St Helena Online

Tag: tourism

Airport ‘non-story’ is worth many thousands, says tourism chief

Gloomy stories about St Helena are great news for the island – because they come with beautiful pictures that pull in potential visitors all round the world, writes director of tourism CHRIS PICKARD.

 

The UK’s Independent newspaper recently ran an article suggesting that the first flights to St Helena, and the opening of the airport, had been delayed. The article, subsequently picked up by the Mail, was something of a non-story: a cut-and-paste job that took a series of random quotes, many out of context, and then came up with the result that 2+2=5.

Negative reporting of tourism and infrastructure projects is nothing new for me. But if asked as director of tourism for St Helena if I was happy to see the stories about the airport in print in the UK, I would have to say Yes.

Between them they created hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of positive publicity for St Helena as a destination and brought the island to the attention of many potential visitors, thanks to the images used.

It is very important to take St Helena out of the tourism pages and in to the main news sections of the media. That is what helps to promote and develop a destination.

So while I am delighted with all the positive coverage the island has generated recently in the travel sections of the international media, I am even happier when I see St Helena being covered in the other news pages and sections of the media. But I am experienced enough to know that these will not always be 100% positive.

An example of non-tourism coverage is the recent stories about Jonathan, which generated a lot of interest in people wanting to come to the island, as did reports on new species being found.

While I did not agree with everything he wrote, Matthew Engel’s cover story in the Financial Times’ weekend magazine also generated many hundreds of thousands pounds’ worth of positive publicity.

And not just in the UK: I got feedback from North and South America, Australia, and across Europe from people who, having read the FT piece, wanted to come to St Helena or set up tours to the island.

The result of all this coverage has been that people in the right circles are talking positively about St Helena in terms of helping to contribute to building a sustainable tourism industry.

Sadly for the island, St Helena Tourism is already having to turn away business or put it on hold, but that has nothing to do with the airport or air access and when it starts, but is down to not having a sufficient amount of the right type of accommodation that tour operators demand. But that is something we are working to resolve.

International tour operators, many of which I have worked with over the years, have been contacting us to get information about what St Helena has to offer, and most are now putting together one week packages to the island. They know me well enough to be sure that when St Helena is ready for them, and the flights have started, I will let them know.

We all work on facts, not fiction or speculation.

What people on St Helena will need to understand, however, is that like it or not we are now playing on the global stage, and global tourism is extremely competitive. St Helena – as I know from the conversations I have had with other tourism directors who are jealous of the media attention we have been generating – is firmly on the radar and that means there will be people looking to knock us down.

It also means that the media will be interested in writing news stories about the island, both good and bad, and that is because we are now news and the readers are interested. That is how I like it.

Far more negative is likely to be the coverage on Trip Advisor and other review sites as the visitors themselves – not the media – judge what we have to offer and the service levels behind it. Saints and others working in travel and tourism on the island will have to develop a thick skin.

As crazy as it may seem, my job is to make the St Helena Tourism strapline of “Secret of the South Atlantic” redundant, and if that means putting my hand up and apologising to the Saints who for personal or business reasons wish to keep the island a secret, so be it.

2015 was a record year for St Helena is terms of international visitors, and that is before the airport opens. So there are lots of positive things to look forward to in terms of tourism and what it can bring to the island.

Watch online: St Helena film shows the beauty, and the truth

Saints: click the pic to see a larger image
Saints: click the pic to see a larger image

The BBC has screened a revealing documentary that captures the beauty and charm of St Helena, but also confronts the realities of life on the island.

People in the UK can see at on the BBC iPlayer at any time up to 20 April 2015.

The half-hour film tells its story through six Saints who reflect on the way things have been, and what they might become. Among them is the late Trevor Otto Thomas, a much-loved fisherman and observer of island life.

Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt
Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt

Before his unexpected death in December 2014, he told of his concerns about what the airport will mean for the islanders’ way of life.

“Britain is not going to put an airport here for £400m and then we live the same old way we did 20 or 30 years ago,” he says in the film.

“They will want changes. It’s coming.

“People feel as though they are not being listened to and it makes you angry. And then when you say something that is contrary to what is being presented to you, you are being ‘negative’.”

