STB offices easing into the ‘new normal’ | 06 June 2020
Tucked away in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the exotic Seychelles islands have not been immune to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like the rest of the world, the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) team found their world shaken when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The team scattered all over the globe woke up to the new reality as few of its members live in major cities fighting the battle relentlessly.
“We are a small team and are often in contact with our colleagues abroad, it might seem strange but sometimes they do not even seem to be that far to us and I think the scariest feeling was knowing they are at risk,” said Elsie Sinon, STB’s senior destination marketing executive.
A sentiment echoed by other team members thinking of their colleagues in the various offices around the world. The destination marketing section, usually a buzzing beehive, has suddenly quietened as major projects have been put on hold.
Bustling cities turning into ghost towns speaks volumes about the pressing nature of the pandemic. The fast pace of cities such as Madrid, Rome and Mumbai have drastically come to a standstill, forcing the masses to rearrange their routines and adopt new practices necessary for survival.
Based in Italy – one of the countries most hardly hit by COVID-19 – Yasmine Pocetti, STB’s marketing executive, shares her emotions seeing deserted landmarks especially the St-Peter’s square during the Easter celebrations in April.
“The atmosphere for the past two months has been almost surreal with empty streets, silence and everybody locked in their houses. My only trip out, once every ten days, for weeks has been to the grocery store to buy food and essentials, a very stressing task as I was very scared to see other people or touch things, the lines and waiting were very long and had to disinfect everything once back home,” says Yasmine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented situation resulting from it has been a shock for the world. I believe that the way our operations are configured is an advantage for us, the fact that we run mostly online has facilitated the shift from our offices to working from home. The new normal tests your power as a survivor,” says Sherin Francis, STB’s chief executive, commenting on how juggling work and family life is not always an easy task when you are confined in your home with kids.
Mother of two young girls, she says she knows the team members with children are being put to a great test. A statement confirmed by Priya Ghag, STB’s representative in India who is a mother of one and Monica Gonzalez LLinás, STB’s marketing executive in Spain who has six children at home.
“The big change is the schedule every day as I have 6 children at home, having online school classes. This means waking up early in the mornings, checking emails or pending work. We are extremely lucky living in a house with a private garden while most of the population in Madrid live in flats,” says Monica.
The same story is being heard from parents with young children and teenagers, as you hear the anecdotes of this COVID-19 confinement days.
Bringing about unprecedented changes in our lives, the current global situation has not only introduced restrictions but also the opportunity to re-evaluate the way STB functions; on an organisational – use of our online systems more intensively – and personal level – teams feel now closer and stronger.
“Having been at STB for almost five years, I have never encountered such quiet times. It is almost as if this time made us realise how our contribution is important,” says Rolira Young, STB’s destination marketing executive.
“Working from home has definitely forced some of us to accept technology. I have to admit that I now tend to accept technology more with the use of our team collaboration and work management or even virtual meetings,” said Marie Julie, senior public relations officer at the STB News Bureau.
Many team members have expressed the challenges they face trying to adapt to confinement while balancing work and home life to prevent the line between the two from blurring.
The pool of young professionals who do not have a family yet concurred that being confined at home does alter your usual clock.
“It was a race! Our section’s expertise was in high demand during this time of COVID-19; as a result, we found ourselves extremely busy working on very tight deadlines, analysing data all day and writing report and in many instances, this meant burning the midnight oil. Nevertheless, I am grateful this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone and into facing many fears head on, leading to the generation of new skills and knowledge,” says Jean-François Figaro, senior officer from the STB Strategic Planning and Market Intelligence section.
On the same note, Shakambri Soni, STB’s representative in India, says that the team has been pushing the destination hard on their end.
She also mentioned that the most challenging part of working from home in this ‘lock-down’ situation is the combination of office and housework.
“Due to the abundance of information being shared on all platforms and new things coming up at odd hours of the day, it’s challenging to keep a sense of time that divides office and house work. Unlike in offices there is no longer a ‘closing time’ from work and with an air of urgency and uncertainty in our lives, no work can be left unattended or pushed ahead for the next day. Everything has become important and prioritising is the biggest challenge now,” said Ms Soni.
Although everyone has their different time management systems they all agree that discipline is key. Christine Vel based at the STB South African office strongly confirms her position: “Being confined has not changed much for me; I work on my own and everything is on my laptop. I’ve made sure to keep a good routine of waking up early still and starting work the same time as usual.”
Striving to keep Seychelles visible at every single corner of the world in the new normal situation, from Brazil to Australia through the Middle East, the STB teams are ingeniously making sure that partners and clients are kept abreast of the destination and its features.
While the teams are still working in ways to be visible on media through appearances in specialised magazines, others are maximising on online tools.
“It is important for us to keep in touch with our partners; we take pride in keeping the Seychelles warmth alive amid these difficult times. While many are acquiring news skills during the lockdown, most of our offices and team members across the globe are adapting to the new era, discovering how to promote the destination from their homes during a time where travel and physical contact are sensitive matters,” says Bernadette Willemin, regional director for Europe.
The regular meetings and trainings with trade partners, in line with STB’s mandate to increase the destination’s visibility have now transformed into webinars since the introduction of social distancing.
Just like their STB counterparts in France and China, Ahmed Fathallah and his team in the Middle East stated that regular online meetings with partners are essentially aimed at fostering and strengthening their relationship with the travel trade partners.
“Offering options for our partners to keep their clients informed is crucial in these difficult times. People are holding on to the dreams of visiting beautiful destinations like Seychelles once COVID-19 is behind us,” adds Ahmed.
The STB Brazilian team headed by Gisele Abrahao is also actively marketing Seychelles on online platforms.
“We are all working from home for the past two months and everything is actually working very well. We are focusing on bringing positivity to our market by highlighting the beauty of Seychelles.
The team has invited and went live with three influencers on Seychelles and have four more planned for the next couple of days,” says Gisele.
The lack of movement and freedom, two essential aspects of human nature, have forced us to re-evaluate how STB functions and operates, developing creative means of communicating and marketing.
Director for digital marketing, Chris Matombe and his team were in high demand as although the STB offices worldwide were compelled to close their doors to the public, the various teams are still working behind the scenes. As human interaction decreased across the globe, the STB has adapted by intensifying its focus towards digital platforms to create awareness about the tropical paradise.
“Interestingly it was business as usual for us. It has been an opportunity for our department to shed light on the power of digital marketing,” says Chris.
Additionally, through online campaigns, the team has been showcasing the alluring beauty of the islands – from the lush, tropical rainforests and exotic wildlife to the sandy shores and turquoise waters. These illustrations create a window of escapism during a period of crisis where confinement has made it impossible to travel, while sensitising potential visitors about the Seychelles and its unique features.
The absence of tourists is a ‘foreign sight’ to most Seychellois as the archipelago has been welcoming tourists to their shores for many decades. As a result of these effects, the STB head office on the main island of Mahé in the Seychelles, has made several changes in its operations, having to cancel future events and focus on a strategy for the future.
“We will not forget this experience anytime soon for sure as it has proven that our creativity has no limit wherever we are! We have definitely enjoyed the flexibility. This time has been used wisely to rekindle the flames with our creativity,” said Eileen Hoareau, graphics designer from the print and production section.
Altering the way we function and communicate, the COVID-19 pandemic has also reminded us of the importance of living the life we fantasise about and making the most of the moment. Standing alongside the rest of humanity during this critical time, the STB team continuously reminds us that the world will be back on its feet again and when it does, paradise will be waiting to welcome all who have been dreaming of it.
Contributed by the STB News Bureau