The fourth Inter-Ministerial Tourism Task Force Meeting chaired by Vice-President Danny Faure took place last week at National House.
Present were the Minister for Home Affairs and Transport Joel Morgan, Minister for Land Use and Housing Christian Lionnet, special advisor to the Minister of Education Selby Dora and senior officials from the Ministry of Education, STB, SCAA, Air Seychelles, Land Transport, the Police, the chairmen and executive board members from the SHTA and the SCCI.
The Minister for Tourism, Alain St Ange was absent as he was heading a delegation to meet with the French trade and media in Paris. The Minister for Finance Pierre Laporte was also on an overseas mission.
First on the agenda was a brief from representatives from the Ministry of Education on the elements of tourism studies in the Seychelles school curriculum at Primary, Secondary and Upper Secondary levels. The SHTA strongly recommended that Tourism & Travel be introduced as a compulsory subject for two to five years, and a choice in A-Level studies. There is a need to sensitise our youth from their early teenage years of the importance of tourism to our economy, to make them aware of tourism as a potential career choice, and to recognise that tourism generates exchanges on the human level and thus understand at an early age the significance of taking pride in welcoming our visitors and in delivering friendly and excellent service.
Reports on progress on decisions taken at the last Cross Sectorial Meetings were provided, specifically in relation to taxis, installation of meters in January 2015 , fare structures. Representatives of the SCCI, STB and the SHTA were invited to join the Minister for Transport to meet this week with taxi operators to address these issues and their link and impact on tourism and the guest experience. It was also agreed that an assessment be conducted in the oversupply of land transport providers in general.
The vice-president informed the attendees that following the last Cabinet meeting, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Finance and STB have been tasked by the President to put in place an aggressive and consistent tourism marketing strategy to be implemented in Quarter 4 of this year to redress the projected decline of 5% in visitor arrivals and 3% drop in earnings compared to last year. The allocation of marketing budgets will henceforth be performance based, and key performance indicators will be established to measure achievement of targets and return on marketing spend, while ensuring that Seychelles’ key USPs are protected and visitor expectations delivered. Key markets identified for the highest potential for increase in traffic under these parameters – Germany, France, India, China, India, South Africa and GCC- will see greatly increased destination marketing efforts and spend with almost immediate effect.
Consultation with the trade is ongoing, a series of tactical activities in the markets have been organised and a series of promotional activities and/or trips to these and other key markets will occur in the next months. The annual STB Strategy Review meeting in December will agree the 2015 strategy with quarterly reviews built in to ensure corrective adjustments are made as necessary. The specificities of La Reunion market was discussed with the need to engage with tour operators in La Reunion in support of the re-commencement of the Air Austral flights.
Discussion ensued with regard to broadening the tax base for tourism marketing as the industry benefits many sectors of the Seychelles economy. A suggestion was made that many of the licensed tourism businesses should not just expect STB and the DMCs to do their marketing for them and help fill their establishments but that they should make financial contribution towards these marketing efforts. The SHTA requested that government’s plans be communicated as early as possible, as budgets for 2015 are being finalised, to enable its members to build in contingencies in their budgets to support the national scheduled and tactical marketing efforts.
There was a call to recognise the undeniable necessity for affordable fast internet communication in Seychelles both from the perspective of the tourist who today expects free and fast wifi connectivity as is the norm in other destinations and, just as importantly, for all businesses in Seychelles because ICT is today an essential channel to conduct commerce and trade. High Speed Internet must be seen as an essential infrastructural requirement on par with roads, health and water services and not a “luxury” amenity. Presently, the high costs charged by telecom companies is a restraining factor and the authorities were invited to analyse and re-assess the current commercialisation model used for the undersea cable so as to greatly augment utilisation by all businesses.
In closing Freddy Karkaria, chairman of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, again welcomed the government’s decision since July to engage in serious on-going dialogue with the SHTA and the private sector on issues concerning the tourism industry and thanked the vice-president for his efforts in ensuring that progress and improvements are constant and increasing.
“These Task Force Meetings with several ministers and their authorities reflect the recognition that Tourism is everybody’s business and today is almost overwhelmingly the prime motor of our national economy. Progress has been made against some of the points initially put on the agenda with solutions reached by the various working groups and currently being implemented but there remain some critical challenges that we must address and win together. While the other ‘pillars’ of our economy are still to achieve higher potential contributions into our economy, it is essential today to have an enabling environment in which all our businesses not only survive but thrive because for now our economy and the social programmes that underpin our nation depend on the success of tourism. Key among these are:
• Alignment of the tourism policy and air transport policy.
• Ease and Cost of Doing Business: – We need to simultaneously grow our passenger numbers whilst seeking to progressively raise the average yield per visitor and per visitor night. Temporary relief from VAT on tourism services and reduction on other above-the-line taxes as already proposed will give the required “oxygen” needed to render our industry healthier and more competitive in the international market and build resilience for long term sustainability and success.
• Complete, reliable & accurate national statistics for effective planning, forecasting and decision making by businesses, researchers and government.
• Recognition that Seychelles is a unique and complex destination and solutions cannot be simply adopted from our competitors within the region and further afield.
• Visibility of the destination to both consumers and trade. Low awareness and knowledge in the markets and limited airline seats available for hosting tour operator fam trips and travel agency educationals.
• The Visitor Experience – Visitor Safety and Security: The latest Visitor Safety and Security report for Quarter 2 issued by NBS is of concern. If left unaddressed the incidents of violence against visitors, theft and criminality finding its way on to trade surveys and online reviews will deter travellers from choosing Seychelles especially if it leads to travel advisories warning potential visitors about the likelihood of these malaises in our destination.”
“The trade welcomes the announcement that passengers to Seychelles on Air Seychelles from Paris and Hong Kong may, with immediate effect, remain on the aircraft during its stop in Abu Dhabi. This is good news which our tour operator partners will welcome as this was a serious cause of dissatisfaction. With this arrangement, we believe we have a better chance to start regaining family and elderly visitor traffic to our destination,” said Mr Karkaria.
The Inter-Ministerial Tourism Task Force Meetings will resume in January 2015.