The Seychelles Tourism Minister, Mr. Alain St.Ange, led a two-member delegation to the Caribbean’s leading tourism gathering, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference in St. Kitts this October. Mr. St.Ange, who was appointed Minister of Tourism and Culture in March of this year, was accompanied by Mrs. Elsia Grandcourt, the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board. The Minister, a former CEO of the Tourism Board, played an active role in the CTO conference as a presenter in a session entitled, “Redefining the Role of National Tourist Offices.”
“Minister St.Ange is well-known among tourism circles as a creative thinker and practitioner who is particularly skilled in helping to develop various countries’ tourism potential. We were happy to have him come and share his winning strategies with us,” said Hugh Riley, CTO’s Secretary General.
Mr. St.Ange’s tourism initiatives introduced during his tenure as CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board have been intensely studied by tourism officials around the African continent. He is also a sought-after presenter at global tourism conferences. The State of the Industry Conference, which has as its theme, “Developing a Winning Tourism Strategy,” was held in St. Kitts from October 10-12. It is billed as three days of provocative discussions and spirited debates about the biggest issues affecting the region’s primary revenue earner.
Organized in collaboration with the St. Kitts Ministry of Tourism and the St. Kitts Tourism Authority, this conference brought together some of the industry’s most creative thinkers and doers and was especially suited for ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism; hoteliers; tourism attractions; public officials; and anyone with an interest in tourism.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), with headquarters in Barbados and offices in New York and London, is the Caribbean’s tourism development agency comprising membership of over 30 governments and a myriad of private sector entities.
The CTO’s mission is to provide to and through its members, the services and information needed for the development of sustainable tourism for the economic and social benefit of the people of the Caribbean. The organization provides specialized support and technical assistance to members in the areas of sustainable tourism development, marketing, communications, advocacy, human resource development, research, and information technology.
The Seychelles Minister sat on a panel at this year’s CTO conference entitled, “Redefining the Role of national Tourist Offices.” Alongside Minister St.Ange from the Seychelles were Mr. Laurence Bresh, the Marketing Director from Visit Britain, and Mrs. Helen Schur Parris, the CEO of Sunlinc. The moderator for the session was Mr. Carlos Vogeler, the Regional Director for the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) for the Americas.
As he addressed the conference before the panel discussion, Minister Alain St.Ange of the Seychelles conveyed greetings from the Seychelles to the Caribbean islanders in Creole, French, and English, the three official languages of the Seychelles. Many of the Caribbean islands also speak Creole. Some of the islands remain French speakers and the rest English.
An extract from the address of Minister St.Ange from the Seychelles says: “When I was called on board in 2009, the Seychelles was going through a tough patch. We relooked at our Tourism Board, established a public-private sector approach to managing the board, going as far as giving the private sector controlling numbers on the board’s Board of Directors. The President of the Republic, Mr. James Michel, personally took over the portfolio for tourism, and the island worked to re-launch its tourism industry. We embarked on a campaign using the language we all understand, the universal language of respect.
“I say that, only to show that it is the tourism board, though a revamped one, that salvaged the Seychelles tourism industry and turned it around completely. Today, we are all here to discuss the changing role of national tourism boards. I can say that there is no one shoe fits all strategy. We all need to remain conscious of our own needs and of our own peculiarities, and we all need to coin our tourism board accordingly. We all know that over the past 60 years, the travel industry has changed beyond all recognition, and the ability of today’s consumers to interact directly with the tourism product by many means available to them, and this without any need for the middleman. This we have to agree has changed the face of the industry and brought a new dynamic into play - a dynamic all tourism boards must be aware of.
“Immediately after the Second World War, which directly kick-started global tourism, the role of national tourism boards was very clear-cut, and that role involved primarily developing of advertising campaigns, brochures, and providing a platform for buyers and sellers of holidays to package their products. At this early stage in the evolution of tourism, and in the context of post-war hardships being experienced across an enormous spectrum, it was totally normal and accepted that governments would intervene to take up the slack when and where necessary.
“Half a century later, the travel scene is very different, and there are a dizzying number of ways for consumers in all domains to put themselves in direct contact with the product of their choice. The Internet has ushered in an information revolution, and with mushrooming social media platforms appearing across the globe, and web-based content largely replacing that of printed materials formerly issued by national tourist boards, it is clear that their roles are going through something of a metamorphosis.
