Is it possible for Seychelles to become too popular? Can the island nation's infrastructure and ecology cope with the growing number of tourists?
A new study in response to the growing number of tourists visiting Seychelles aims to answer those questions. It is being carried out by the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine in partnership with consultants from an American based company, Sustainable Travel International and the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation.
"The report will provide recommendations and will give our current status for us to adopt measures for the future so that the three islands remain sustainable," said Anne Lafortune, the principal secretary of the tourism department.
Tourism is the top contributor to the economy of Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean. Figures released by Seychelles' National Bureau of Statistics show that visitor arrivals for 2019 increased to 384,204, a record high, compared to 351,235 in 2018.
The study, expected by the end of April 2020, is in line with the Seychelles Tourism Master Plan of 2018 which calls for regular tourism capacity studies of major tourist sites in order to regularly review the implications of the growing tourism numbers and to measure their possible impact.
A local consultant involved in the project, Daniella Larue, told reporters that the study will look at data like the number of rooms available and new ones entering the market for the next five years.
According to statistics from the tourism ministry, there are about 589 tourism establishments in operation accounting for 6,332 rooms. Currently, there are available spaces for an additional 3000 rooms in the tourism sector.
The study, focusing on the country's three main islands, will also look at the ecological aspect and the impact of tourism development on it.
"There have been previous studies conducted in the north of Mahe especially in Beau Vallon. Now we need to look at the whole of Mahe if there is no over-development of tourism establishments," said Larue.
Aside from ecology, the study will look at other infrastructures such as the port and airport, town main point of entry for tourist.
The different policies and services being offered by different tourism establishment to ensure maximum revenue are collected from holidaymakers will also be looked at.
Lafortune said that the study on La Digue, the third most populated island, will be done separately as the island has its own charm, tranquility and expectation from holidaymakers.
"Is the expectation degrading? Are we doing things sustainably for the future? Is the development too much on La Digue? These are some questions that the study will answer for us," said Lafortune.
The study will also factor in the moratorium prohibiting the construction of large hotels currently in place until the end of 2020. Large hotels are defined as those having 25 rooms or more.
"The data collected throughout the study will also give us an indication on whether or not to lift the moratorium," said Lafortune.
A representative of the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation, Daniella Payet Alis, said the Foundation's role is to provide the consultant with local base knowledge on the tourism industry.
"Our team is known for doing this type of job. We are going to assist the consultant with technical advice and data that we have collected in previous studies," said Payet Alis
A consultative meeting is scheduled for Saturday, February 8 with the public to get their views "as we cannot rely only on scientific data solely," said Lafortune.
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Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.