Ivy Ellick, formerly a senior government official, laments the departure of many Saints for new lives overseas, and hopes the airport will “quench that thirst to leave the island… and will hopefully bring our Saints back.”

Viewers watch Melanie Caesar hug her children on the sea front as she prepares to leave them for a year or more to work overseas, having abandoned the struggle to support them on the meagre income she can earn on the island. The pain is clear to see.

Father Dale Bowers also makes a number of telling observations on the hardships of island life, for which director Dieter Deswarte made several visits to St Helena.

Saints is billed as “a film about a small place becoming part of a bigger world; a coming-of-age story about a small community growing up in a globalised world.” It was screened several times over the weekend of 20-22 March 2015 on BBC Freeview channels.

Reaction on Facebook has been positive. The film has also prompted some people to post messages on the site recalling their own family separations.

One said: “I’ve been on that sea front crying my eyes out a few times.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

New home for ‘Tuna on Main’ restaurant – but where?

2onMain has been highly praised by online reviewers
2onMain has been highly praised by online reviewers

The widely-praised 2onMain restaurant in Jamestown is to move to a new home on St Helena – but its location has yet to be revealed.

The restaurant, set up to train Saints in hospitality skills, has to leave its premises in one of Main Street’s finest Georgian buildings to make way for a new hotel.

St Helena Government recently advertised for tenders to convert three buildings near St James’s Church in time for the opening of the island’s first airport, scheduled for early 2016.

The conversion of numbers 1-3 Main Street was decided upon after private schemes stalled, apparently because of uncertainties over whether there will be flights from Europe.

The restaurant – nicknamed “Tuna on Main” by one online reviewer – was opened just in time for Christmas 2013 by hospitality trainer Gillian Scott-Moore. She writes about the impending move on her personal website:

“It is with sadness and regret that the time is creeping towards 2onMain closing its doors.

“The buildings we are occupying are going to be made into a 30-bedroom hotel.  Work is likely to start in June so we are probably going to be out of here some time in May.

“That’s the bad news. The good news is that we will be moving to a great new location (yet to be confirmed), which will be a permanent home to all hospitality up-skilling on St Helena.

“Some of my time has been taken up with some of the planning on this project and looking at how to maximise on the space we will have in our new premises.  All exciting stuff.”

The restaurant has received high praise on the tripadvisor.co.uk website:

The professionalism with which this restaurant is run belies its status as a training establishment – Elisabeth R, Edinburgh, February 2015

My partner raved about the trio of vegetarian curry and the five mini desserts was excellent. Shame it didn’t promote the local St Helena coffee over the norm – Martin P, February 2015

Click the pic to see trip advisor.co.uk reviews
Click the pic to see trip advisor.co.uk reviews

Lovely staff in training with really good well presented meals… almost 5 star – Nanacharms, Johannesburg, October 2014

Very nice dining rooms in a modern style, oak tables and chairs. The serving staff is very pleasant and professional – Fredrick Henry, Sweden, October 2014

Lovely tuna surprise! Lovely ice cream surprise! – Michael T, Nice, France, December 2013

From Gillian Scott-Moore’s web journal: 
A new home for 2onMain; plus island photographs
2onMain opens for business – with pictures

Read tripadvisor.co.uk reviews here

Hotel plans win support from ExCo

A large hotel could be built on Jamestown’s Waterfront.

Executive councillors gave approval for the idea to be explored as a future option – after endorsing a separate plan to convert numbers 1, 2 and 3 Main Street into four-star accommodation.

Both ideas were put before the council at a special meeting on Tuesday, 23 September 2014.

A press release says tourism experts have advised that accommodation of a high standard will be needed when the island’s airport opens in 2016.

The council approved the option to develop the Government-owned building into a hotel with at least 30 bedrooms.

The former East India Company building would have a restaurant and bar that could cater for up to 90 people.

A new building would be constructed at the rear to provide accommodation, including hotel rooms with disabled access – if planning permission is given.

The press release said: “This four-star hotel will complement other local initiatives in developing tourist accommodation, and will serve as a catalyst for economic development, including the involvement of local producers and service providers.

“Executive Council also considered an option for the development of a larger hotel at the Waterfront and approved the exploration of this option for the future.

