Seychelles foresees an economic crisis worse than the one brought by the COVID-19 pandemic with the impact of the Russia and Ukraine conflict on its eastern European tourism markets, said a top official on Friday.
The Minister for Tourism, Sylvestre Radegonde, said that the conflict will affect tourism arrivals from Russia, currently Seychelles' leading tourism market.
In 2021, the market brought 32,000 tourists to Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean.
Seychelles tapped into the eastern European markets after a downturn in travel caused by the COVID-19 affected arrivals from traditional markets in western Europe, namely Germany, France, and Italy.
"International flights operated by Aeroflot, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines are still connecting Russia with Seychelles. Looking at the current figures, we see that there have been some cancellations, but not to the level we thought they would be. With the war on its eighth day, sanctions placed by the U.S. and EU countries are still fresh and as such have not fully kicked in. When they do, we will truly see the impacts," said Radegonde.
The tourism department noted that Aeroflot is still coming in at almost full occupancy and close to 250 passengers landed in Seychelles on Friday. However, Russian visitors are disembarking in Seychelles with cash only, as payments through SWIFT, MasterCard, and VisaCard are no longer possible for them due to the imposed sanctions.
"As the sanctions bite in, you will see that Aeroflot will naturally stop operating, but this will not mean that Russians will not come to Seychelles. Russians will find other means to reach Seychelles," said Radegonde.
He further noted that there is also a risk of Russian-owned businesses in Seychelles ceasing their operations in the country if their head office is based in Russia. Overnight, hundreds of Seychellois might find themselves without a job as these businesses will not be able to pay salaries because of the sanctions.
There are currently two Russian-owned tourism establishments in Seychelles – Savoy and Coral Strand – with the third one under construction.
Ukraine, currently Seychelles' fourth leading market, has closed its airspace.
"To be able to leave Ukraine for a holiday to Seychelles, they really have to be willing to do so. Their priority right now is security. Local tourism establishments have shared with us today that there are clients calling from bunkers to cancel their reservations," said Radegonde.
He added that although there are cancellations from the two countries, new bookings from western European countries are filling in the spaces as restrictions have been lifted. France is currently Seychelles' second leading market.
The tourism department is also eyeing countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia as a way to diversify and supplement its basket should things worsen in Europe.
With the current situation, Seychelles will not attain its 258,000 visitors arrival goal set for 2022.