|Nirmal Shah and Alain St. Ange|
The sun, sea and sand marketing formula has dominated the entire tourism spectrum in Seychelles since the 70’s and is still the dominant brand positioning.
As I pointed out back in 1995 in the book “Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Seychelles”, the sun, sea and sand paradigm is difficult to get away from because the typical European tourist is a runaway from the cold. And, as I said in the book, “heat-seeking tourists are beach-seeking tourists.” This has led to hotels being constructed on the sea front so as to get “windows and doors to the beach”.
Increasingly, high-end resorts have been built around the prime beaches in such a way that beach access by persons other than hotel guests could become either difficult or impossible. Beaches up to the high water mark are legally classed as public domain under the Civil Code of Seychelles. Whilst hotels are supposed to provide go-through to beaches which front their properties, access can still be a bug-bear for normal citizens. Security guards, mostly foreign nationals, have been accused of racism, with even people wanting to avail of hotel bars and restaurants complaining of being turned away for seemingly no other reason than being “Seychellois of colour”.
Recently, the Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mr. Alain St. Ange took this thorny subject on board, particularly after bitter letters to the press. The Minister was willing to answer my queries on his take on this ongoing national debate and his negotiations with hotels.
Minister, why is beach access to the Seychellois public so important?
“Two very important reasons guide our Ministry's views on this sensitive issue. Firstly as Seychellois, access to our beaches is taken as our birth right. Our beaches remain one of our unique selling points (USP) of our country. We use it to entice visitors to our shores, and if they are such a national asset, our people must have a right to enjoy these beaches. It has also always been a tradition for the Seychellois to use their beaches as family picnic sites, this is an expected right that needs to be protected”.
What are the difficulties that tourism establishments face regarding provision of beach access?
What legislation governs public access to hotels?
“This is simple. Any establishment with restaurant and bar that have been granted a public license must be open to the public. Public access is restricted to these facilities. Hotel's lounges for hotel guests only and other facilities they are providing for their in-house guests remain out of bound to the general public. But having a public license comes with its responsibility to serve the public”.
When can hotels legitimately deny access to the public?
“A person who does not comply with the regulations of a hotel can be denied access. This can be the dress code as it can be for disturbing the peace or annoying the other guests. The public facilities of an establishment can also be closed for a private function such as a wedding of a private party, then it is only those invited for the function who can get access”.