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 2 of 2] - By Kevin Bresson MBA, M.Eng

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


I had fewer comments then I expected on Part 1 of this article from people in Seychelles’ tourism industry.  This tells me people either agreed with me or were too busy with a surge of business activity for the recent Carnavale de Victoria – here is Part 2.

Last week, I argued that if Seychelles was to experience significant, long-term benefits and value from tourism, time and money should be spent as follows in this exercise:
  • 10% on Brand management & brand proposition
  • 20% on Channel management
  • 30% on Marketing communications
  • 40% on achieving customers' service expectations
I covered my thoughts on the first two points in Part 1.

Marketing Communications – the new language societate instrumentorum

Marketing communications is the second favourite thing that marketers love doing – be it publicity or any form of ‘spreading the word’.  Great marketing departments tie this back to tangible results, so that they are actually adding value to the business or organization.  However, such results-orientated marketing departments are rare, and finding the right results to measure can be a bit of a challenge.  For example, Seychelles’ success at marketing itself should NOT be measured by the number of tourist arrivals.  Rather, it should be measured by its market share compared to similar destinations – no matter how controversial the debate on ‘how’ to measure this market share.
 
Adding value in marketing communications presents some distinctly new challenges.  Not only has the Internet made destinations more transparent – removed some of the mystique - but social media has added almost a new language to marketing!  Most businesses and organizations are still grappling with how social media really impacts what they do, and therefore, how they should best approach social media.  In Seychelles, where I think there is a relatively slow adoption of using the Internet for business, I feel a greater effort has to be put into embracing it and trying to understand it.  That does NOT mean simply creating a Facebook page or a Twitter feed.  It means getting a good grasp on the whole, growing mix of social media options. AND it means really, really understanding what works well for YOUR type of business or organization.  By “what works well”, I mean measuring its effectiveness, by using factors such as increase in tourist market share, decrease in cost-per-click on your website and so on.
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My favourite social travel site is tripadvisor.com.  A cursory look at the number of discussion topics on each Indian Ocean destination, shows that there are opportunities to improve online conversations. Madagascar is still starting up, but Mauritius and Seychelles have some ways to go to catch up to Sri Lanka and Maldives.

Aim to improve Customer Experience, not just Customer Service

We all remember the ‘5 star destination with 3 star customer service’ reputation that Seychelles attracted in the 90s.  Things have changed, but is it because Seychelles has newer and better hotels, with lots of foreign, contracted workers?  If so, be honest that things have not really changed at a more fundamental level.  I think visiting Seychelles is still NOT an extraordinary experience like the example I described last week!  This is where there is real opportunity to improve, but it involves the most in terms of time, sweat and money!

So, how can Seychelles be made into a uniquely extraordinary experience?  Unique in that it will stand out relative to the competition? Extraordinary in that it will engage all of people’s senses, that they will really think this is a very special place?  Here are a few thoughts:



Seychelles’ Nature: The growth of hotels behind gates and fences in Seychelles makes tourists content with staying within the grounds of the hotel for their whole stay.  A tourist needs, however, to experience “Seychelles”, not “a Hilton in Seychelles”!  Anyone who has done a bit of global traveling will tell you that unplanned diversions from travel plans often lead to surprisingly pleasant experiences.  So, while you need to work on making Seychelles’ stunning beaches, hikes, gardens, nature reserves and marine parks as interesting and as accessible as possible, one of the bigger challenges is bringing Seychelles nature to the non-seekers!  As a simple example, I love “prune du pays” (flacourtia rukam) and “cherimolia” (annona cherimola) but they have become rare over the years.  Wouldn’t it be great if hotels and guest-houses in Seychelles include Seychelles fruits and endemic plants in their landscaping program – and clearly label these so as to draw the attention of innocent tourists walking by?  A conversation will ensue, and maybe an interest in tasting a juice from one of the fruits.  That might even lead to an interest in discovering a local market!  I would even go further to suggest that our local environmentalists give short sunset talks at hotels.  They can share Seychelles’ nature with a non-seeking audience who, I strongly believe, will love it..
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Seychelles’ Food & Drinks: I’m going to start by taking my hat off to Takamaka Bay for what they have done over a relatively short period to come up with a ‘new’ Seychelles experience.  I will also take my hat off to the Boat House (in Beau Vallon) and other truly Seychelles food and drink experiences that have grown in recent times.  Way more effort is needed to make sure Seychelles cuisine is promoted vigorously with tourists.  They need to desire the experience – at their hotels or outside – without the need for a tour bus ride to Marie Antoinette!  I suspect local entrepreneurs have found restaurants challenging to run, especially since tourists tend to stay in hotels at night.  But try a different formula.  I noticed the busiest stalls at bazaar labrin were the food ones.  I am always amazed at the great selection of super tasty, authentic dishes offered by the booming lunchtime food takeaways!  So try a combination of these two successes similar to the hawker centres of Singapore and Hong Kong.  Having a few food takeaway operators under one roof allows a variety of food to be served.  It also lowers the rent and staffing costs, with the convenience of having room for people – both local and visiting – to sit and enjoy the dining out experience.  Food providers of such a food centre can form tourist marketing groups and get onto social media so that by the time tourists land in Seychelles, they have read the raving reviews of such “local” eating spots on the Internet!

