The story of African island, Seychelles, reeks of resourcefulness. Located farther into the Indian Ocean than even Madagascar, it is extremely isolated from mainland Africa, a seeming dis-advantage. But the tiny country has converted this to a significant positive, repositioning itself as one of the leading tourism destinations on the continent.

It’s geographic positioning and isolation from other continental buddies has forced it to find creative ways to thrive economically, and with its limited population, domestic resource mobilization by way of taxes would not yield much. Also, very typical of islands, Seychelles has little or natural resources like crude oil, gold and other precious minerals. Thus, the small state has come to rely heavily, in fact solely, on tourism.

This has been the case since it completed its international airport four decades ago, and now, Seychelles is the top destination for tourists in Africa, attracting 230,272 tourists in 2013. Revenues from this sector also soar beyond hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Tourism now accounts for 70 percent of foreign exchange earnings.

Kenya’s CapitalFM recently interviewed Rose-Marie Hoareau, Marketing Director of the Seychelles Tourism Board, and drew significant insights regarding what steps the island state has taken to position itself as a preferred destination for continental and international tourists.

Be flexible to market changes: This must be one of the standard operating procedures of any kind of business, and tourism is no exception.

“Seychelles used to be very dependent on the European market. But when the recession hit in Europe our numbers started to decline. So we had to look elsewhere. This is when we started courting the Chinese and the Indian markets and we now have these two emerging markets doing wonders for us,” Hoareau said.

According to her, Chinese arrivals to Seychelles have grown by 207 percent, a direct result of proper positioning in the right market.

Understand Market Needs and Expand Product Offering in Tandem: This also goes without saying that the wrong product in the right market is as much a mismatch as the right product in the wrong market.

“For example the Chinese needs may be very different from what the Europeans like. Traditionally, sun and sea was not what the Chinese were looking for. So we had to promote the eco-tourism for them, the flora and fauna and the hiking,” she said.

Nimble Visa Policy: Her remarks on this topic were pretty straight forward; “From day one, we have had no-visa policy. This is because tourism is the pillar of our economy. So if you want people to come and visit you, you need to make it easy to do so; and visa processing can be sometimes very long and tedious.”

Copying this in its entirety might be difficult for other countries, but there is some truth in the argument above and tourist countries have to keep seeking ways to ease the visa acquisition process.

Leverage the Media to Tell your Story: Great networking and partnership with local and international media, not to forget the social media itself, is key to projecting a brand attractive enough to draw in customers. “In the context of Seychelles, we are very small and that means we have very conservative budget to work with. That is no excuse. So, we have to create a strong rapport that will make that person at the big media house tell our story,” she concluded.

By Emmanuel Iruobe

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