"More Gulf Based Hotels In Seychelles"
May 9 (Reuters) - The number of tourists visiting the Seychelles rose a better than expected 15 percent in the first four months of 2013, the Republic's tourism minister said on Thursday, thanks to an influx of holidaymakers from Asia and a pick-up in visitors from some parts of Europe.
The country now expects 2013 tourist numbers to be 10 percent higher than last year, when it recorded 208,000 visitors to the Indian Ocean archipelago, having previously predicted a rise of just 3 percent.
Tourism directly and indirectly accounts for more than 60 percent of the national economy, which was worth $1.01 billion in terms of gross domestic product in 2011, according to the World Bank.
"Europe remains the biggest tourism market for us," Minister of Tourism and Culture Alain St Ange told Reuters.
"After a gloomy year last year for the French, British and Italians this year (visitors from) France and Britain surpassed that of 2011. Italy is still a lot lower, but Germany is zooming ahead," he said.
Meanwhile increasing visitor numbers from China, India and the Middle East have also helped ease the impact of Europe's economic woes on the Seychelles, St Ange said.
The archipelago has faced economic problems of its own. A 2008 balance of payments crisis led it to default on a Eurobond interest payment and teeter near bankruptcy before the government brought in a raft of reforms to liberalise the once heavily state-controlled economy.
This will see three new hotels open in the next two years, including one built by Dubai-based airline Emirates, St Ange said. The other two are being developed by Gulf-based companies, but he declined to provide further details.
"We don't allow wild growth, because every new bed demands new air access," he said.
The national carrier Air Seychelles, part-owned by Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, has launched flights to Hong Kong and may extend its network to mainland China, but the country mainly looks to foreign airlines to increase connections.
"Air Seychelles runs on a cautious approach," St Ange said. "It is today a small airline that came from a very difficult period and is now making money. They don't want to go into any loss-making routes." (Reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Greg Mahlich)