Alain St. Ange needs no introduction on the global stage when he walks into any tourism related event or occasion. Name and face recognition makes it easy to pick him out from the crowd. He certainly owes this fame to his passion for tourism and the contributions that he has made over the years to tourism development and promotion; first in his native country, Seychelles, second, Africa and of course, at the world platform. He was a former mega minister of some sorts in his country where he held the combined portfolio of Minister for Tourism, Ports, Aviation and Marine.
However, his journey into the world of tourism didn’t start from the top but rather from the bottom. Inspired and motivated by his father, who is also a notable figure in his country’s tourism, St. Ange took after his father, working his way from the bottom to the very top of the ladder.
From being a resort manager at Dennis Island at some point, and working with the Mason Group, he moved into the public arena for what was supposed to be for a short contract term but it eventually turned out to be a long haul as the government was unwilling to let him go having seen his acumen and the path to success that he has charted for the country’s tourism through public and private sector partnership among others.
He started out with the tourism board and was charged with the marketing of the coun- try. At the expiration of the six months con- tract, he was offered the position of the Chief Executive Officer of the board. A position he used to the fullest by putting Seychelles on the global tourism map. In later years he was appointed a minister, first of tourism and later he earned the combined portfolio of Marine, Port, Aviation and Tourism. At the end of his tenure, which ended on a celebratory and successful note, he moved to the world stage where he had the opportunity to contest for the coveted position of the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
This adventure turned soured as his country, somehow, in conjunction with some forces at African Union (AU) mismanaged the whole process, resulting in aborting his ambition as he was somehow forced to drop out of the race. Years later, he contested for the presidency of his country and lost out.
Thereafter, he re-launched himself back to the tourism world, which has been his first love; where really his soul and heart as well as body truly belong fully. He was part of the African Tourism Board (ATB) from its inception, serving as its president at some point. Today, he runs Saint Ange Tourism Consultancy and actively in- volved in tourism at the global level. He was recently signed as international consultant by the government of Ghana.
Involvement with Seychelles tourism
He recalls with nostalgic feeling his early engagement with Seychelles tourism by the government, disclosing that, “I came in at the time when Seychelles needed help. Before that, I was at Denis Island where I was employed to rebuild the resort on the Island. I was working with the Masons Group and responsible for their hotels including Denis.”
One of the landmarks recorded during his time as the CEO of the tourism board was initiating regular dialogue with the private sector, as he recalls that, ‘‘this initiative opened the door for the private sector and the government to support my efforts. When I went back to the government and the private sector was also at the table, we agreed that we needed to remove too much bureaucracy.”
Focusing on the people
While he is noted for his famous philosophy of, “visibility in tourism is suc- cess. If you are not visible, you fade out,” one other thing he was noted for was ensuring that the people formed core of the tourism offerings of his country. He reflects on this, “back in the late 1970s, when the Irish Tourism Board took over the Seychelles Tourism Board and instituted the Tourism Board, we had said we needed to put more than just the beauty of the islands (sun, sea and sand) at the forefront. ‘‘We needed to have culture, which is the people.
We needed people to get involved and this amalgamated tourism showed that we had more depth in what we were saying we were. Because culture also means music, dancing, the food and the diversity of our people that gave us a lot of advantage.”
A commitment to rewriting Africa’s narrative
Working with people of like minds during COVID-19 era, the need to put Africa tourism at the global level was pursued vigourously through ATB, as he reveals the driving force behind ATB. “We said, let us bring Africa together; tourism boards and private sector organisations together, for us to re-write our own narrative,” he says, stressing that there was the need to talk about the good things that were happening in the continent by Africans themselves and promoting the continent as a single destination through those narratives.
“And we have a lot of good things that happen in Africa. But we are unable to say them because we are divided in our approach. And often times we are fighting our own little battles forgetting that if we fought a battle as a continent, we would all succeed,” he notes. He shares his thought on African tourism further, stressing in terms of inbound that Africa has a lot of potentials.
He, however, laments the fact that, according to official statistics, Africa gets just about six percent of world travellers, noting that, “this is sad for the continent.” This is as he adds, ‘‘Sun, sea and sand, safaris, waterfalls, historical sights, you name it, Africa has many unique selling points, however, sooner or later, Africa needs to speak with one voice for its tourism industry to thrive.
‘‘Regional bodies, for example, the Vanilla Islands (Indian Ocean), East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, Northern Africa and more could all come together, have a chairman who could speak to the African Union and put Africa into a new dimension. It is a dream for Africa, but a possible dream.’’ With a united Africa, he notes that visa issues and travel across the borders would be swift.
Remix of Saint Ange Tourism Consultancy
Through St. Ange Tourism Consultancy he has become fully engaged with the world as he is actively working with tourism boards, ministers of tourism and also the private sector groupings all over Africa and in the ASEAN Block. He speaks of the various works he does across the world, noting that, “it also gives me an insight into the continent and as the Deputy Secretary-General of FORSEAA (Forum of Small Medium Economic AFRICA ASEAN) and the new Vice President of Egypt- based African –Asian Union. I am well placed.’’
Seychelles tourism prospect
On Seychelles tourism prospect, he has high hopes, as he says, “every minister will guide his ministry to what he believes in. Often, it is not just the minister but the government of the day that sets avenues/areas of focus.’’ While emphasising that tourism will be the mainstay of Seychelles economy for many years to come, he discloses that Seychelles need to, ‘‘breath tourism, live tourism, sleep tourism, eat tourism and basically do everything tourism as it is the number one pillar of the economy.
“If there is one thing that will get us to realise the importance of tourism, just go back a few years ago, when there was COVID-19 pandemic and almost no commercial planes were arriving; and how we were so desperate for tourism arrivals.”
If there is one thing that he has aplenty, it is global recognition and awards as he has over the years earned global acceptance, leading to awards from different organisations for the work that he does in the tourism world. These awards ranges from the ‘Plaque of Honour’ at the House of Lords, London to the Key to the City Awards in the USA. There is the ‘Life-time Achievement Award for Promotion of the Travel Trade’ by Pacific Area Writers Association, an Affiliate Member of the UNWTO at ITB Tourism Trade Fair in Berlin, Germany in March this year.
On the awards, he says, “it all shows that people appreciate what I do and how I do it. During the Tourism Week celebrations of September 2017, the Seychelles Tourism Board presented me with a ‘Certificate of Recognition’ for the valuable contribution to Seychelles’ Tourism industry as Seychelles Tourism Board Director of Marketing and Chief Executive Officer and as Seychelles’ Minister of Tourism.
“But, the success is not just by me, I got the private sector to work with me and the government to understand me, Seychelles was a team work and working as one with us, the team at the Tourism Board. That was and is so important. You need the private sector to feel heard, and to also appreciate the challenges they face. “I understand every segment of it which is why I receive many requests to travel around the world and I enjoy it. “Apart from politics, I have lived, worked, ate, slept and still live tourism.’’
Message for Seychelles
St. Ange message to his people is direct and very clear, as he says, ‘‘to the people of Seychelles; appreciate tourism. It is our bread, butter and the jam on top.’’