Air Seychelles plans to resume flights to Tel Aviv on July 16, said the airline’s top official, the first route to re-open following a near total shut-down of flights due to COVID-19.
The national carrier suspended its flights to Tel Aviv, Israel, in March and to its three regional routes — Mauritius, Mumbai and Johannesburg — following a significant downturn in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, is free of COVID-19 as all 11 patients who once tested positive have fully recovered.
The island nation is gradually easing travel restrictions that were put in place to control the spread of COVID-19. Since June 1, it is accepting visitors from low-risk countries travelling on private jets and chartered flights who will be staying on island resorts.
Air Seychelles’s chief executive, Remco Althuis, told SNA on Friday that the airline will start with one flight per week to Tel Aviv in July and then increase the frequency to at least three per week in August.
“We still believe there is a lot of potential on the Israeli market that is why we wanted to go there, and we know from our tour operators that visitors are eager to come here. But obviously they will want to compare the offer here and the restrictions here versus other markets,” said Althuis.
He added that since its launch last November, the route has performed well with around 120 passengers on each inbound flight. He confirmed that the Air Seychelles flight is booked solid for August, but that seats are still available for July.
A round-trip ticket from Tel Aviv to Seychelles was initially $840 dollars but is now close to $900 following the introduction of the disembarkation levy of $15.
Despite Israel being on the list of low-risk countries, passengers will still need to adhere to local health guidelines and show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test taken in the preceding 48 hours prior to boarding the flight to Seychelles.
Althuis said many countries are struggling with the decision on whether to conduct PCR tests and the impact of this requirement will be known once the flight resumes in five weeks.
Althuis said the airline believes there is a lot of potential on the Israeli market. (Patsy Athanase) Photo License: CC-BY
“What we find is that access to PCR tests is very difficult and expensive and in many countries, you cannot just go and get a PCR test,” explained the CEO.
Air Seychelles will also have to ensure that social and physical distancing is maintained on all its flights and Althuis said this is feasible for now because the number of passengers is limited.
“Maintaining social distancing on aircraft can be done for as long as the booking numbers allow it. From a business point of view, it is ultimately not sustainable because you do not generate enough revenue to pay for the flight, so the alternative then is to increase the fares,” he said.
Althuis has called for a collaborative approach by the tourism ministry, the tourism board and hoteliers, to decide on a short-term plan to revitalize the tourism sector as Seychelles will be in direct competition with other destinations.
“Governments need to reopen borders without putting in too strict quarantine measures. If there are quarantine measures people will not go. We understand the health risk, but we have to be careful we don’t destroy the industry,” said Althuis.
Seychelles recorded a 6 percent growth in tourism arrival last year with 384,204 visitors; the industry generated a revenue of $576.4 million equating to a little over SCR8 billion.
Seychelles’ main tourism markets were Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Italy and the United Arab Emirates. The local health authorities said entry from these countries could be considered in mid-July.
Althuis said that in the meantime Seychelles need to be ready to either tap into new source markets while it waits for its usual market to open.
Presently Air Seychelles is only operating cargo and repatriation flights which are managed diplomatically through the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Source: Seychelles News Agency