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

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - DESTINATION - By XU LIN

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.

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