The Indian Ocean archipelago, which is noted for its beautiful beaches and stunning landscapes, has risen to prominence as one of the most attractive destinations in the world.
Visitor numbers rose 4%, and tourism officials were preparing for what appeared to be a hugely successful year.
But of course, the “Covid-19” pandemic has put an end to nearly every plan or prediction for 2020, and the world as we know it has changed irreversibly.
Like many destinations that rely heavily on revenue from international visitors, the Seychelles, which lie 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Tanzania, have been hit hard by the coronavirus.
While the country of 115 islands managed to ward off the virus relatively well, with only 3,798 cases and 16 deaths, its economic impact was enormous.
According to the Seychelles Tourism Board, the number of inbound tourists decreased by 70% and the sector’s revenues for 2020 decreased by $ 368 million.
“The country has almost ceased in terms of tourism activities,” Seychelles Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism Sylvester Radegund told CNN.
“Since our economy is so dependent on tourism, this means that other activities have slowed down as well, from fishing and agriculture to the arts, restaurants and bars. So we started the year in very bad shape,” said Radegund.
Officials are pulling back all barriers to ensure travelers return quickly and, most importantly, safely.
Starting Thursday, March 25, Seychelles has lifted restrictions on all visitors, except those from South Africa.
Although visitors are required to submit a negative PCR result within 72 hours of their departure, travelers no longer need to be subject to quarantine or movement restrictions during their visit.
On Thursday, just hours after the restrictions were lifted, Radegund said they had received “more than 300 travelers this morning, the largest number the country has seen in a single day in a long time.”
“So far, our weekly numbers have been around 200, so having a plane full of passengers is great,” said Radegund.
The country expects to receive hundreds of more travelers in the coming days.
A ‘robust’ reopening strategy
This step coincides with the end of the plan to launch a “strong” vaccination campaign, which aims to vaccinate at least 70% of Seychelles’ estimated 98,000 people.
Officials put the plan into effect after receiving a donation of about 50,000 doses of vaccine from the government of the United Arab Emirates.
According to a New York Times report, Seychelles is second only to Israel in the race to become the first country whose entire population is vaccinated.
“More than 90% of our population received the first dose of the vaccine, and more than 45% had actually received the second dose,” Radegund said.
He added, “We hope that we have reached our goal within the next few weeks, or certainly within the month of April.”
Of course, the ever-changing border restrictions and the emergence of the third wave of Coronavirus in Europe will likely mean that many travelers will be reluctant to book the vacation for the time being.
But the Seychelles tourism team was encouraged by the number of bookings received so far and believed this was the right time to invite travelers to return.
“The health facilities are in place and the procedures we have implemented are working. We are satisfied that we have achieved the immunity we deserve. So we are comfortable reopening our borders,” said Radegund.
After closing its borders for the first time in March 2020, Seychelles began reopening its borders in stages in June last year with the aim of gradually easing restrictions on visitors from countries considered “low risk”.
Last February, the country reopened its borders and dropped quarantine requirements for all travelers who were fully vaccinated against Covid-1 on the condition that they present a negative “PCR” test result within 72 hours of travel.
Of course, reopening while most of the world is still grappling with the virus will not be without its challenges.