Mission Lodge to get new facilities to woo more visitors


The ministerial delegation and the DMC team touring the Mission Lodge site

The site was toured on Friday by Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St Ange and representatives of Destination Management Companies (DMCs) who gave their views on the new re-development.

For a long while, security was a major concern for the DMCs, which had included Mission Lodge on their itinerary of Mahé excursions.  However, there have been many instances where visitors were robbed and even mugged and cars broken into, resulting in negative publicity for the entire destination.

The DMCs said the fact that the site was a few years ago given to a Russian investor, who had grandiose plans for large structures which never materialised, has only contributed to its present state of abandonment.

The site has now been handed back to the Department of Tourism, through the Seychelles Heritage Foundation, who was represented on Friday by its chief executive Patrick Nanty.

After sounding out the DMCs’ views on the present development, Mr St Ange said that while the  spectacular view of west Mahé was a good selling point, there are few such historical sites in Seychelles.

He noted that Mission Lodge was the place where freed slaves were housed and schooled by the Anglican Mission in the late 19th century. There is even a cemetery, part of the Mission Ruins where some former slaves, as well as the son of a Scottish missionary, are buried.

Mr St Ange said efforts are being made through the UNWTO (United Nations World Trade Organisation), of which Seychelles is an active member, to get Mission Lodge listed as a World Heritage site by Unesco.

Archaeological digs on the site last year, with the assistance of an expert from Kenya, which turned up old coins, pottery and other artefacts, are aimed at boosting Seychelles’ chances vis-à-vis Unesco.

Mr St Ange said DMCs are of the view that sign boards, photos and paintings should be put up to render the history more visible. 

He noted that some paintings of famous English painter Marianne North, who lived for a while in Seychelles, featured the Mission Lodge among the scenes of Seychelles.

“It should not be just a walk-among-trees experience,” he said, adding that Mission Lodge is an important part of Seychelles’ history, which must be re-lived to show visitors that we have had a good inter-mix of cultures, which is why our society is a vivid example of racial harmony today.

Mr St Ange also deplored the fact that another unique site -- the Port Glaud waterfall owned by the Catholic Mission -- has been abandoned by the same Russian “investor”. 

He noted that the site, close to the popular Port Launay beach, already featured on tourism catalogues and visitors often complain that it is now inaccessible.

On the Mission Lodge, he also said that the viewing point needs to be re-built to make it more secure and ideally comprise a small exhibition hall and cafeteria, with adequate facilities to allow visitors to relax and take souvenir photographs.

Mr Nanty outlined some of the plans which the Heritage Foundation has for Mission Lodge. He said a small but adequate reception/information centre or “pavilion” is being proposed in the present parking area, which will be resurfaced and subsequently used as a drop-off area only.

The present parking area is extremely limited and often becomes chaotic. It is envisaged to provide a larger parking facility opposite the main entrance. 

The “pavilion” will house sanitary facilities for visitors -- now sadly non-existent -- as well as allowing for the control of paid entrance.

Mr Nanty also told the DMCs that the Mission Ruins will be cleaned, restored and cordoned off. The Ruins are a reminder of the settlement and school established in 1875.

“We should not fail this time,” he said, referring to the doomed Russian project.

Creole Travel Services owner Joe Albert said that while Mission Lodge was a favourite stopping point for Mahé excursions, there were often complaints of the lack of security.

The place, which is over 40,000 square metres comprising the Mission Ruins, Venn’s Town cemetery and a third parcel of land for extensions, is presently guarded by just two tourism police officers.

“Obviously the security situation was much better in 1972, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the site,” Mr Albert noted.

He however said the view should not be the only selling point as we must not forget our culture.

Freddy Karkaria of Select Seychelles said professional guides with sound knowledge of history should be an asset to the unique site. He also emphasised the visual impact of pictures and paintings featuring some aspects of the heritage.

Mr Karkaria said that the “Sandragon” trees that used to line both sides of the alley may be gone following their demise by a wilt disease some years ago, but the site clearly has other attractions.

Alan Mason of Mason’s Travel said the security situation is a pressing one. He added that Mission Lodge has great potential and should reclaim back its reputation as a favourite spot for land excursions on Mahé.

Other DMCs present for the tour were Seychelles European Reservations, owned by Daniella Payet-Alys, who also produces a glossy tourism magazine on Seychelles, and 7 Degrees South.

The new principal secretary for Tourism, Sherin Renaud, and his counterpart for Culture, Benjamine Rose, accompanied the minister on the tour.