It’s not often that I have the chance to interact with someone who speaks so passionately about travel, tourism, and the people behind the ‘business of it.’ But, from the moment Alain St. Ange began to answer my interview questions, it was more than apparent he feels every single word he says.
The day has just ended, along with St. Ange’s meeting with Taleb Rifai, where he tosses his hat into the ring, bidding on a win to become the next UNWTO Secretary General. To say that he’s bursting with an infectious energy and excitement over the future in world tourism is an understatement, for sure.
The fact that St. Ange is also a humble man, and honored with the opportunity that stands in front of him, cements my opinion that he should, indeed, win the election in May.
In your time spent as Minister for Tourism and Culture in Seychelles, can you share a few highlights that you are most proud of/pleased with?
We believe that culture is at the very heart of tourism, Theresa and that people are its center. Without people, tourism dies. It is nothing. You can have a 5-star hotel, yes, even a place to come experience breathtaking beauty and environmental sustainability. But, if you are missing the ‘people’ part, in sharing that country’s culture, you are an empty industry.
I have been able to work closely with my colleagues, in promoting tourism, and in sharing the basic belief that tourism must be good for everyone, it must benefit every country and all people in the world. I’ve cultivated relationships with environmental representatives, ministers, dignitaries, and other governmental agencies. Collectively, we remain steadfast, in our belief that the culture of tourism needs to trickle down to said country’s people.
So, let me tell you this ~ I am a happy man. I can state this truth ~ I have watched the men and women of Seychelles reclaim their country’s travel industry. They are proud and passionate, happy to share the culture of our country with others.
What is it that you love about your country, Alain? As a traveler myself, why should I come to visit Seychelles over another country?
We call this place “ The Lost Paradise.” Our country is clean, the waters are clear.
The countryside has lush vegetation and our population of 90,000 is, in its entirety, a good custodian. Our people are passionate, in making any visitor feel as if they are home.
We have opened our arms wide and we embrace everyone. You are not a color, or a sex, or a religious belief in Seychelles. You are a person. Again, Theresa, it comes back to the ‘people’ part of it.
After the airport officially opened in the early ’70’s, we realized how greatly our need was for tourism. It is our life-blood. Indeed, we are home to numerous sandy beaches and colorful coral reefs. We vehemently protect our nature reserves and rare animals, such as the Aldabra tortoise. We are proud, when we speak of having the most beautiful rain forests, in Morne Seychellois National Park.
Luxury travel, to us, is not a high-end hotel stay. It is the entire experience while you are here in our country. We are intent on making your visit personal. We do not want tourism to ever become a numbers game. We don’t ever want to become a tourist trap. We want people to come here today, tomorrow, even ten years from now, for the experience. Our focus has always been in sharing our home. We strive to make you feel at peace when you visit, and we want you to miss us dearly before you even leave our shores to return to your country.
Again, it is the people of Seychelles who bring the color, the very heart, and soul of our country, to the forefront of tourism.
Let’s talk about sustainability for a moment. How has your country become a role model, in the efforts to conserve natural resources? What can your industries/businesses teach other countries, in supporting long-tern ecological balance? What are some of your practices?
I can tell you that we are a world leader in sustainable tourism. Our environmental legislation is very strict, Theresa, and every single tourism project must undergo environmental reviews and lengthy processes of talks and consultations, with both the public and conservationists. It is not an easy thing, to just come here and start a tourism project. It takes time. We all, every single one of us, have the right to a clean environment. We must also, as a united people, feel the obligation to take care of our environment. Seychelles is proud to say that much of our land is under natural conservation.
And with our sustainable tourism, we must act as a whole. We need to be certain that the villages, the people of these villages, where tourism projects are approved, can actually support the growth.
Mr. St. Ange, what made you decide to throw your hat in the ring, announcing your formal candidacy to become the next Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization? Furthermore, you must have big plans for the future of your country and world tourism in general – can you share any opportunities you would act on in this new position?
I have been in the hospitality industry for a very long time, Theresa. I studied both Tourism and Hotel Management in Germany and France. I have worked in restaurants and hotels, both in my country of Seychelles, the Channel Islands and in Australia.
I have also been Director of Marketing for Seychelles and C.E.O. of the Seychelles Tourism Board. I was elected to Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture in 2012. I promise you, I come with a good deal of experience.
When I learned that Talib Rifai would be stepping away from his position, I waited and watched, but for only a short time. This makes sense to me. I am the man for this job. I am a leader and feel that I will be the man to rally people of the world, men, and women from every country, to come to the table for a talk.
I am passionate about tourism. My life in Seychelles proves that. We embrace everyone. We can help guide all countries, in moving forward with their own ideas for world tourism. The world must come together. We must connect and need to embrace each others’ ideas.
How do we navigate the challenges in this bold, new world of tourism? With a perfect dialect, at a table that is big enough for all of us. We need to be united. There is only one industry of tourism, not two.
Seychelles’ success story has been this; We have been friends of all, enemies of none. We have open arms and invite everyone in. There is no one left out. We have learned that working together makes us strong and we have become a destination in our own right. We want this for the rest of the world. Let every single country become a destination in their own right.
Let us work side by side. Let each of us come to the table and embrace a dialog for the future of tourism, the economics, and sustainability of travel. I believe it is critical, that we rally and become one.
When I researched the flag of Seychelles, I saw brilliant colors of blue, yellow, red, white and green. Of course, I looked into what each symbolized to the people.
Seychelles is a truly dynamic country, as was testified to in my interview with Alain St. Ange. Always working to move ahead, into what they believe is a bright future. The band of blue is a reminder of the sea and sky. Yellow, for the sun, reminding one of life, gifted to the land and its people. The color red represents Seychelles’ natives, as well as their heartfelt determination to work towards the future, in unity and love. Seychelles has opened their arms wide, embracing everyone in the world. The white of this flag represents social justice and harmony, while the band of green draws attention to fertile land and natural environment.
It is a perfect flag for this country. And, Alain St. Ange is the perfect man for Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. (UNWTO)