- Despite the Chikungunya epidemic scaring tourists away from the Indian Ocean during 2006, Seychelles last year received a record number of visitors, according to official figures. Authorities go for further growth, but insist that this rather should be in quality than in quantity.
Seychelles received a record 140,627 visitors last year and would like to see the numbers rise, but not beyond 200,000, authorities said on Wednesday, citing possible risk of environmental degradation if mass tourism is allowed.
The Indian Ocean island nation of 82,000 people is accustomed to receiving more visitors than the country's population. The previous highest number of arrivals was 132,246, in 2002, which was nevertheless followed by a decline to 122,038 in 2003 and a worrisome slump in 2004, when only 120,765 visitors went to Seychelles.
"The figures started picking up in 2005, when we recorded a total of 128,654 arrivals," the director of the National Statistics Bureau (NSB), Laura Ahtime said.
But the country's Vice-President, who is also the Minister for Tourism, Joseph Belmont, cautioned against too many tourists on the islands, which he said offer exclusive beaches.
"Seychelles plans to attract more tourists whilst ensuring that the sustainability of the industry is not compromised," he said, adding that the country's tourism policy provides for a maximum number of 200,000 tourists by 2010.
"One of our main aims is to safeguard an environment that is attractive to both the visitors and Seychellois. There is the drive to increase the number of visitors whilst bearing in mind that there is a limit, going beyond which would be detrimental to the environment," he said.
Commenting on the new record, the chief executive officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Maurice Loustau-Lalanne said: "We are very pleased with the result, as 2006 marked a second-straight year of growth in visitor arrivals. There are a few significant surprises when you look at the figures, such as France and the UK, which have historically been key markets for Seychelles.
"France was certainly affected by the impact that Chikungunya had on the region, and we feel the UK market will rebound with some of the steps taken this year, but all the same we need these markets to perform better in 2007."
Mr Lousteau-Lalanne said that Italy, Germany and all the other markets in Europe performed considerably well, and South Africa, Russia and Eastern Europe have also shown impressive growth, according to information provided by the Seychellois government yesterday.
"We expect more of the same in 2007, and we will continue to try to raise the bar with a target of 10 percent growth in overall arrivals," he said.
Meanwhile, the Chikungunya epidemic - a mosquito-borne disease - has been brought under control in most of the region. The French island of Réunion and nearby Mauritius had been most severely hit by the disease, with much greater impact on their tourism industries. Seychelles and Madagascar registered much fewer cases.
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