At the end of this month the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation (SSTF) is holding a conference on sustainable tourism in Small Island Developing Nations, taking place at the University of the Seychelles. We caught up with Diana Korner, one of SSTF’s founders, to find out what the plans are.
Travindy: What inspired the creation of the SSTF?
Diana: The creation of the SSTF was triggered after Daniella and myself attended the COP 22 in Marrakesh last November. Daniella, a Seychelloise from the island of Praslin, who has been working in the tourism industry for over 40 years (she owns her own hotels and incoming agency) had felt the urge to act and push the private sector towards becoming more sustainable since a while. At the COP she felt the urgency and realized now is the moment to protect this vulnerable island state against climate change and revive a tourism industry that is at a turning point, where it has started to loose its USPs. So Daniella and I met with many different stakeholders from the public and private sector, NGOs, communities and academia, put our minds together and decided to establish the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation. A platform that connects, collects, shares, lobbies, implements and raises funds for sustainable tourism in the Seychelles and is the main focal point for all sustainable tourism matters in the country. The idea was to complement the existing good practices and conservation initiatives, by helping to connect people and projects and scale them up. Because many of the current projects work in isolation and tourism stakeholders are simply not aware of what is going on and what needs to be done in a joint stakeholder approach. Seychelles has such enormous potential to become an international best practice example for sustainable tourism, but it needs a structured, holistic approach where the tourism industry as a whole starts to act
Travindy: Why do you consider the Seychelles to have ‘enormous potential to become an international best practice example for sustainable tourism’?
Diana: Seychelles has a vast number of natural assets, like its pristine beaches, tropical forests, mountains and waterfalls and a biodiversity, which can be easily accessed in and around its many (marine) protected areas. There are probably few places in the world where you can just take a 30 minute hike to breathtaking views and find endemic flora and fauna and then 30 minutes later jump into the water and dive with turtles, sharks and other charismatic species. Also, Seychelles already benefits from a reputation internationally for being an ecotourism destination, through its many ongoing, award winning conservation initiatives which are linked to tourism, such as Cousin Island, North Island, or Bird Island among others. As a small island state with a population of 90.000 inhabitants in theory effective changes can easily be implemented with the right mechanisms and people on board.
Travindy: What are the challenges to creating “a structured, holistic approach where the tourism industry as a whole starts to act”?
Diana: Although you have an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism (tourism and tourism related activities contributing to more than 60 % of the GDP, WTTC 2015) Seychellois do not appear to be the center of the tourism industry anymore. Through our interactions with the tourism private sector, many employers have told us that it is hard to find skilled, motivated and passionate Seychellois to work in the industry. It is difficult for tourists to come in touch with Kreol culture while in Seychelles. On this social side it is also challenging to break down competitive thinking and unite tourism stakeholders around a joint sustainable tourism approach. Many great initiatives exist, but they are not shared or mainstreamed yet. You can find, for example an internationally accredited certification scheme (the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label), but only few very certified hotels. At national level there is no clearly defined and widely circulated strategy for sustainable tourism. However, with the change in politics and the blue economy concept in place, the timing is right. The SSTF together with our partners have decided to take the GSTC criteria for destinations as the basis of our work, to aim for Seychelles to be certified sustainable by a certification body that is GSTC accredited in the next 5 years. We have started the process with a first GSTC stakeholder workshop, public awareness raising events and the next step will be our conference in November, for which we are partnering with the GSTC.
Travindy: I see how using GSTC destinations can help raise standards. Do you also see it as a marketing tool, or do you have another approach that would seek to market Seychelles as a sustainable destination (so stakeholders see benefit of their hard work)?
Diana: Yes, we definitely see that GSTC destinations can directly benefit destination marketing, through a clearly defined vision of sustainable tourism within the destination and concrete activities linked to it. Our activities involve and are open to all tourism stakeholders in Seychelles. The Seychelles Tourism Board is one of them, and we will work with them and offer support to market the many efforts that have been and will be taken in terms of sustainable tourism.
Travindy: As an island state, most of the tourism upon which the economy depends comes by plane, mostly long haul. How are you planning on factoring in the climate impacts into the development of Seycelles as a sustainable destination?
Diana: Exactly, unfortunately tourism in Seychelles simply cannot exist without long haul air travel, considering the current main source markets, France and Germany, followed by UAE and Italy. Seychelles as a nation is very active in the international climate change debates and is looking at off-sets and reducing carbon footprints, working on innovative approaches such as the debt-for-nature swap. Seychelles is also considering having parts of ticket fees going for the protection of the environment. Through the foundation we will look at means and ways to encourage stakeholders to adopt new and more sustainable policies. We will try helping to promote longer trips to Seychelles, inter-island packages with neighbouring islands such as Mauritius, and regional marketing activities to target developing markets in mainland Africa to visit Seychelles.
Travindy: Debt for nature has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years. Are there ways for Seychelles of avoiding problems with earlier schemes?
Diana: Seychelles´ debt for nature approach is managed and monitored through the independent, Seychellois trust fund, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT). Members from the public and private sector, such as the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association, are on the board and will oversee the activities.
Travindy: are you looking at measures to avoid becoming a victim of success and causing overtourism to impact negatively on locals lives and resources?
Diana: The SSTF sees it as one of our main responsibilities to lobby for a controlled, sustainable tourism in Seychelles and our activities will try to tackle overtourism. As a matter of fact, government has certain mechanisms in place, such as the moratorium on large hotel projects (with 25 rooms or more) that control overtourism, however especially with more new airlines routes and large cruise ships entering the harbor, it is important to prioritize this further. But it is promising to see that locals are also actively stepping up, e.g. in the recent successful Grand Police citizen campaign against the construction of a hotel in an iconic Seychellois bay which is a key biodiversity area.
Travindy: What are the plans for the conference?
Diana: The end of this month sees an international conference on sustainable tourism in SIDS in the framework of the 2017 UN International Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development. We are organizing this conference in cooperation with the University of Seychelles (Department of Tourism and Cultural Heritage) and partnered up with the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Tourism and Protected Areas Specialist Group (TAPAS group), the GSTC and the Paris Tourism Sorbonne Institute of Research and Higher Education in Tourism (IREST). The aim is to combine academic tourism research with practical best practice examples and to connect the various stakeholders working and researching the environmental and socio-cultural development of the tourism industry, for constructive discussions and networking. The conference focus areas will be sustainable tourism in protected areas, including terrestrial parks and reserves, marine protected areas, and World Heritage Sites, as well as tourism´s social responsibility and cultural protection in SIDS. The conference is open to tourism professionals from public and private sector, NGOs involved in tourism, academics and students.
At the same time we are working on several projects involving the private sector, such as a CSR cooperation with a German tour operator supporting several NGO projects in Seychelles in the areas of marine conservation, animal protection and education. We are also going to have a number of students joining us in the next month for research on how to improve private sector engagement towards sustainable tourism.
Find out more about the conference and register at the conference website.