A chat with David Lowseck, former director general for Tourism and tourism development analyst ‘We have to recalibrate, readjust and reengineer the tourism industry’ |29 April 2021
The tourism industry is difficult to define accurately, differing from other industries whereby the product is clear cut; it incorporates many industries including travel, transport, lodging and attractions, among others. In a broad sense, tourism is defined as an activity involving travel and staying in places outside of one’s usual environment, for a period of time, for leisure, health, business or other purposes.
In 2019, the total contribution of travel and tourism to the global economy was US $9.25trn, and global leisure travel spent for the same year stood at a whopping USD 2.37trn. With the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic that has since the end of 2019 swept across the globe, one of the linchpins of the global economy, the tourism industry has been severely impacted, and many businesses reliant on the industry have found themselves confronted by intense challenges including prolonged closures and financial woes.
With the progression in Covid-19 immunisation campaigns globally, there seems to be some hope for the industry. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in a report published on December 14, 2020, proposes that many countries are now focused on developing measures towards building more resilient tourism economies post Covid-19, elaborating further to note that this includes “preparing plans to support the sustainable recovery of tourism, promoting the digital transition and move to a greener tourism system, and rethinking tourism for the future”.
Seychelles, as small as it is, is heavily-dependent on tourism as the main pillar of the economy. The exclusive destination thrives off foreign exchange generated from the industry, which also supports jobs and businesses. With the pandemic, Seychelles, like its counterparts, is now scrambling to once again attract visitors and have them flocking back, and to generate revenue for the economy.
Seychelles NATION had a chat with David Lowseck, former director general for Tourism and tourism development analyst for his opinion as to the way forward towards rebuilding a more resilient and stronger tourism economy.
According to Mr Lowseck, the magic formula government needs to adopt if the tourism industry is to recover is to rethink the marketing strategy, offer visitors a more authentic and culturally-rich experience of Seychelles as well as targeting specific niche markets, so as to benefit from more yield, thereby maximising return on investment.
“We can take the opportunity presented by the pandemic to relook at the tourism industry, where we are now, in a position where we are receiving fewer tourists. We have missed a lot of opportunities to make money and earn as much as possible from the visitors who flock to Seychelles. We have to recalibrate and readjust and reengineer the tourism industry,” Mr Lowseck said.
“We will have fewer tourists. We need to increase the yield, which means to get visitors to spend. Visitors are tired of the hotels, the accommodation, they want oxygen and freedom. Visitors come to Seychelles with a perception, and image in their heads as to what they are expecting from Seychelles. And they use a yardstick, the more expensive the product, the higher the expectation. Get tourists to move from their hotels, bring them to the community, and get them to spend. How do we get them to spend? For instance at cottage industries. Many visitors would be interested in visiting an atelier to learn how to make nouga, galet, and to buy these products to take back home. It generates money for the communities and promotes social inclusion and cohesion in many regions of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue,” Mr Lowseck stated.
While the industry at large, and the hotel industry have evolved over the past four decades, cultural tourism needs to be developed to the maximum, says Mr Lowseck, with emphasis on delivering quality service and authentic and unique experiences for visitors, that meet, or even surpass their expectations of the destination, and which leave them with a story to tell upon returning home.
In order to achieve such, Mr Lowseck proposes that sectoral linkages be established between tourism and fisheries, culture and heritage, agriculture, environment and other sectors which potentially constitute a niche or unique selling point, adding on to the product mix. In addition the product mix needs to be diversified, and products enhanced.
“We have evolved as far as the attractions and activities are concerned, to offer a mix of activities, some based on environment, marine activities, a lot of niche markets, although not to the maximum. We have a lot to do to develop these sectors, we need to develop and enhance the mix, as we evolve.”
“I would like the government to establish cultural heritage tourism, by establishing a green cultural pathway on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. Let us also focus on niche markets, and we have many – agri-tourism, diving, fishing, birdwatching and others. Importantly, it creates a multiply effect in our community. The dollars goes into the community and multiplies, and that is what the government needs to seriously consider,” Mr Lowseck added.
Indeed, culture and heritage tourism plays a critical role in building the visitor economy according to Mytravelreseach.com, as a fast-growing and high-yielding sector. According to statistics published by Mytravelresearch, history and culture are important considerations for a significant percentage of travellers in making a choice as to their destination, and a consistent pattern is revealed in individual markets like the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand, Australia and India that cultural tours tend to attract high-yield tourists, culture and heritage tourists often stay longer and spend a lot more money in general than other tourists do, spending as much as 38% higher per day and staying 22% longer overall compared to other kinds of travellers.
There is also evidence to indicate that the level of repeat visitation among this group of travellers is higher than that of traditional tourists.
Culture and heritage tourists usually visit cultural heritage attractions such as: historic buildings and other historic attractions; archaeological sites; state, local, or national parks; art galleries or museums; concerts, plays or musicals; ethnic or ecological heritage sites; and such attractions. These travellers say that these trips are more memorable than conventional holiday trips since they allow them to learn something new.
For Seychelles, establishing the foundations on which to build will take some years, Mr Lowseck noted, necessitating action at the soonest, and for all actors including tour operators, guides, DMCs, taxi operators and others to be engaged, and committed to the vision. In addition to diversifying the product mix, the department of Tourism and Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) must review their policies, as well as strategise to employ more digital marketing, which is less costly than traditional marketing tools such as international travel and tourism fairs and conventions, and allows for a wider audience to be reached, inclusive of niche markets.
“We are talking about the reopening of the tourism industry in a Covid-19, a pandemic stricken world. There are two groups of people that will come to Seychelles, a group with high income, and a group with lower income. Larger hotels will benefit a lot because they are already established brands. With the reopening, it will be a gradual growth, and with the pandemic, everyone, across every destination around the world, is offering discounted prices. Now more than ever, there is a need to stand out from the crowd. Small establishments like guesthouses need to have unique selling points (USP). One thing is they can offer 50 to 60 percent discount, with certain conditions for example, if visitors book by a specified date, some weeks in advance. This is where digital marketing also comes in.”
“World tourism has a seasonal pattern, and if we can develop our niche markets, it can assist us in raising the downward curve of our visitor arrival patterns,” Mr Lowseck added.
Improved marketing could also go a long way towards attracting more visitors to Seychelles, although this calls for investments in identifying and marketing in secondary markets, to make them primary markets, as opposed to being reliant on the same primary markets, which for a long time included Europe.
“Let us upgrade and let us identify potential secondary markets, and let us spend money on them and make them primary. It can be financed from the existing budget. Right now we cannot market Seychelles in London with a big billboard, as nobody is there to see it. Each year, there are 30,000 Australians who travel to the Maldives. If we can determine why, we can target these travellers,” Mr Lowseck concluded.
“We need a take a comprehensive review of our product mix, to identify strengths, gaps, opportunities and constraints to make us stronger and bring resilience for our tourism industry.
Mr Lowseck was the first Seychellois to be appointed principal tourism officer in 1979, under the leadership of then Minister for Tourism and Foreign Affairs Guy Sinon. He was later appointed director general of Tourism in 1998, whereby he had full responsibility of developing and marketing Seychelles tourism in line with government policy to promote a high-yield tourism sector.
During his term, Mr Lowseck took the initiative to plan and implement many tourism projects, notably, the restructuring of the Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Training College, the drafting of the first Eco-Tourism plan for Seychelles, and developing a strategic marketing plan to promote Seychelles overseas.