“Yes there are those who argue against the need for national tourism boards in the wake of the huge changes in the way we live, in the way we travel, and in the way we communicate in comparison to just 50 years ago, but I am one who still believes that the national tourism boards still have an important role to play, even if that role has to change in order to accommodate the modern world, and in order to make the most of the advantage it offers. I will not spend time quoting you facts and figures which illustrate how the global tourism industry has grown since the end of the Second World War, because that we all know. But it remains important to state that today, tourism is the world’s fastest-growing industry, and the country I am today representing, Seychelles, is typical of many nations which have come to depend on tourism as a main pillar of their economy. We live in a world where very few countries on Earth are not striving for a share of the tourism pie, as attendance at any reputable tourism trade fair will demonstrate.
“Traditionally, national tourist boards have played important roles in their respective tourism industries as export earners and job creators, for providing invaluable market intelligence and for assisting travel trade partners to make the right contacts and to form the right partnerships. Today, they continue to play vital roles in conducting joint advertising and promotional campaigns with the private sector, and as acting as a catalyst for industry growth through effective regulation, through liaison, and through international sensitization of the product.
“Seychelles tourism has gone down this path of being, until 2009, a government-run industry, until, as a result of a paradigm shift in mind set, government stepped aside and allowed the private sector to take control of their industry with government acting as facilitator. This has been a highly-effective process, which underpins much of what has been achieved over the past four years. Tourism has continued to increase without government’s intervention, and pressure continues to fall upon the national tourism board to evolve further. In Seychelles, our tourism board continues to play a role in providing an important liaison point for direct consumer asking the question ‘Why should I go to Seychelles on holiday in the first place?’ The question how, the question when, and the question at what price are then generally answered later, by the trade.
“This is arguably the case because, with our 115 mid-ocean granitic and coral islands, and a multitude of options for an unforgettable holiday, our islands require an organization such as the tourism board to provide clarity, to provide consistency, and to provide uniformity in the information about the destination which it is disseminating. The tourism board also forms a very important liaison with different elements of the trade, both national and international press, NGOs, the various important national and international agencies, ministries, etc. As such the tourism board is the loom which weaves the many, sometimes disparate, different threads involved in a tourism industry into one cohesive pattern for all to benefit from. It is our tourism board which provides the impetus for such initiatives as ‘Seychelles Tourism Ambassadors’ and ‘Friends of Seychelles – Press’ Club, today positioned as exclusive groupings of our islands in the four corners of the world. It is also our tourism board that liaises with our tourist offices abroad, often organizing and tweaking the vehicles for penetrating foreign markets through trade fairs, road shows, fam and press trips.
“Today much of the national marketing effort has been taken on board by the private sector but the nature and direction of this will be determined by the specific interests of the organizations in question, and will not necessarily be effective marketing for the destination. This remains the job of the tourism board, as does the task of strengthening the nation’s platform of events, attractions and niche market activities with which to attract visitors to our shores.
“Working together, developing alliances and partnerships in unity will bring strength. You are today the known as the grouping of the Caribbean islands. In the Indian Ocean, we launched the Vanilla Islands, today comprising of the Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion, Madagascar, Mayotte, and Comoros. Soon the Maldives are joining in, and we are then contemplating working to bring on board Sri Lanka and Zanzibar. This will give us a tourism region that will be strong and diverse. As the first President of the regional body, we are soon to appoint our own CEO and a Director of Marketing to move our marketing plans forward with the one and only aim of making the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands a strong and known tourism destination.
“The saying, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, is real, and if I stand before you today to exhort you to come to Seychelles between February 8-10 for the 2013 edition of the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Carnival, in doing so, I am wearing my tourism board hat, because I wish to create awareness among you all of the great value of showing your different islands many unique cultural attributes and your people on the world stage, parading alongside the best and the most-known carnivals, and with cultural troupes from the Community of Nations in the only existing carnival of carnivals. A Caribbean tourism delegation at the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands Carnival is sure to get adequate press coverage form far and wide. Walk with me, you and me together - the Indian Ocean Vanilla Islands and the Caribbean tourism block. We are the island tourism destinations of today, and we remain the island tourism destinations of the future. We are also the cruise ship destinations with a difference. Walking together we shall develop new partnerships, and walking together should open for all our islands new opportunities.
“Today the Caribbean islands are, and remain, a known brand across the world. But the point I wish to leave you with is the need for all of you to be walking with your brand. To be working altogether to consolidate the brand and to be working together to ensure that the brand, your Caribbean tourism brand will be a stronger tourism destination. The world about us is changing and one of the laws of nature is that you either adapt or perish. There is nothing static about tourism: it is dynamic, it is volatile, and it is even quite fickle in nature, and perhaps because of this, I am confident that national tourist boards will continue to evolve to cater to the sophisticated needs of the modern traveler, and provide an invaluable service to their respective tourism industries.”