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Silhouette, the Seychelles island man never managed to tame
Today, the paradise-like island of Silhouette is mostly known as a small but exotic and luxurious tourist destination. In 2011, Hilton took over management of the main hotel on the island - formerly known as Labriz - making it the US company's Seychelles flagship.
The resort is truly impressive; built into the landscape between a white sandy beach, palm forests and granite rocks. With 111 rooms - all in bungalows and villas - and a majestic "presidential villa" dotted into a landscape spreading out 1.8 kilometres, visitors are surprised to find five restaurants, a giant pool, a luxury spa, a diving centre and more services well hidden into the landscape, with a unique elegance and uppermost taste.
Sanjay Nair, sales and marketing chief of Hilton Seychelles, however has no problem recognising that even this great complex has already lost out to nature. "Nature rules even at the small spot occupied by the hotel," he told afrol News, referring to the fact that almost the entire island outside hotel premises is a national park; even including the reefs and waters off Silhouette's coast.
Nature's own limits and environmental concerns - strictly enacted by Seychellois authorities -
A mid-age couple from Cologne, Germany, on its second stay at Labriz/Hilton told afrol News they found the resort and Silhouette "paradise-like" and "humane", despite the "stiff prices". While other Germans had complained about a "laidback service", they explain, they themselves found the service "better than in other tropical destinations." Especially, they were impressed by the interaction of nature and luxury and the hotel's "efforts to be self-sustained."
As the hotel management acknowledges that nature already has won before they got started, maybe the Labriz/Hilton resort has found the key to survive in this gorgeous but hostile environment. Will eco-tourism be the key to sustain a long-term livelihood on Silhouette?
The spa resort on the island is already a commercial success with high occupancy rates. But it is not the first business initially doing it well on Silhouette island, so there seem to be no guarantees.
From pirates to rich plantations
The first to reach Silhouette were pirates in the 18th century. These rough inhabitants never managed to establish a permanent settlement on the island. Myth has it that luck soon run out for the pirates, with corsair Jean-François
The first golden age of Silhouette came in the early 19th century, with the French-Mauritian Dauban family taking possession of the island and making it the centre of a business empire. The Dauban family brought in large numbers of workers, establishing plantations on great part of the island. Mainly spices were grown, with high world market prices providing large revenues for the family.
This provided for a major trade empire, influential throughout the Indian Ocean region. The Dauban family managed to live in great luxury, with its restored plantation house and an impressive family mausoleum still found on the island. Plantation workers colonised great parts of the island.
But luck run out on the Dauban family, which had to sell off its island property in 1960. With a vanishing business, also the island's population was reduced and more concentrated to the village La Passe. Today, ruins of small-scale farms and paths from this era, now taken back by nature, are found all over Silhouette - offering good hiking opportunities.
New colonisation attempts
According to current Island Manager Gilbert Esparon, only a handful of Silhouette's current inhabitants can trace their origins to the first golden era. Rather, a new attempt to establish mainly fruit plantations in the 1960s by the island's new owners led to a massive new recruitment of new workers from Mahé i
But also the new plantations went bad. In 1983, according to Mr Esparon, the owners were forced to sell the island to a group of French investors hoping to establish new plantations and otherwise develop business in Silhouette. Also that attempt failed within months.
By then - Seychelles had gained independence from Britain in 1976 - the socialist government bought Silhouette from the failed French investors, nationalising the island. A government-owned Island Development Company (IDC) was established, effectively taking over administration of Silhouette. The IDC still controls the island, and Mr Esparon himself is appointed by the state company.
The state company tried to promote both socio-economic development on the impoverished island and to create a revenue-generating plantation economy on Silhouette. Fruit and vegetable production was encouraged and a larger poultry farm was set up at the location of today's Hilton resort.
Shifting towards eco-tourism
Suddenly, the ICD gave up its business concept. In the 1990s, as the tourism sector already had been the main industry of Seychelles for two decades, and government permitted the establishment of the Silhouette Island Lodge at the site of the poultry farm. Parts of the island were protected and nature conservation programmes were introduced. Farmers were recruited to the new programmes, directed by the ICD, and more and more farm lands were abandoned.
