Expert Speak Health Express
Published on Aug 24, 2020
COVID19: Seychelles reboots tourism, with a twist

Seychelles has entered a new phase in containing the COVID-19 outbreak while simultaneously managing the reopening of its international tourism industry. Having initially announced 11 COVID-19 cases in April, the country responded with lockdown measures. With few discernable signs of community transmission, the decision was taken to gradually lift these measures and admit visitors travelling on private jets to Seychelles’ outer island resorts in June. The country has subsequently reopened its international airport to commercial travelers this month. Presently, Seychelles has confirmed 132 cases of the virus, stemming mainly from seafarers on fishing fleets operating in its waters. Despite the relatively low number of cases and zero related deaths, how has COVID-19 managed to adversely impact the island and the lives of its roughly 95,000-strong community?

Health and safety measures

Seychelles has demonstrated significant vulnerability to imported cases and emphasised the need for stringent health and safety protocols ahead of the reopening. Foreign visitors will be subjected to varying degrees of health procedures depending on whether they come from low, medium or high risk countries. Passengers need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test that is less than 72 hours old before boarding. The country has also developed a safe tourism certificate, signaling where safety measures are being followed. To ensure a ‘safe’ experience, travelers are only permitted to stay at these certified establishments.

The outbreak is prompting stakeholders to rethink tourism around more resilient and sustainable models. With measures in place to curb a potential spread, the archipelago is looking to market itself as one of the safest travel destinations in the world right now. This safe-haven positioning will appeal to potential visitors who have been confined at home for months on end. However, the reopening of the airport is not anticipated to have an immediate effect, given the country’s main tourism markets may still face travel bans.

Economic landscape

Nonetheless, the move demonstrates how the pandemic presented authorities with bleak choices between health and wealth. With 384,201 visitors recorded in 2019, direct and indirect contributions of the tourism and travel sector to Seychelles’ GDP totaled 67.1 percent. With the COVID-19-induced travel ban levelling this mainstay, the economy is expected to contract by over 10 percent this year. Unemployment has jumped amidst government estimates that 4000 workers could eventually lose their jobs due to this downturn. The country’s reliance on imports coupled with the slowdown in tourism-generated foreign exchange earnings saw the Seychelles rupee depreciate against the US dollar by over 20 percent within a few months.

This means the pandemic has compounded a health crisis into an economic and social one as well. The Central Bank of Seychelles has responded by adjusting the monetary policy rate, setting up credit facilities to assist affected individuals and businesses, and has introduced policy allowing for the buy-back and resale of government securities. The government has drawn up a temporary Employee Transition Scheme designed to assist redundant workers. Additionally, a Financial Assistance for Job Retention programme was set up to help affected businesses with paying their employees’ salaries. These measures have not been without controversy; recently, the Gainful Occupational Permits of all non-Seychellois nationals outside of Seychelles were revoked with immediate effect, leaving some organisations that depend on skilled foreign workers in the lurch. 

Political considerations 

Against this troubled backdrop, Seychelles joins over 20 African countries holding elections this year. Citing budget pressures caused by COVID-19, it was announced that both presidential and National Assembly elections would be held together in October over a three-day period.

Traditionally, Seychelles’ elections are paper-based voting affairs conducted at physical polling stations dotted across several islands. Officials will therefore be mindful of the potential health risks that may present through over-crowding, increased risk of surface contamination and risks to immunocompromised or elderly voters heading to the polls.


COVID-19 has also impacted the islanders’ lifestyles. Resident permit holders or citizens are being strongly discouraged from travelling overseas as their re-entry will be subjected to quarantine measures. Students expecting to pursue their degrees overseas have deferred to 2021 due to budget cuts. Masks are now mandatory on the islands’ sole public bus transportation system, inter-island ferries and flights. However, this ‘new normal’ has not been an easy transition. According to the Public Health Commissioner, not everyone is following social distancing rules. If these guidelines continue to go unheeded, the Department of Health has stated face masks could become mandatory in certain public spaces.

Most, if not all, organisations now follow health guidelines that define their operations while respecting prevention measures. For instance, temperature checking, hand sanitising and furnishing of contact details are a requirement on the premises of most businesses. Notably, technology’s role during this crisis has accelerated. Social media campaigns coupled with press conferences from the Department of Health and other agencies have helped to keep the community updated and fight misinformation in a dynamic situation. Some organisations have sharpened the digital curve of their business models; telecoms giant Cable and Wireless launched paperless billing, the University of Seychelles stepped up online teaching modes and the Seychelles Tourism Board signed a deal with Visa to promote electronic payment technology services on the islands.   

Beyond COVID-19

In addition to being classified as a high income country, Seychelles also recorded the highest gross domestic product per capita in Africa. However, this has not cushioned the archipelago against the negative socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic has intensified the distinct challenges facing the country, such as limited healthcare resources and qualified personnel. While the island nation can enjoy being one of the few countries that may have managed the initial outbreak reasonably well, this leaves no room for complacency. COVID-19 remains predominantly a health crisis, and a more supple nationally-coordinated response will be crucial for its long-term management. In line with the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association’s campaign ‘tourism: everyone's business,’ health officials have warned that a post-COVID reality rests on individuals following the prescribed guidelines and adhering to the three pillars of prevention—vigilance, physical distancing and hygiene. As the country contemplates the long road ahead to recovery, the crisis may yet present Seychelles with an opportunity to shape the tourism it wants for tomorrow.

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Malshini Senaratne

Malshini Senaratne

Malshini Senaratne is a lecturer at the University of Seychelles and a Director with Eco-Sol Consulting Seychelles. Her research interests include entrepreneurship Blue Economy ecosystem ...

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