“Further detailed design work will now proceed for the development of 1, 2 and 3 Main Street as a quality hotel. The public will be kept informed and will have an opportunity to view the plans and drawings once these have been finalised.”

  • Executive Council also noted a positive meeting at the Rock Club to consult on the development of a solar farm around the site of the current rifle range at Half Tree Hollow.  “There was overwhelming support for the project,” said the press release.

Cruise writer finds a film set waiting to be discovered

Sandy Bay’s arid landscape could be the setting for a science-fiction fantasy and Diana’s Peak would need no make-up for a role in a remake of Jurassic Park, according to writer Captain Greybeard on the Cruise International website.

He highlights the familiar attractions of St Helena in a stylish piece, but many might challenge his statement that the “incredible blue waters” around the island offer no safe location for swimming or sunbathing.

The Captain finds the cabins on the RMS St Helena “as basic as those on a cross-Channel ferry” but is nonetheless keen to spend more time in them: “It’s a long journey,” he says, “but it’s one I’d like to make again.”

Perhaps he wants a second taste of victory in the ship’s quiz.

The full article is here – and it’s worth a click just to see the superb accompanying photographs, including one of a tropic bird flying over Jamestown.

Tell it like it is, excrescenses and all…

An extract of the sale particulars for the former PWD store
An extract of the sale particulars for the former PWD store

Even its own mother, if it had one, would be hard pushed to describe the old PWD store in Jamestown as a thing of beauty.

But there’s no need to be rude about a building that has the sort of rugged, solid reliability that one might value in an old friend.

Hugh P Crallan, who wrote an oft-cited report on the historic buildings of St Helena, felt no need to be charitable, however.

“The building has an excrescence at its north-east corner,” he wrote, describing a kind of porch that rather crudely detracts from its classical simplicity.

The line is quoted with a refreshing lack of guile in the sale particulars for the building, which is on the market with offers sought in excess of £250,000.

Online dictionaries offer various definitions for an excrescence. Here are some of the best:

A distinct outgrowth on a body or plant, resulting from disease or abnormality [as in] “the males often have a strange excrescence on the tip of the snout”; an unattractive or superfluous object or feature (Oxford Dictionaries)

Something that bulges out. Synonyms include bulge, bump, gibbosity, gibbousness, hump (vocabulary.com)

An outgrowth or enlargement, especially an abnormal one, such as a wart (thefreedictionary.com)

There’s concern that St Helena currently does not have an open and transparent property market. On the plus side, though, this means it doesn’t have smarmy estate agents with their finely-honed inability to paint a truthful picture, warts and all.

Can we look forward to more of the same? How about: “Historic Castle, undermined by bougainvillea tree and prone to collapse”, or, “Handsome property in Jamestown; occupants liable to be crushed by rockfall at any moment”?

Niall tells the world about St Helena’s natural wonders

The writer Niall Griffiths has described St Helena’s isolation as “extreme, and thrilling” in a brief article for National Geographic magazine.

He comments on the island’s natural wonders in an article that will be seen by the magazine’s global readership:

“With one step I traversed 80% of the planet’s entire species of tooth-tongued fern. That’s an odd and heavy sensation, to know that, with one stumble or misplaced step, I could’ve committed botanic genocide.”

He also describes watching a baby dolphin struggling to leap up from the sea around the RMS St Helena.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 11.49.52

Find Niall’s piece here

Robert drives his way to top business prize

business 640Robert Peters has won St Helena’s Business of the Year prize, by capitalising on the heritage that has been seen as one of the island’s great attractions for future tourists.

He received £250 for his History on Wheels business at the awards night, hosted by Enterprise St Helena at the Consulate Hotel on Saturday, 23 November 2013.

Christen Yon was awarded the same amount as winner of the Young Businessman of the Year prize, for his pig farming enterprise.

The island’s disability charity, SHAPE, won the Green Business title, after being nominated in four of the five categories.

The Buy Local prize went to Stevens Family Butchers, and Giselle Roberts won the Innovative Business award with her company, G-Unique, which sells island-made jewellery as well as items sourced from around the world.

