Seychelles, Republic of: Interview with Mr Guillaume Albert

Mr Guillaume Albert

General Manager (Creole Travel Services)

Mr Guillaume Albert

As a beautiful paradise in the Indian Ocean, Seychelles competes with many other island nations across the globe, from South East Asia to the Caribbean, as well as with nearby countries such as the Maldives. Nevertheless, you’ve managed to position yourselves as one of the top tourism destinations worldwide. What competitive and comparative advantages sets this country apart from its main competitors?

Here in Seychelles we’re a melting pot of an interesting mix of ethnicities. My ancestors were French; some of them moved to Mauritius, some to Seychelles, some are still in France. I think it would be a bit presumptuous to say that we have everything here without having seen what’s out there in the world. You always need to have this ability to benchmark yourself in order to position your product in a worldwide context. However there is a profound uniqueness about the Seychelles and it can be argued, especially in the current international context, that they match the description of one of the last paradise on earth.  It's a destination that has a lot of rare diversity within its islands as you hop form one to another. We can go from Mahe with its very high lush mountains to Praslin, with its World UNESCO Heritage Site, the Valleé de Mai. You have the island of La Digue where you can admire the famous Anse Source d’Argent beach and its worldwide-famous ancient granite boulder.

The notion of safety, which takes a lot of significance these days, is an important factor that contributes to the heavenly aura to the Seychelles.  Our Islands are not in any particular conflict, be it international economics, be it border crisis, be it religious wars. We have managed for many years to discretely prosper in peace. Unfortunately, steady development for a small and fragile island community brings with it new social problem inherent of emerging economies. It is therefore very important, as a first priority, that we strive to preserve our beauty and innocent way of life. Seychelles does not want to fall one day in the “lost paradise” category.

It's good that we have a flexible sky strategy but it must also be contained. We have seen those destinations that have gone too far into opening the sky to charter flights, leading to a flux of mass tourism which can lead to destroy the identity of a country, especially one depending strongly on tourism income. In Seychelles, we have tried to manage this sensibly, and we try to keep it this way because mass tourism would be devastating for the islands. Both geographically and economically.

Going back to the question, we are very proud of being a well-preserved country. Seychelles is not your regular postcard picture where it's only about the sun, the beach and the sea; there's more to the Seychelles. We really must keep it that way.

I myself am part of associations which are in constant dialogue with the government carrying the voice of the private sector, and address the true challenges faced by most stakeholders in the Seychelles tourism industry.

Location is a major issue as you are 1,000 miles away from the closest country. We’ve asked this question to ministers when it comes to a country-wide strategy, but as a company: how do you market yourselves to bring tourists to your shores?

That is very interesting because I still think today that we need to streamline our positioning in the world. There have been different approaches in the past; once we tried to put the Seychelles on a pedestal as an elitist destination, which was not a bad approach, but perhaps one that was aiming too high; at some point we had another campaign launched and showcased an “affordable Seychelles”. But I think somewhere along the line the message got mixed, and now there is not a very strong positioning. We are not selling enough the mystical aspect of Seychelles. Here you can go from a beach more beautiful than a Caribbean beach, better preserved and less crowded, and at the same time you can sample mountain areas where you can discover other unique fauna and flora.   

Our Tourism needs to stay sustainable.

Being remotely located, we are in a situation where we need to import substantially. It is beneficial that today we have international brands contributing to the exposure of the Seychelles as a luxury destination around the world. We also need to have more of local establishments that are reasonably priced. That’s why we need to work hard to curb the expenses that are choking the local businesses so the yield can be sustained.

The idea is to maintain this level of class, service and refinement.

Creole Travel Services was born from the 2005 merger of Travel Services Seychelles, which had a 30-year history and Creole Holidays, which was a younger and more dynamic company. The result seems to be the right combination of innovation and experience: can you tell us about how those two philosophies work together?

It all started with Creole Holidays in 1999. We wanted to name it “Creole” as an homage to our unique local culture, all the virtues and values in our services had to be reflective of the natural Seychellois hospitality, and I'm referring back to Seychelles of the 1980s and early ‘90s where there was a genuine pleasure from our inhabitants to meet and welcome visitors from around the world to the country. The Seychellois always carried in their culture this “welcome to my home” disposition. We wanted our services to show this level of warmth and personalized meet and greet. For us, our company and our staff had to be true ambassadors of the creole culture.

We then were humbled to witness a growing amount of interest from overseas tour operators entrusting their clients to us, and Creole gained quickly a sound reputation over the first five/six years of existence.

Our core business is to be a one-stop shop whereby we have a reservation service, a in destination concierge service, Transfers etc… where we facilitate the hotel reservations with the advantage of in-depth destination knowledge. We have our own transfer vehicles, luxury cars, modern coach for those on a budget; we organize tours and excursion fitting all type of budget or requests.

Your family is known for its knack for innovation. In fact, Creole Travel Services recently brought in ‘Penguin’ boats, which are small glass-bottom boats. What is your approach to integrating new technologies to your tourism services?

The world is changing fast today. We merged in 2005, so we had to adapt as we went on. When you go from 60 staff to 300 staff, it's a whole new “deal”. You need to structure departments in a more effective manner, be a bit more meticulous; you have a lot of different source of expenses and if you're not careful you can easily bleed money.

Despite the company growing in size, we wanted to conserve a personal approach to business and to the clients; for the last four years, it's been an exercise of asking ourselves “How can we adapt to a changing market, and to the growing expectation of the clients?” The client is expecting more sophistication. They want more value for money. While we are facing important increases in the cost of doing business in Seychelles.

Our most sizeable but necessary investment has been the creation of an online B2B booking platform, which has taken us 4 years of customization and the creation of an e-commerce department. This is to adapt to the modern booking trend. But Seychelles is not a destination for which you can obtain all the information online. I still believe that despite the technology we're putting in, we must ensure that we still have ambassadors of the destination on our side of the booking requests, a travel consultant that can basically recommend, advice, spend more time with a client on their phone or email or via the platform.

And speaking of important partners for the company, your website states that Creole Travel Services goes hand in hand with your affiliated companies, which there are quite a few. In addition to Travel Services, your family’s group, the JF Albert Group of Companies has many other ventures and many other markets. Can you tell us a bit about how you decide which area, which industry to diversify in?

After it all started with Creole Holidays, our founding chairman, my father, and ourselves realized as we were growing along the tourism industry of Seychelles, that more could be done to complement and benefit the tourism landscape of Seychelles such as better, more affordable inter-island transfers, or more value-for-money, environmental conscious hotels designed in a way so they allow the clients to feel closer to the beautiful natural beauty of Seychelles . Our group decided to take these directions in the investments that ensued.   

eBiz Guides is the premiere guidebook for business globetrotters, I'd like to ask you if you have a message for Seychellois entrepreneurs or from other emerging economies, on how to become successful in an economy that's not as developed or as easy to work in as those where most well-known entrepreneurs come from.

I would say just one thing: Bring in what a country needs and not what you think it needs.