Nature was starting to take over the island again. In 1997, the non-governmental organisation Nature Protect
Mr Gerlach tells afrol News that conservation efforts started at zero in 1997, but following large efforts by the NGO, several endemic species have recovered from near-extinction on Silhouette, including the sheath-tailed bat, the two giant tortoises and the coco-de-mer palm. The efforts were crowned in August 2010, as 93 percent of Silhouette was declared a national park. But Mr Gerlach himself cannot celebrate, as the ICD in 2011 decided to oust his organisation from Silhouette, presenting a bitter end to yet another initially successful project here.
Meanwhile, the island lodge had failed in its efforts. An investor from the Maldives, A M Didi, in 2005 took over the abandoned property and started constructing a luxury resort at the site. The Labriz Hotel was inaugurated in early 2007 and became an instant success. Its fame soon became as great that the US giant Hilton in March 2011 took over the hotel's management as its Seychelles flagship.
By the 2000s, Silhouette is an island totally dominated by mostly pristine forests and farmlands re-conquered by nature; with coconut forests dominating the coast-near region and rainforests with a great variety of species dominating the mountains.
Only the area close to La Passe is o
Villagers are employed as caretakers of the national park, but also some are working at the hotel. La Passe has twelve school age children and ten teachers. At the only other settlement of Silhouette, Grand Barbe, three persons live and are employed by the ICD as caretakers of some government villas.
Mr Esparon does not agree when asked if villagers are given fake jobs to keep unemployment artificially low. But he agrees that there are "few incentives to work" as everything is provided and people can cultivate small spots and fish. Villagers are not willing to speak to journalists, with a source not wanting to be named saying that people fear to be expelled from the island by the all-powerful ICD if they complain in media, saying this had recently happened and was now happening with Mr Gerlach.
But living standards in La Passe without doubt are favourable and life comfortable. Gone are the days of hard labour on plantations as the population lives from eco-tourism - directly or indirectly from the new revenues of the ICD.
La Passe is located close to the ferry terminal - operated by the Hilton Hotel - next to the plantation house of the Dauban family. From here, small electric vehicles take travellers t
And despite all the bad omens and stories of failed projects on Silhouette, bold French investors opened a lodge in early 2011 at one of the island's most idyllic beaches. With three villas containing nine rooms, manager Cedric Lazarus and assistant Katarina Lalikova hope to tempt tourists with personal service and French cuisine made only from local products.
Ms Lalikova says it has taken years to establish the Belle Tortue lodge at this paradise beach, with the best balcony views found on the island. They plan to organise big game fishing and other marine activities, hoping they can capitalise from the new popularity Silhouette is gaining among international travellers.
Also at Belle Tortue, nature is the main attraction and nature is encroaching on the small property. And also this lodge is pricy and focuses on the luxury market. So this may be the key for the final conquest of Silhouette - letting nature take control and as such pleasing visitors. Maybe sustainability has been the island's condition to play along with mankind all along?
Hilton operates a ferry shuttle twice a day from Bel Ombre (Mahé) with irregular schedules. The price is rupees 1000, including the use of Hilton facilities. But you need to book the trip at least one day in advance (tel: +248-293949).
The only opt
The lodge offers a classy French cuisine made by local products. At the resort, there are four speciality restaurants (Japanese, Italian, Asian and Creole cuisine), in addition to the standard restaurant and a pizzeria. Both sites have bars, with the Hilton resort even having live music entertainment several evenings each week.
Snorkling is possible along the coast, having one of the best reefs among Seychelles' inner islands. At the Hilton, there is also PADI diving. The resort also offers guides for long and short walks into the forests and along the coast. Both resorts offer big game fishing. The Hilton in addition has a spa, massage services, a fitness centre, sauna and other wellness facilities. The main activity among visitors however is sunbathing, swimming and gourmet eating - relaxing in wonderful environs, in short.
By staff writer
© afrol News
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