With 115 islands, each as different as the next, the Seychelles archipelago can’t be styled with tropical generalisations and one-size-fits-all descriptors. As Mason’s Travel has been revealing to visitors for nearly half a century, this is one beach destination where the beaches are only the beginning.
In 1972, Kathy Mason started a “Reef Safari” tour aboard a vessel named Conquest that brought a handful of visitors to a handful of tiny isles located just a few kilometres off the Seychelles archipelago’s main island of Mahé.
A British colony back then, its international airport had opened just one year before, establishing air access for the first time to this Indian Ocean island group, situated just south of the equator. Prior to that, lengthy sea voyages had been the only alternative to getting (or leaving) there.
The airport changed the game and from its start as a one-vessel excursion operation, Mason’s Travel would eventually grow into Seychelles’ leading destination management company (DMC), with a fleet of buses, executive cars and pleasure craft, as well as offering extensive ground-handling, booking and representational services.
Not coincidentally, that growth is largely due to what Mrs Mason’s original boat tour recognised, which even 45 years later still holds true today; in Seychelles, behind every corner and around every little bay or cove, there’s something ever more interesting to see.
“Mahé has its beautiful beaches, dramatic mountains and lush rainforests,” Mason’s Travel PR, Branding and Communications Manager Nicole St Ange says. “But the Reef Safari took passengers out to see these amazing smaller islands in what is now the oldest marine park in the southwestern Indian Ocean. It was, and still is, one of those little extras that make Seychelles so much more than just a relaxing beach holiday.”
The Reef Safari is still sold today as one of Mason’s most popular excursions, giving visitors the opportunity to snorkel along pristine reefs and enjoy a barbecue amongst the marine park’s islands. The only discernible difference between now and 1972, one could argue, is that the trip is now conducted aboard Mason’s spacious catamaran Anahita.
In much the same way that the Reef Safari went just that little bit further, the 115 islands in the archipelago have similarly opened up as visitors look to venture further and further afield, and Mason’s specialises in helping passengers see them all.
“Each island has something different to offer, whether it’s La Digue’s unique rock formations along its beaches, or the mangroves on Curieuse,” St Ange said. “Seychelles is the world’s oldest mid-ocean island group, and when a place has evolved in isolation for millions of years, it’s only natural that they’ve each established their own credentials. There are species that are found only on a single island, despite the archipelago being clustered relatively close together.”
Mason’s own evolution has also meant new opportunities for tourists to see and do as much as possible in less time than ever before. The Vallée de Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the second-largest island of Praslin, for instance, is one of Seychelles’ most compelling inland attractions. Even tourists too pressed for time to spend a few nights on Praslin, can still take advantage of the full day tour offered by Mason’s to see the valley and the iconic Coco de Mer palm.
“There are endless permutations to what you can do on a Seychelles holiday and it really depends on the individual traveler in terms of what they want to do,” St Ange says. “The important thing is to build a programme around interests, whether it’s for diving, sailing, mountain hiking or something even more specialised, because our team is great at identifying the best possible match between islands and activities.”
In many ways, the diversity of the different islands represents both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because there are so many beautiful spots worth seeing; and a curse on account of how confusing it can be to sift through the different options and figure out how to piece them together in a practical way.
As crucial as in-depth knowledge about the destination has been for Mason’s, so too has the need to usher in changes to adapt to an industry that’s constantly evolving. Kathy Mason’s son, Alan, who took the reins of Mason’s Travel in 1995, has been a steady hand to guide the company through the uncertainties of the information age.
“The internet has of course changed the way everyone does business and for some it’s changed how they book their holidays,” Mason says. “However, traditional business chains are still resilient as long as what you bring to the table can inspire the kind of confidence that translates from your partners to the end consumer.”
For Mason’s that has meant embarking on several modernisation processes to keep up with the times, from investments in new equipment – Mason’s is the first DMC in Seychelles to begin using hybrid vehicles in its operations – to becoming the first company in the country to achieve ISO-9001 certification.
In addition to bookings, transfers, excursions and providing valuable destination expertise to its overseas partners, Mason’s has led the way in the small but growing groups and incentives niche. With its diverse fleet of vehicles, including VIP luxury transfers on land and at sea, the Mason’s team regularly pairs clientele with tailor-made solutions to maximise an island experience for every income bracket.
Weddings and other group functions also play an important role for Mason’s business strategy and often the company fields requests that stretch the limits of what one might expect could be possible in a tiny island nation 1,000 miles from anywhere.
“In a country this small, it’s who you know,” Mason says. “The phone book isn’t always going to be that helpful, because the specialist you need may not even use a phone. The institutional knowledge we bring to the table has been ingrained in our DNA since the beginning.”
Indeed, much has changed in Seychelles since 1972. And Mason’s has been privy to most of it.