritage Sites, our hospitality sector growth is carefully controlled as we appreciate that tourists come to Seychelles to experience and share in our natural heritage. This being said, we also do not want to be seen as an exclusive destination for the rich and famous only. We have a broad range of accommodation available to suit every budget, which is why the Seychelles Tourism Board launched the exciting Seychelles Secrets brand to introduce a diverse assortment of affordable holiday accommodation, where tourists can enjoy memorable hospitality in picturesque locations while savouring the magic and intimacy of the Creole way of life.”

So is the Seychelles really affordable?

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Having spent seven days touring the islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Dique in February, I have to agree with Minister St.Ange. As do many of the international media that I met during my trip.

One journalist in particular (and a regular editorial contributor to Tourism Tattler), Wolfgang H. Thome, took this topic to heart by doing his own comparative survey on affordability, which can be viewed on his blog here. And if cost of living indices are of interest, take a look at Xpatulator.com where Victoria is currently ranked 560 out of 780 places (rank 1 is the most expensive with rank 780 being the least expensive). Compare this to Johannesburg, South Africa, which is ranked 343 out of 780 places.

My point is that the word ‘affordable’ means different things to different people. Much of what makes the Seychelles unique and special is virtually free to all. Take its stunning public beaches for example – anyone can lie under a palm tree on the softest, whitest beach sand imaginable, or snorkel among vibrantly coloured fish and even spot turtles as they cruise the island’s shallow coral reefs.

And there’s no charge to watch the sun set and spot the local fruit bats soaring on the evening air currents while drinking the local Seybrew beer, which is affordable and refreshing.

Speak to the friendly Seychelloise people and you will be answered in English (or Creole / French if you prefer) and offered advice without an outstretched hand expecting compensation in return. Perhaps it’s their sense of community or national pride at being one of the smallest nations on earth (some 90,000 citizens according to the latest population census) or just the natural bonhomie of living in paradise, but whatever the cause, the locals’ friendly disposition is a refreshing change to the surliness experienced in some countries.

The Seychelles immigration customs officials appear to be an exception to the bonhomie rule however, who seem to have a universal creed of surliness. The particular official who scrutinized my visitor stats form on arrival in Mahé took exception to the fact that I’d omitted to complete one crucial question on the form. “Why the attitude?” I asked. “Why you don’t know where you’re staying?” came the curt reply. After perusing my extensive itinerary, he seemed to agree that there simply was not enough space on the form and the omission remained blank.

Seychelles Yacht Club
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During my stay in Seychelles I met with Mr Louis D’Offay, the Chairman of the Seychelles Hospitality & Tourism Association to discuss private sector collaboration and knowledge sharing through reciprocal membership with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association. It turns out that not only is Mr D’Offay an experienced hotelier (his family owns the Hotel L’Archipel on Praslin Island, which is managed by his son Lucas) but he is also the Chairman of the Seychelles Yacht Club in Victoria, Mahé, where we met for our informal chat.

The Seychelles Yacht Club has an interesting history, which begins with a tale of a high ranking British official who sailed his personal yacht from Zanzibar in the early 1960’s and upon stepping ashore at what used to be the Short Pier, garlanded with a toilet seat around his neck, became dismayed that the Seychelles did not have a yacht club. Upon his appointment to the post of Colonial Secretary, said gentleman secured the backing of the Governor and a group of local personages to establish the club, which was registered in 1964.

Today, the Seychelles Yacht Club boasts a membership of 300, of which only about 40 are active, ensuring that an ice cold Seybrew beer and very affordable meal is readily available. As a base from which to conduct business the Club is ideally located within walking distance of the Victoria business centre and has reciprocity with a long list of international clubs, including six in South Africa, namely; the Bluff Yacht Club and Point Yacht Club in Durban, Royal Cape Yacht Club, Gordon’s Bay Yacht Club, Hout Bay Yacht Club and Knysna Yacht Club.

For more information email seyachtclub@seychelles.se.