Seychelles’ History, Traditions & Culture: One of my favourite countries to visit is Turkey, partly because of its rich history.  Seychelles does not have such a deep history, but it needs to make up for this by accentuating the little history it has.  For example, did Seychelles miss out on an opportunity to play the “Pirates of Indian Ocean” card in the heyday of the Pirates of the Caribbean film frenzy (and I mean the olden day type pirate, not the Somalian parasites).  I think Seychelles gets more bang for the buck by extracting from such authentic history than from creating new experiences such as Carnavale, where it is competing with more traditional events in Rio or Trinidad.  Nevertheless, not only is Seychelles’ history with pirates like La Buse “The Buzzard” poorly exploited, but I have seen many historical sites on Mahe in poor condition.  It all boils down to poor investment and/or poor marketing, and therefore, an inability to make money from such historical icons.  The country needs to get much better at building profitable businesses around THEMES.  If you want an example, simply head to La Plaine Ste Andre, where a well-preserved traditional house has been given a new, profitable lease on life!  It really doesn’t have to be anything grand.  BIG accents on SMALL BITS of our culture give tourists enough to talk about as a uniquely Seychelles experience.  I am not aware of a traditional “camion” bus for tourists – at least not on Mahe.  Nor could I find ANY pictures of one on the Internet.  So, I have started a Facebook campaign to make sure we don’t forget this one (I need your help with this, so go to the Facebook page)!
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Seychelles Escape & Fantasy: Remember when Seychelles was the dream destination of many Europeans?  Unfortunately, I get the impression that Maldives has stolen this spot.  But the country can still make sure tourists enjoy an element of escapism when they visit Seychelles.  Some tourists will find this at the relaxing spas and yogic meditation that many of the new hotels offer, aptly surrounded by the peace and lushness of the islands.  Some of you may know of the old American TV series Fantasy Island. I had to watch a few old episodes to visualize escapism at its best!  Do tourists dream of secluded beaches all to themselves?  Do they dream of sleeping under the stars?  Of living on the beach, like modern Robinson Crusoes?  Maybe swimming with turtles?  Just look at the desert safaris of Dubai or the luxury safaris of Africa and wonder if Seychelles cannot build its own “Desert Island Night-time Safari” trend!  It should be comfortable - almost luxurious – with the exception of certain modern conveniences.  For example, sleeping in very comfortable and bug-free luxury tents, but without electricity; the noise and lights of generators would interfere with star-gazing!

Notice how I did not really focus on customer service, per se!  Seychelles definitely needs to keep a close eye on this and make sure to replace that old reputation with ‘5 star customer service’.  However, my aim is to push the discussion and work beyond this.

Adding value so that she IS selling "Made in Seychelles"?

I sarcastically included “Made in China” in the title of my article because I am really not sure that enough is being doing to add real Seychelles value to the tourism industry.  Ironically, I suspect most of the souvenirs that tourists buy are not even made in Seychelles.  It’s only by exposing tourists to, say, traditional fishing - with fish traps – that a tourist will want to buy a souvenir kazye (creole for “fish trap”), which will in fact be made in Seychelles.  The country and tourism service providers need to try harder to innovate on their offerings to give tourists that elusive exceptional experience – the 40% effort I argued.  As this gets closer, it is so much easier to manage marketing communications (30%), satisfy and get the best out of your channels (20%) and let your brand proposition (10%) almost speak for itself.  Take a page from the successful playbooks of Las Vegas, of Apple and of Ikea - continuously seek to add value to the customer experience before anything else, and the success will be both profitable and long-lasting.

Dedicated to my late mother Doreen Bresson who saw the opening and start-up of the Lémuria Seychelles hotel, and adopted a motherly love for all who worked there!

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  1. This is an interesting article where you make some salient observations. I like your framework for value addition though I think I would apportion more weight towards "Brand Management and Proposition". The rational being the brand image has to last for a considerable amount of time and evoke a sense urgency for repeat purchase. It is somewhat surreal when you see people lining up to buy new Apple products even though they are fully aware it's a marketing gimmick.

    I also agree with the notion of creating an all encompassing experience which goes beyond the lovely beaches and pristine waters. Gently helping visitors understand and appreciate Seychelles' unique elements like flora and fauna, cuisine goes a long way in creating a memorable experience.

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  2. Thank you for the comment Arindam. You might have a point re more weight on brand management, but organizations easily fall into the trap of overspending on brand image, hence my emphasis on fixing the nuts & bolts of the product offering (some reports suggest that the iphone is losing market share to galaxy for exactly this reason). K

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