She sells sea shells on the seashore of Seychelles - but they were Made in China

Adding and keeping value in the tourism industry in Seychelles [Part 1 of 2] - By Kevin Bresson MBA, M.Eng



Adding and keeping value in the tourism industry in Seychelles [Part 1 of 2] - By Kevin Bresson MBA, M.Eng

After my article on the need to add real value in what is done in Seychelles, I was asked to elaborate on how to do that.  Specifically, how does Seychelles add value in tourism relative to competition like Mauritius, Maldives and the many similar tropical islands in the Caribbean?  I would like to address this, not only at a country level but particularly on a tourism service business level as, like my previous article argues, positive change should happen at all levels. 

Let’s start with a quick reality check:

Which of the two sets of pictures is from Seychelles - left or right?

The answer is – neither!  And yet, many readers in Seychelles would have sworn that one or both sets of these images were from Seychelles.  The reality is a country like Seychelles can no longer depend on simply extolling the virtues of its beautiful beaches, sun, sea and world-class accommodation and expect to stand out from the other tropical islands in our big wide world!
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Adding Value is Marketing - but not Marketing as you know it

I think adding value in tourism is essentially a marketing exercise, but not anything like what most people think marketing is.  Just a recap of the core concept, adding value is: “where a firm (or country) takes a product or service that may be considered a homogeneous or common product or service, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value”.  I am going to apply a marketing framework that is used for ‘customer value’ and expand it further to suggest how value can be added.  This marketing framework focuses on four areas: 1. Brand management & brand proposition 2. Channel management 3. Marketing communications 4. Achieving customers' service expectations

People tend to focus on the first three and almost entirely ignore the last.  However, adding value is a very fundamental approach to changes in tourism and tourism services, so we really need to STOP with changes that are only superficial and on the surface!  What I mean by that is that we need to stop simply throwing money at branding and marketing campaigns.  If there is to be significant, long-term benefits, I would in fact suggest that time and money be split as follows:
  • 10% on Brand management & brand proposition
  • 20% on Channel management
  • 30% on Marketing communications
  • 40% on Achieving customers' service expectations
I suspect marketing departments in Seychelles are going to hate me for suggesting the above, but let’s keep an open mind and read on!

A Brand Proposition is more important than a Brand

Branding is what marketing loves doing – creating fancy logos and putting these fancy logos on anything and everything.  I saw a respectable furniture company even put their logo on biscuits!?!  As a country Seychelles has had their fair share of Mad Men-like advertising agencies promising revolutionary image makeovers.  Alas, it is but an image and tourists rarely remember a logo!  However…an image tied to an extraordinary experience is a totally different thing as it brings back good memories and may even have a tourist reminiscing about the vacation behind the logo and going back (i.e. a repeat purchase).  This is what marketeers call the “brand proposition” and one of the best brand propositions in tourism is for a destination in the Nevada, USA called Las Vegas.
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Anyone who has been to “Vegas” will tell you that their slogan "What happens in (Las) Vegas, stays in (Las) Vegas" is so, so true.  Yes it’s a fun, hedonistic place but what escapes most people is that the town has enough happening that it engages all of one’s senses, and is definitely a uniquely, extraordinary experience.  I personally saw American ‘rednecks’ who would normally not listen to classical music or think about traveling to old-country Europe be electrified and amazed by the fountain display at the Bellagio – and yet the hotel looks like a European chateau and the music is definitely not country & western!

Enhancing the brand proposition therefore really means enhancing the customer experience, that’s why I say you need to spend only very little time and money on traditional branding, compared to on enhancing the customer experience.

Adding value in the relationship with channels

For those new to marketing talk, ‘channels’ are how Seychelles and Seychelles’ businesses sell themselves to the final customer or tourist.  For example, destination management companies (e.g. Creole Travel Services and Mason’s Travel), hotels and smaller guest houses rely on the travel agents’ channel in different countries to sell holidays and their services in Seychelles; good examples of those travel agents are Kuoni and Thomas Cook.  From having mainly physical offices, there has been a surge in internet presence, with ‘new’ online-exclusive travel agents such as expedia.com and lastminute.com growing exponentially in strength.

