The dreamy, Indian Ocean paradise of the Seychelles is now welcoming overseas visitors. Asia Family Traveller finds out how the archipelago is successfully navigating the new normal
Welcome back to paradise - the secluded beaches of the Seychelles.
The stunning Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 palm-fringed islands in the Indian Ocean, opened its doors to international tourism on August 1.
The country closed for six weeks in March and has been one of the world’s biggest success stories in terms of managing the coronavirus pandemic. Managing just 11 infections over this six-week period, the country was able to open to private jets and private charter flights on June 1.
“During that time, we were able to manage the health situation very well,” said Didier Dogley, minister of tourism. “Domestically, people were able to go about their business and by June we were in a position to open our airport to private flights.”
For once, the isolated geographical position of the Seychelles played out as the country’s point of strength. The country lies in splendid isolation in the Somali Sea segment of the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar and 1,600km east of Africa.
The country is perfect for a beach holiday and boasts a warm, year-round climate, albeit slightly cooler in July and August. The hottest months are December to April, while May to November is the most pleasant season. The islands are outside of the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.
The Seychelles is among the world’s leading countries to protect lands for threatened species, with a significant 42% of its territory allocated for conservation. Look out for the Seychelles’ giant tortoises and some of the world’s largest seabird colonies.
The marine life is spectacular; more than 1,000 species of fish have been recorded and the islands boast multiple healthy reef systems.
As a niche destination, the Seychelles boasts a particularly high quality of activities. Enjoy diving, snorkelling, fishing, golf, hiking, windsurfing, water skiing and more.
There's plenty of wildlife to enjoy on a trip to the Seychelles.
The population of the Seychelles is very small, numbering just 96,000, there are no high rises and there has never been any mass tourism. In fact, in terms of a perfect pandemic travel location, it doesn’t get much better.
“Social distancing occurs naturally on our beaches,” says Sherin Francis, chief executive officer of Seychelles Tourism Board. “They are already isolated, on some you will see nothing but the local wildlife. And we also have a handful of islands with just one resort and total privacy.”
In addition to these natural advantages, Seychelles Tourism has worked very closely with the government and the local hotel association to ensure that when the country did reopen, it did it right.
“It was important that we all worked together,” says Francis. “We carried out a lot of research and the feedback was that health and safety was the number one priority for visitors. If we were going to open up successfully, we needed to clear this hurdle. Of course there will always be an element of risk to travel, but we are minimising that risk as much as possible.”
Safe tourism is the cornerstone of the reopening model. A list of permitted, ‘safe’ countries has been drawn up by the Department of Health (and is being monitored daily). Visitors from these areas are welcome to holiday in the Seychelles but need to have a PCR test no more than 72 hours before they travel. Passengers who have transited on route may be subject to a further PCR test on arrival.
“We figured that if visitors are having to take a flight, they want to feel secure that the person in the seat next to them is covid-free,” says Francis.
On arrival in the Seychelles, a health declaration must be completed and there are further health screenings, including temperature scanning and a symptomatic check. For faster processing, Seychelles International Airport has installed higher efficiency fixed bullet thermal cameras and handheld thermal thermometers inside the international arrival lounge.
Visitors must also have appropriate travel insurance and a booking with a certified hotel and they must have submitted a visitor information form to the Public Health Authority. All flight, accommodation and PCR test documentation must be submitted to the Public Health Authority by email (email@example.com) before boarding. Children are subject to the same entry requirements.
Banish the winter blues with a dip in the Indian Ocean.
Service providers, including hotels and other tourist facilities, have had to adhere to strict reopening regulations. At the present time, around one third of the country’s resorts and hotels have received certification. Procedures include keeping an eye on the health of guests through temperature checks twice a day and upgraded cleaning and disinfection protocols.
“However, we don’t want guests to feel like they’re in a hospital,” says Francis. “We want them to enjoy their holiday, so we’re not expecting them to wear masks everywhere, just places where social distancing is challenged. We’ve also ensured that services outside of the hotel meet safety standards as we want people to discover our beautiful island. A trip to the Seychelles is not all about staying in your resort.”
The government is hoping to introduce a track and trace app in September as well as a hotel facility for any guests that do test positive. At the moment, all service providers are expected to keep a contact record of every visitor that they receive.
If a guest does turn out to have the virus, but is asymptomatic, they will be transferred to this designated hotel and encouraged to continue to enjoy their holiday, albeit in a more controlled manner. So far, it’s not an issue that has cropped up.
“We’re learning and improving as we go,” says Dogley. “We received about 30 private flights during June and July which went extremely well. It was good to test the protocols that we’ve put in place. We’ve been open to commercial flights now since August 1 and again, it’s all gone very smoothly. No issues so far and by mid-August we’d welcomed about 1,500 visitors.”
All in all, the Seychelles is an exciting, safe and affordable family holiday destination. And it’s striving to ensure that every single traveller returns home bursting with never-to-be-forgotten memories of one of the most stunning destinations on the planet.
In August, Emirates (three flights a week), Ethiopian and Air Austral began flying to the Seychelles.
In October, Kenya Airways will offer two flights a week and Air France will also restart flights.