Accommodation – Tried and Tested

Hotel L’Archipel
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This four-star boutique hotel has what every hotelier wishes for – location. Overlooking the Côte d’Or Bay on the North-Eastern side of Praslin Island, L’Archipel is close to the ferry jetty at Baie St.Anne and the Vallée del Mal National Park – a Unesco World Heritage Site that covers 19.5 ha of palm forest and has remained largely unchanged since prehistoric times. Space constraints would do this natural wonder an injustice to even attempt to write about it in this article but do yourself a favour and read more here.

L’Archipel is owned and managed by the D’Offay family and has 32 spacious rooms overlooking lush tropical gardens and water features leading to the pristine coral reef protected beach. With two fishing boats (one commercial and the other permanently moored in the Bay for fishing charters) dining at either the La Feuille d’Or, in the main building (dinner) or the La Gigolette on the beach (Breakfast, lunch and a la carte seafood restaurant for dinner) ensures that fresh fish and locally procured vegetables are always on the menu, expertly prepared by French trained chefs, which is just one of the many reasons that this hotel boasts an average occupancy rate of 70%. Highly recommended for honeymooners and couples seeking a haven of peace and tranquillity in secluded privacy.

For more information visit: www.larchipel.com.

Coral Stand Hotel
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The recently renovated Coral Strand Smart Choice Hotel is a 5 storey U-Shaped building with 165 rooms located just outside of Victoria on Mahé Island. The hotels position on the Beau Vallon Beach and its ample amenities are about all that I can recommend as my admittedly short personal experience left a lot to be desired. My tiny third floor ‘garden facing (?)’ room with an even tinier balcony overlooking the washing lines of the room below and a view over a tined roof expanse of parking bays and a distant Bunyan tree, barely visible through the piercing stobe of a security flood light, was enhanced with repetitive sounds of doors slamming and the perpetual rattle of airconditioning emanating from somewhere below.

Feeling a little perturbed, I showered in the tiny cubicle, which I assume was meant to be the bathroom but lacked either, changed into smart casual attire and descended via the stairwell (as the lift had broken down shortly after my arrival) to dine in a cavernous hall festooned with gaudy plastic tables at which hotel guests dined resplendent in beach gear and conversing loudly to overcome the echoing clatter of scraping eating utensils and nouveau cheap plastic chairs.

Following a restless night in a tiny bed I awoke to the cacophony of a tropical storm, made all the louder by the tin roofs in the parking lot beneath my balcony, and waded down the water logged stairwell, along slippery corridors exposed to sheeting rain and arrived soaked to enjoy a surprisingly good buffet style breakfast, albeit in the aforementioned cavernous hall of echos.

For more information visit: www.coralstrand.com.

Kempinski Seychelles Resort
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Ah, now this is what hospitality should be. Located on the exclusive south end of Mahé directly on the famous Baie Lazare Beach, the Kempinski Seychelles Resort is close to the airport and 40 minutes from the capital Victoria.

Star grading is not that evident in the Seychelles accommodation sector but if a 6-star grading exists, that would be my rating for this superb resort. From the friendly and efficient attention of staff on check-in to the luxurious room amenities, wide ranging facilities and excellent cuisine served at four unique venues; including a signature restaurant inspired by the cuisine of the Indian Ocean rim, a casual poolside bar, an all-day dining restaurant and a beachside bar.

Little touches like personalized messages on the rooms plasma TV screen, daily letters from management and newspaper snippets in the language of your choice, a  complimentary bottle of wine and fruit tray on arrival and a fully stocked bar fridge, which you only pay to have restocked, are all part of the service.

Room amenities include his and hers bathrobes and slippers, monogrammed suit bag and shoe shine implements in the dressing room cupboards and the widest range of bathroom amenities that I’ve ever come across.

In true resort style, the hotel caters for families with a supervised kids club, daily activities roster and sport equipment kiosk on the beach. The spa and wellness centre, set against a majestic hillside backdrop, has six private treatment rooms with a twin treatment room for honeymooners or special treatments. An ultra-modern gym located adjacent to the pool caters for cardiovascular and power training sessions, while the athletically inclined can train at two tennis courts.

