With its pristine beaches and cobalt blue waters, it’s no wonder the Seychelles has caught the imagination of the Middle East market. Monika Grzesik went island hopping to discover more about this Indian Ocean paradise.
We’ve all dreamed about it – jetting off to an island paradise of deserted, powdery white beaches, turquoise blue waters, and a blissed-out island vibe. And the Seychelles; an archipelago of 115 islands scattered in the Indian Ocean certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Demand for the destination from Middle East travellers has started to take off in the past two years, and it’s no wonder. A mere four and-a-half hour hop from the Gulf, with a beautiful year-round climate, no time difference, and some stunningly located hotel properties, the Seychelles is an ideal short-break destination for switching off and getting away from it all; while the dream-like setting has made it a top choice for honeymooners too.
Last year, the Seychelles received 6,370 arrivals from the Middle East, but Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) predicts that this figure will at least double over the next two years.
Increasing flight links from the region mean the Middle East now has the most connections to the Seychelles out of any market. Qatar Airways flies four times a week, Emirates has just increased capacity to one flight daily and there are imminent plans for Etihad to launch route too.
Recent years have seen major Middle East investment into the Seychelles (currently estimated at around US $1.4 billion) in new hotel projects such as Emirates Cap Terney Resort, Kempinski, Raffles and Four Seasons. Ties between the Gulf leaders and the Seychelles are solidifying too. In fact, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa, president of the UAE has chosen the mainland of Mahé for his holiday home – the eight-storey palace, is perched on the highest mountain in Mahé and will offer the Sheikh breathtaking views of the islands and the sparkling waters below.
What to do
The Seychelles has earned a reputation as a frontrunner in ecotourism – almost half of the landmass has been granted protected status as nature reserves. Inland, there are jungle trails to explore and swathes of wilderness housing rare birds and giant tortoises in their natural habitat, as well as some incredible plant life such as the famous ‘Coco de Mer’ – the world’s biggest nut, found only on the Seychelles. And that’s not even to mention the vast underwater world which makes it a top spot for scuba divers and snorkelling.
To capitalise on these natural wonders, STB has launched a new ‘Seychelles brand’ campaign, highlighting its natural attributes.
“An increasing number of tourists are no longer content to just ‘flop and drop’ when on holiday, but are in search of genuine experiences to take home,” explains Alain St.Ange, CEO, STB. “Seychelles is becoming an increasingly attractive holiday option on account of its unprocessed nature. While other destinatinatons have rushed ahead of themselves in catering for tourists and lost much of their identity in doing so, Seychelles has grown its tourism at a gentler pace, and today still reflects much that is traditional and authentic of the age-old island way of living.”
Island-hopping is of course high on the agenda. Many visitors choose a two or three-stop holiday, flying into the mainland of Mahé before heading off to explore one of the larger islands Praslin or La Digue, before ending up on a isolated, one-resort hideaway for that ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience.
In terms of getting about, there are few destinations in the world where travelling from one place to another is quite as exhilarating as the Seychelles. Closer islands to Mahé can be reached by speedboat, while to get to those further afield you can take the inter-island plane transfer on Air Seychelles. Jetting off the mainland and seeing the tiny islands speckled across the turquoise waters below is an experience not to be missed.
From Mahe I flew to Praslin Island, just a 15 minute plane hop away; and then returned to take a boat to Cerf Island – a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean and home to only two hotels.
Where to stay
There are 16 islands to choose from, all differing in character, including 12 island retreats with just a single hotel. Recent development in the hotel sector means there are some idyllic five-star properties to choose including big names like Le Méridien, Banyan Tree and Hilton. For the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity, guests can head to one of the privately-owned islands, run as resorts. At the top-end of the market are Fregate Island and North Island (David Beckham and his wife Victoria recently hired out the whole of North Island for their 10th wedding anniversary).