The Seychelles, with its idyllic white beaches and luxury resorts, has had only 149 cases of COVID-19, but the global crisis caused by the pandemic has ravaged its vital tourism industry.
The Indian Ocean island nation, famed as a honeymoon destination, took swift action against the virus in March, banning cruise ships and international flights and implementing a lockdown.
Even though the archipelago reopened to tourists on Aug. 1, the global downswing in travel and devastation wrought by the virus in major tourist-providing countries in Europe and elsewhere, has led to little improvement.
“Since the reopening of the airport we have tried to reopen our establishment, but it is a catastrophe, we are running at a loss because there is no one,” said Sybil Cardon, who had to let go of 10 percent of her staff at her hotel on Praslin, the second-largest island.
In Beau Vallon, the most touristy part of the main island Mahe, the Equinox scuba diving center once did three or four excursions a day, taking tourists to see bountiful fish and marine life around the granite cliffs and coral reefs.
Now, in what is usually peak season to see the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, there are “only a few tourists a day,” said Manuela Alcaniz, who runs the center.
She has kept her six staff on board using state assistance, and some of her own money.
Tourism contributes about 25 percent to the Seychelles’ GDP, and along with the tuna fishing industry is the main earner of foreign currency.
Last year, the archipelago welcomed more than 330,000 tourists, two-thirds of them from Europe. This represents more than three times the population of the islands.
In the first three-quarters of the year, the country has recorded the arrival of only 75,000 tourists.
The second and third quarter saw an 83 percent drop in numbers from last year, government data showed.
More than 700 people lost their jobs in the hotel and tourism industry, increasing unemployment from 4.8 percent to 6.3 percent, government figures showed.
Since July 1, the government has put in place the Seychelles Employee Transition Scheme to assist workers, paying their salaries in exchange for them following a training course.
“Currently, if I didn’t have this help, I don’t know what situation I would find myself in to pay back my loans and take care of my children,” said Sheila Marie, who used to work as an accountant in a hotel and is now following a course in payroll management.
“It should give me enough credentials to find another job” if tourism does not pick up by Dec. 31, when the program ends.
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