Meetings and events are catered for through three indoor venues, of which the Salon Quincy is one of the largest in the Seychelles, catering for 200 theatre style seats. Weddings and honeymoons are specialised events that the resort caters to and I can think of few venues that are better staffed and equipped to cater for these memorable moments of a lifetime.

For more information visit: www.kempinski.com.

Dining out
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The Marie Antoinette restaurant in Victoria, Mahé serves traditional Creole cuisine and is definately worth a visit for both the food and the ambience of the building.

When is the best time to visit?
While the Seychelles is blessed with a warm tropical climate all year round April and May are the best months to avoid the peak wind and monsoon seasons as are the cooler months of October or November.

Getting there
Read our article under the AVIATION section or on page 11 in the magazine.

Did You Know?

  • Affordable Seychelles mar13 destinations seychelles 8That the fabulous treasure of the notorious Pirate Olivier le Vasseur, (La Buse) today valued at $US 160,000,000, probably still lies buried somewhere at Bel Ombre in North Mahé.
  • Aldabra is the world’s largest raised coral atoll and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is so vast that the whole of Mahé could fit inside its lagoon. Aldabra is also home to the only flightless bird in the Indian Ocean, the White-Throated Rail as well as to 273 species of plants and ferns and home to the largest population of Giant Tortoises in the world; 150,000 in total.
  • Seychelles is home to one of the tiniest frogs (1 cm at maturity).
  • Seychelles is home to the world’s heaviest land tortoise living in the wild. This is Esmeralda (304 kg) on Bird Island.
  • Aride Island is an important breeding site for 10 species of seabird and the world’s largest population of lesser noddies. It is known as the seabird citadel of the Indian Ocean.
  • Seychelles is home to some of the rarest endemic birds (Seychelles bush warbler, paradise fly-catcher, bare-legged scops owl) to be found anywhere on earth.
  • Mahé’s rarest bird, the Bare-legged Scops Owl is so rare that it was once thought to have become extinct before being re-discovered in 1959.
  • Seychelles is scattered over an area of 1.4 million km² of ocean.
  • Victoria is one of the tiniest capitals in the world and can easily be explored on foot in less than a day.
  • Seychelles’ granitic islands are the oldest oceanic islands on earth.
  • The mountainous granite isles of the Seychelles are the only islands in the middle of any ocean that are not of volcanic origin.
  • Seychelles’ waters once teemed with crocodiles and ‘aligartes’. The largest ever recorded was found on La Digue and was said to be 13 feet long and a girth of 8 feet.
Seychelles Tourism Statistics
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According to the World Tourism Organization, (2012) Compendium of Tourism Statistics dataset, Seychelles received 194,476 non-resident tourist arrivals in 2011 (a growth of 11.43% against 2010). For the latest stats visit: www.nbs.gov.sc/wpcontent/uploads/2013/01/VASB52_2012.pdf.Of this number, 24,422 (12%) of arrivals came from Africa, 4,750 (2%) from the Americas, 5,664 (3%) from East Asia and the Pacific, 144,144 (75%) from Europe, 12,176 (6%) from the Middle East and 3,340 (2%) from South Asia.

The largest year-on-year percentage increase in arrivals came from the Middle East countries such as Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (46% growth) followed by the East Asia countries of Korea, China and Japan (35% growth). The only source markets that showed a decline were South Asia (-8%), specifically Bangladesh and India.

Inbound tourism generated US$378 million in revenue in 2011 – a 7% increase over 2010.

Accommodation for visitors in hotels and similar establishments in Seychelles reflects an occupancy rate of 58% carried by 2,510 rooms and 5,280 bed-places.

In terms of outbound tourism, Seychelloise travelled to Mauritius predominantly (8,485 trips) followed by South Africa (3,182 trips), India (2,330 trips), Thailand (1,597 trips) and China (1,385 trips). A total of 20,816 trips were undertaken abroad in 2011, which is a 6% increase over 2010.