ISLAND PARADISE A POPULAR HAUNT
When the Seychelles Tourism Board established its first office in China in 2011, the visitor numbers from the country were 2,120. But by 2015, that number had jumped to more than 13,900
Xie Zheng, 37, misses Seychelles — the picturesque beaches along the Indian Ocean, brilliant hiking routes and exotic culture. So, he is planning his second trip there and also to try to find a homeless dog that he met on his first trip.
When Xie and his wife were on a 5-kilometer excursion to Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, or the May Valley, on Praslin Island, they encountered a homeless yellow puppy, which followed them all the way during their trek.
“Several times, we thought the puppy would be gone because we took several detours. But it did not disappear until we reached our destination,” says Xie, an office worker in Beijing.
They spent about 50,000 yuan ($7,256) on their 10-day trip last April.
“I feel a connection with the dog and it’s a sweet memory. Maybe I will see it again if it is destined,” he says.
Like most tourists, the couple went to the three popular islands — Mahe, Praslin and La Digue — to enjoy the picturesque beaches along the Indian Ocean, the hiking routes and the unique culture. He says the locals are very hospitable and he enjoys the country’s tranquillity.
When the Seychelles Tourism Board established its first office in China in 2011, the visitor numbers from the country were 2,120. But by 2015, the number had jumped to more than 13,900.
“China is among our top six inbound tourism markets. And I am confident that more Chinese visitors will travel to Seychelles in the coming years. We expect to see an increase of 6-10 percent in visitor arrivals from China in 2016,” says Jean-Luc Lai-Lam, regional manager, Asia and Australasia, of the Seychelles Tourism Board, at a recent news conference in Beijing.
Listing the country’s advantages, he says: “Safety is important for all travelers. And, Seychelles is very safe — politically stable, no earthquakes and no typhoons.”
He also adds that market research in the first half of 2016 shows that Seychelles is the only island destination in the Indian Ocean with growing arrivals from China.
Currently, the board has three offices in China — Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. And the offices have been working with their Chinese partners to promote Seychelles as a destination for Chinese visitors.
As for air connectivity, Lai-Lam says that Air Seychelles operates the only direct flight between the two countries, from Beijing, once a week. But other carriers such as Sri Lankan Airlines also have flights between the two countries.
Speaking about traveler preferences, he says: “While European visitors like to enjoy the hotel facilities, the beaches and the sunshine, Chinese tourists are more inquisitive. They want to learn about history and culture, and gain some knowledge during their holiday.”
Describing the country, which was ruled by the French and the British, he says: “Our history is based on five cultures -— British, French, African, Indian and Chinese. And you will see this in our food.
Speaking about attractions for visitors, he says: “Each time you come, you always have something new to do because we create colorful events. For example, the Seychelles marathon in February.”
Focusing on facilities for Chinese visitors, he says that the board now has an exchange program with Chinese tourism schools to make it easier for Chinese tourists to communicate with local hospitality staff in Seychelles.
The board has also been working with China UnionPay for the past two years ago, and two major banks in Seychelles now accept UnionPay cards.
For the future, the board’s focus in China will be on social media and consumer promotion.
For a start, the Chinese reality show We are in Love, which was filmed in Seychelles, was broadcast in China this year.
The 115 islands of Seychelles are categorized into the granite inner islands cluster and the coralline outer islands.
The inner islands are mainly located around Mahe, Praslin and La Digue — popular destinations with tourists. However, the outer islands, which are not very popular with visitors due to their remoteness, are largely untouched wildlife habitats.
There, visitors can see flora and fauna that are endemic to Seychelles, ranging from the iconic sea coconut, or coco de mer, to the Alda- bra giant tortoise, one of the largest tortoises in the world.
Revealing what the Chinese like about Seychelles, local tour guide Sandra Victor, 28, who lived in Beijing for four and a half years, and speaks fluent Mandarin, says: “The Chinese like our long and big beaches and want to explore the nature reserves.
“When I started out as a tour guide two years ago, Chinese tourists were rare. But now, I work six days a week due to their increasing numbers.”
Speaking about the country’s islands, Lai-Lam says: “When you visit the coralline islands, you can see the uniqueness of the nature and experience the ‘one island, one resort’ concept.
“But as for the granite islands, you can go around these islands and choose from numerous hotels.”
He also adds that while many think that the Seychelles is good only for luxury travel because visitors typically tend to stay at five- star hotels, the country also offers other options for tourists, such as three-star hotels.