She toasted the news in a Facebook message that received 83 “likes” within 10 hours.

g unique 550

Now RMS is part of Mantis ’boutique cruise’ fleet

The RMS St Helena gets under way, photographed from Munden's Road on St Helena
The RMS St Helena

The RMS St Helena is to feature as one of the “boutique cruises” promoted by the Mantis Collection, according to the UK-based Travel Mole website.

The site says Mantis has recently signed a deal with St Helena Government to turn Ladder Hill Fort into a five-star hotel. The island’s Sentinel newspaper has since reported that this is incorrect.

Mantis founder Adrian Gardiner, who spent a week on the island, is quoted saying: “We’re extremely excited to be marketing this iconic Royal Mail Ship, one of only two left in the world, as part of our growing portfolio of boutique cruises worldwide.

“This is the first of our exciting steps towards ultimately developing our very own boutique hotel on St Helena island.”

The Mantis Collection is a group of privately-owned hotels and eco lodges.

With thanks to Guy Gatien for passing on this story.

Astronomer gives St Helena a gold star

sky with text 640The skies above St Helena have been judged to be dark enough for the island to become one of the world’s most attractive star-gazing destinations.

It could win official recognition as a “dark sky island” within 12 months – though more realistically two years – once work has been done to improve artificial lighting.

A report from astronomer Steve Owens says the island has “very dark skies indeed”.

Click the pic to see a larger image of St Helena's entire night sky, photographed by Steve Owens
Click the pic to see a larger image of St Helena’s entire night sky, photographed by Steve Owens

And he said its connections with famous astronomers could give it an edge over other destinations with less cloud, such as Hawaii, Tenerife and the deserts of Chile and Namibia.

Edmund Halley spent a year on the island making a map of the entire night sky, and remains of his observatory at Halley’s Mount can still be seen.

St Helena’s position near the Equator, and height above sea level, means that nearly every star in both the northern and southern hemispheres can be seen at some point in the year.

Only the middle of oceans and deserts would offer a better view of the stars, Steve Owens told St Helena Online.

The results of his 2012 audit of the island’s night skies emerged just as the Isle of Man announced a 5% increase in tourism income, thanks to star-gazing visitors.

St Helena offers better star-gazing than Sark, the world's first 'dark sky island'. Picture: Peter Capper
St Helena offers better star-gazing than Sark, the world’s first ‘dark sky island’. Picture: Peter Capper

Despite cloudy conditions on his visit in May 2012, Steve found that St Helena’s skies rated  as class two or three on the Bortle scale – that standard measurement.

That gives it a higher rating than Sark, in the Channel Islands, which was the first island in the world to be accredited by the International Dark Sky Association.

St Helena Tourism Association is hoping St Helena can achieve the same recognition – with even higher status. Chairman Vince Thompson organised the trip, with sponsorship from Enterprise St Helena and The Consulate Hotel.

Steve took readings from sites around the island, and left equipment to take further recordings at Broad Bottom – site of the proposed Shelco eco-resort – and the Millennium Forest.

A photograph of the entire sky above the Millennium Forest showed dust bands in the Milky Way, even low on the horizon, and some Zodiacal light – reflections of the sun’s light from dust in the solar system.

Both are rare signs of an exceptionally clear sky.

Steve’s report concludes: “St Helena has very dark skies indeed, ranking as Bortle class two or three in most places outside the major settlements.

“Work is underway to refit much of the island’s street lights, and given that the island is one of the most remote in the world there is no other source of artificial light visible than that generated on the island.

“These figures will only improve given the adoption island-wide of a rigourous lighting management plan, and the award of International Dark Sky Community.”

Vince Thompson said: “The next steps in the process are down to us. Some of the required work is well underway.

“We need to show we have systems in place and work underway or planned to improve night sky conditions.

“The Land Development Control Plan has achieved this, as has work done to reduce the zero upward lighting of certain types of public street lighting.

“Finally, a lighting management plan needs to be formally adopted; this may involve the  assistance of a qualified lighting engineer and therefore some funding from somewhere.”

Steve Owens told St Helena Online that the island had the potential to become one of the darkest places in the world within reach of tourists.

SEE ALSO: There’s gold in them stars

LINK: International Dark Sky Organisation

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