Seychelles will reopen its doors to tourists on 25 March, becoming one of a handful of countries to welcome back visitors without any restrictions, as almost its entire population has received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
“There is a light at the end of tunnel and that light is getting brighter by the day from our perspective,” Sylvestre Radegonde, the country’s minister of foreign affairs and tourism, told RFI on Thursday.
“We feel that we can safely open the country to visitors,” added Radegonde, describing how visitors would just have to get a negative PCR for Covid-19 in the 72 hours before travelling.
Tourism is the Indian Ocean nation’s main industry and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 stopped tourists almost overnight, causing unemployment and forcing businesses to shut.
“The Covid pandemic decimated the economy, we were literally on our knees,” said Radegonde, explaining how the government had to put in place a support package for workers. Support will stop at the end of March.
Travel and tourism contributes more than 50% to the country’s economy, according to a report by the International Trade Centre.
The Seychelles archipelago registered 3,342 confirmed cases of coronavirus and suffered 16 deaths from the outbreak, according to statistics from the health ministry.
Almost 90% of the country’s 95,000 population have received a first vaccine dose and 39% have received a second dose, according to the minister of foreign affairs and tourism. The country used both the Chinese-made Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Radegonde said the government is under no illusions that progress in vaccinations means the country is free of Covid-19 and can stop it 100%.
“We’re confident that we are in a position to contain and manage any possible infection, we’ve done it in the past,” the minister added, outlining how health authorities had dealt with previous cases of visitors infected with Covid-19.
South Africa exception
The only country which remains off limits for the moment is South Africa because of the country’s variant.
The presence of South African visitors in the Seychelles resulted in the British government putting the country on the red list, effectively stopping British tourists from travelling to the country.
“The UK and European market is bigger for us in terms of the tourism industry, much more than South Africa,” said Radegonde. “So something had to give and at the moment unfortunately it’s South Africa.”
Sherin Francis, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, said sanitary measures will remain in place despite the opening up for visitors.
“It is important to protect our population and for visitors as well,” she said, referring to use of facemasks, social distancing and sanitising, to help keep any infections at bay.
The tourism board is also promoting so-called “work-cations”, encouraging people who are teleworking to come to the Seychelles.
She said the decision to reopen to all tourists “felt like Christmas coming early”, with many people working in the sector keen to get back to work. “We definitely look forward to what April will look like,” Francis added.
Radegonde said forward bookings are looking positive, according to what the government is being told by the airlines. “It’s not going to be an overnight sudden influx of visitors, it’s going to be gradual,” he added.
More than 360,000 people visited the Seychelles in 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, with visitors from France and Germany accounting for almost 30% of all foreign arrivals.