Since Seychelles' independence in 1976, per capita output in this Indian Ocean archipelago has expanded to roughly seven times the old near-subsistence level. Growth has been led by the tourist sector, which employs about 30% of the labor force and provides more than 70% of hard currency earnings, and by tuna fishing. In recent years the government has encouraged foreign investment in order to upgrade hotels and other services. At the same time, the government has moved to reduce the dependence on tourism by promoting the development of farming, fishing, and small-scale manufacturing. The vulnerability of the tourist sector was illustrated by the sharp drop in 1991-92 due largely to the Gulf War. Although the industry has rebounded, the government recognizes the continuing need for upgrading the sector in the face of stiff international competition. Other issues facing the government are the curbing of the budget deficit and further privatization of public enterprises. Growth slowed in 1998-99, due to sluggish tourist and tuna sectors.
Tourism and fishing
Presently, tourism accounts for about 12.7% of the GDP and the manufacturing and construction sectors (including industrial fishing) account for about 28.8%. In 2000, industrial fishing surpassed tourism as the most important foreign exchange earner.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the economy, accounting for approximately 16.6% (2000) of GDP. Employment, foreign earnings, construction, banking, and commerce are all dominated by tourism-related industries. Tourism earned $631 million in 1999-2000. About 130,046 tourists visited Seychelles in 2000, 80.1% of them from Europe (United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland).
Industrial fishing in Seychelles, notably tuna fishing, is rapidly becoming a significant factor in the economy. Earnings are growing annually from licensing fees paid by foreign trawlers fishing in Seychelles' territorial waters. In 1995, Seychelles saw the privatization of the Seychelles Tuna Canning Factory, 60% of which was purchased by the American food company Heinz. Similarly, some port operations have been privatized, a trend that has been accompanied by a fall in transshipment fees and an increase in efficiency. Overall, this has sparked a recovery in port services following a drastic fall in 1994.
The traditional plantation economy
While the tourism and industrial fishing industries were on a roll in the late 1990s, the traditional plantation economy atrophied. Cinnamon barks and copra -- traditional export crops -- dwindled to negligible amounts by 1991. There were no exports of copra in 1996; 318 tons of cinnamon bark was exported in 1996, reflecting a decrease of 35% in cinnamon bark exports from 1995.
Despite attempts to improve its agricultural base and emphasize locally manufactured products and indigenous materials, Seychelles continues to import 90% of what it consumes. The exceptions are some fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, pork, beer, cigarettes, paint, and a few locally made plastic items. Imports of all kind are controlled by the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), a government parastatal which operates all the major supermarkets and is the distributor and licensor of most other imports.
In an effort to increase agricultural self-sufficiency, Seychelles has undertaken steps to make the sector more productive and to provide incentives to farmers. Much of the state holdings in the agricultural sector have been privatized, while the role of the government has been reduced to conducting research and providing infrastructure.
Many of the other industrial activities are limited to small scale manufacturing, particularly agro-processing and import substitution. Agriculture (including artisanal and forestry), once the backbone of the economy, now accounts for only around 3% of the GDP. The public sector, comprising the government and state-owned enterprises, dominates the economy in terms of employment and gross revenue. It employs two-thirds of the labor force. Public consumption absorbs over one-third of the GDP.
The country’s economy is extremely vulnerable to external shocks. Not only does it depend on tourism, but it imports over 90% of its total primary and secondary production inputs. Any decline in tourism quickly translates into a fall in GDP, a decline in foreign exchange receipts, and budgetary difficulties. Furthermore, recent changes in the climate have greatly affected the tuna industry.