Though foreign travel agents and final service providers in Seychelles depend on each other closely, the relationship can be tough.  This is particularly so because the traditional tendency of travel agents is to negotiate prices downwards and Seychelles’ DMCs and hotels have to comply or in turn, force down pricing of their sub-suppliers!  If it has not, the channel conversation really has to change from PRICE to VALUE and become a more collaborative win-win relationship, where BOTH parties remain profitable.

Clearly Seychelles is a premium destination, and simply cutting prices will result in lower service levels (e.g. DMCs will employ cheaper people who may not have a passion for great customer service).  Instead, Seychelles as a country and all the tourism service providers in Seychelles need to build a greater sense of value in how they do things, such that travel agents will be more inclined to do business with players in Seychelles, rather than other destinations.  Here are a few suggestions, merely as food for thought:
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  • Ease & accuracy of information: The Russian Federation provides the 4th most visitors and yet the Seychelles Tourist Representative office in Moscow links back to the main Seychelles Tourism Board website – unfortunately this does not have a Russian language option (cf. China representative office’s web presence).
  • Lower cost of island hoping: Unlike single-island Mauritius and Sri Lanka, seeing the real Seychelles means visiting more than one island and moving between these islands needs to be made as cost-effective as possible to enable this as an extra differentiator, compared to these other competing destinations.
  • Booking smaller hotels and guest houses made as easy as larger hotels: The growth in smaller accommodations to cater for value-conscious tourists is fantastic, but they all need to have online reservation systems so that target tourists can quickly and easily check room availability and book these, at any time zone they may be in.  Note I’m not suggesting that this go through online travel agents (like expedia.com) as their commissions will likely increase room rates too much.
  • Handling mishaps and complaints effectively: Seychelles aspires to be a 5-star destination and what 5-star destinations do extremely well is knowing how to handle dissatisfied customers; and learning from it.  DMCs, hotels, guest-houses and all tourism service providers in Seychelles need to get really, really good at this.  Things WILL go wrong but foreign travel agents will definitely remember if you resolved the issue professional and satisfactorily, and they will not hesitate to send more tourists your way.  Dis-satisfied customers are definitely a cost to these travel agents (e.g. by giving them poor reviews) but by minimizing this risk, Seychelles will prove its worth in ‘value’ compared to other cheaper destinations.
Bottom line is that you sort of want the travel agent to have these kinds of conversations with a potential (senior?) visitor: “Yes, visiting the islands in Thailand will be $1,000 cheaper, but Seychelles has world-class medical facilities and medical-evacuation processes, in case of an emergency”.  I know that’s not a tasteful example, but that (senior) tourist will more than likely pay the premium for peace of mind, and both the travel agent and Seychelles’ DMC or hotel will profit appropriately from the transaction!

In next week’s conclusion, I’ll look at the two other areas I mentioned - marketing communications and achieving customers' service expectations – and focus further on the value chain in the tourism industry of Seychelles.



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  1. Kevin as somebody who has been visiting Seychelles annually since 1994 I have had this discussion many times with people ranging from a hotel barman to senior politicians. The problem seems to be long term investment losing out to short term gains, which is why the inner islands are currently being blighted by ugly developments with no coherent Government planning in place.
    I totally agree with your article Seychelles needs to wake up and get to work on a marketing strategy. The work done by Alain St. Ange has been very productive in opening up new markets and bringing in a wider range of tourists, now it needs to move on, as you rightly say there are a lot of islands that look a lot like Seychelles. When I first visited Mahe the impression was 2 star hotels at 5 star prices, with sullen service and pretty average food, so well done Seychelles all that has gone and visitors are normally delighted, except by some very high prices.
    I shall be visiting La Digue in October this year to see my family who live there, they have told me there are some good changes and some not so good, but I wonder if there is a central plan, or was it a quick profit?

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    1. Thank you for your comment Paul. I cannot answer for the Government of Seychelles but based on my travels & observations around the world, all governments have lots of plans but priorities of the day take precedence (e.g. I am only guessing that the need for significant infrastructure investment in Seychelles will require continued growth of income from the tourism industry). If you check out my ‘Singapore miracle to Seychelles’ article, you will notice that I believe in businesses and industry doing their own thing as far as possible, as their success has a bigger impact on government policy than we realise (have noticed this in many countries too)! Rapid development always has consequences (visitors to Seychelles grew 100%...by 100,000...in 10 years) and I hope to touch on some suggestions to ‘keep it real’ in part 2.

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