The COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented impact on the tourism industry worldwide. Seychelles is no exception. This is troubling because so much depends on it. Can we get it back?
Conservation ensures that tourism has a sustainable and eco-friendly destination
Tourism on Cousin Island - the award-winning Special Reserve - has had a perfect marriage with conservation. Earnings from tourism support conservation, and in turn conservation ensures that tourism has a priceless selling point - a sustainable and eco-friendly destination.
Tourism on Cousin began in 1972 and is the longest-running ecotourism program in Seychelles. It has been developed as a tool for “sustainable financing” of conservation, long before the term became popular. It supports everything from the long-term conservation of endangered species to island maintenance. Tourism to Cousin is serviced by mainly Seychellois-owned travel operators and charter boats, which generates substantial foreign and local revenues for the local community on Praslin as well. It is a popular destination and in fact, in 2018 we detected over-tourism and in 2019 we instituted various measures to control the numbers of visitors.
In turn revenues from tourism support the long term monitoring of endangered species
“From over-tourism, we now have no tourism”, says Nature Seychelles Chief Executive Dr. Nirmal Shah. The symbiotic relationship is now facing severe turmoil as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Will this marriage collapse? Can the two partners get back together and how do we do it?
The safe tourism certification being championed by the Department of Tourism and endorsed by the Public Health Authority is one way. This scheme assures visitors that businesses they interact within Seychelles have adopted the health and hygiene standardized protocols set by the local health authority and have been certified as safe. This is important because for tourism to bounce back, both tourists and providers need to be safe.
From past experience through marketing Cousin as a carbon-neutral destination where visitors can come guilt-free, this is an incredibly powerful marketing tool. A decade ago, tourism to the island was threatened by campaigns for voluntary cutbacks on long haul destinations to reduce emissions. This obviously worried Nature Seychelles. We began a process to make the island the first carbon-neutral nature reserve in the world and promoted it as such.
Cousin has recently received its safe travel certification
Cousin has recently received its safe tourism certification and has reopened for business. Staff have been trained by health officials on maintaining safety during visits. They have undergone other training by Nature Seychelles and have taken online refresher courses in preparation for the re-opening. We have set about marketing this aspect of the island and are rebranding our online assets. As part of the digitization process being adopted by Nature Seychelles, we have instituted online payments for ease of acquiring tickets to the island.
Cousin is not an ordinary island. It’s taken over 50 years of hard work and millions of Rupees to transform it from a coconut plantation to one of the best examples of a wild and wonderful Seychelles. The tourism product here is highly rated. We have shown that our commitment to conservation does not have to be at the exclusion of an enjoyable ecotourism experience.
We want to showcase this once again. "We believe people from the world need to see and to support the conservation of this global heritage," Dr. Shah says. "It is the whole rationale behind ecotourism in Seychelles; the idea that we have done great things that we want to share with people from all over the planet but also we need these people help to pay to maintain this amazing part of our planet and do even greater things."