Elcia joined the World Tourism Organisation, a United Nations specialised Agency for Tourism in 2013 after a career in Tourism in Seychelles. She is amongst some of the most influential women advocating Africa’s tourism on the global stage.
By Jini Gilbert-Finnigan
Photo: Jean-Luc Grandcourt
Meet Elcia Grandcourt, the Regional Director for Africa at the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Elcia, is mother to two teenage boys, Jean-Luc, 18 and Aragorn, 13. She talks to Cosmocreole about family; raising her boys in a foreign city, her work at UNWTO, tourism in Africa and challenges she faces.
Family is central for me and our lives indeed changed when we moved from Seychelles to a big city for me to pursue my career. We found ourselves in a foreign city far from home, close family and friends, and we had to adapt to a new culture, language, weather, food and many more. Not having known anyone prior to arriving in Madrid meant we had no local support network as we were used to back home.
But as you know children are resilient and they adapt very fast and this is precisely what happened. My sons settled in school, made new friends and embraced the change we went through beautifully. Though without a support network, we also managed to transition through this as I was able to get the necessary help and support for my children during my trips away from home on work missions. In addition, until this day we are grateful for, and enjoy the extended remote support we receive from close friends and relatives; with technology we are more than just a voice or video call away. We also get the occasional visitors from home.
My professional career in the tourism industry began after my studies in Hotel Management at the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC). I joined the Coco de Mer Hotel on Praslin as a duty manager and later with the need to relocate to Mahe, I joined the then Seychelles Institute of Management (SIM) as an administrative officer before joining Air Seychelles.
As a young woman, with a passion for travel, I joined the national airline (Air Seychelles) as a flight attendant, and this allowed me to discover the world. It was a definite eye-opener, and exposure to the different cultures and the diversity that exists in our world. When I reached the level of senior flight purser and having started a family, I decided it was time to return to the hotel sector. I joined the then Northolme Hotel as reservations manager, and when Hilton Worldwide Holdings took over the management of the hotel, I had the privilege to be part of the rebranding team of the now Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa. With Hilton, I had the opportunity for further training and followed several capacity building and leadership courses online with Hilton University, and I was later promoted to sales and reservations manager.
After my second child was born, I joined Creole Travel Services as a marketing executive. In 2010 I moved from the private sector to the public sector upon being appointed as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB), the body responsible for the promotion of our beautiful country. And in 2012 I was promoted to Chief Executive Officer.
I always wanted to pursue my career at the international level, and the opportunity presented itself when I came across the position open for the post that I currently occupy at the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), discharging my responsibility as Regional Director of the Africa Department.
At work, I would say at first it was more the adaptation process of being in a new work environment. Since my responsibility entails working with African member states, I soon realized that the dynamics across the regions were different. I had to apply myself to understand, and learn to communicate, and deliver on the core objectives of the organization to the benefit of all the members keeping in mind the specificity of each country.
Not many African countries have tourism as a core priority, or consider the sector to be a key contributor towards their economic growth, and therefore we continue to concentrate our efforts towards those countries and encourage them to mainstream tourism as a key socio-economic contributor in their national agendas.
I like challenging myself, so following a car accident I had some time to recuperate at home and thus I took this time to start a Master’s degree. To complement the work I am doing and getting a deeper sense of the world of diplomacy, I studied for a Master in Dynamics of Cooperation, Conflicts and Negotiation in International Relations and Diplomacy with the Alfonso X el Sabio University in Madrid. My children were quite supportive and accommodating as most of my weekends were taken up with my studies. They encouraged me so much so that when I felt like giving up, they pushed me not to. I am so proud of them for this, they have been my rock and great support, and so was my dad who offered to have them stay with him in England during school holidays so that I could concentrate on my studies.
UNWTO has its headquarters in Madrid and this is where all the administrative procedures of the organization are handled, there we are mostly office-bound. We do host the occasional institutional or bilateral meetings throughout the year, and this provides an opportunity for the members to visit the head office. However, the core work happens in the field and that entails travelling to the different member states where we may have ongoing projects, and sometimes this also includes regional events, whereby we meet with our member states in a country hosting the event. Obviously, being on the ground gives you a better understanding, brings you closer to the realities, the challenges as well as opportunities that exist on the continent. It also allows us to meet with the various stakeholders that may be involved in the project or activity being done.
The Pandemic and Tourism
The greatest challenge has unfortunately been the border closures and travel restrictions. As of 6 April 2020, we published a report that showed for the first time in history 96% of all world destinations had travel restrictions. This led to a sudden stop on all activities, projects and plans that we had ongoing in all the regions. Nevertheless, we have quickly readjusted our work approach by maintaining regular contacts with our members virtually. We have switched to hosting virtual webinars and where possible, focus more on desk work and research in order to be able to continue giving support to our members with the mitigation of the pandemic and working towards the restart of their tourism sector.
Hope for Tourism in Africa
First of all, my hope for the tourism industry in Seychelles is that the leaders keep attaching high importance as it has been done in the past to the sector, and to continue ensuring the sustainable development of the country´s tourism industry. I am sure that many reflections are being done in the current period we are experiencing. Particular attention has to be given to other segments of the sector, such as; focusing more on product diversification, encouraging local entrepreneurs (especially women and youth) to invest in activities of the tourism value chain, catering more for the local market segment which will allow Seychellois to discover and appreciate more of our own country, focus on service delivery, upskilling and building the capacity of the local workforce in the tourism sector. In addition, I hope that the tourism stakeholders now more than ever, work to consolidate and further emphasize the importance of cooperation and collaboration between the various line ministries, and more importantly the private sector stakeholders who are the key drivers of the tourism industry.
As for tourism in Africa, I hope to see a real shift in the narrative and the perception of the continent, to reflect more the Brand Africa concept by promoting positive stories from the region, and for countries through their tourism boards to continue to promote the beauty of the continent through its people, gastronomy, cultural heritage and rich biodiversity to attract more travellers to visit Africa. Another point, especially with the outbreak of COVID 19, would be to give more attention and develop other market segments such as domestic and intra-regional travel following the huge drop in international travel from the source markets caused by the pandemic.
On a personal level, I am very proud and grateful for the strength I have been blessed with in raising my children, teaching them good values and ensuring they have a good education.
Professionally, there have been several specific milestones, especially where we have managed successfully to implement many projects in various countries. Though in all, I would say it is my contribution towards encouraging more countries to identify tourism as a key economic contributor in their national agendas, and for the sector to be recognized at the highest level in the country,
Tourism is one of the leading sectors for gender equality. Our own research shows that the African tourism sector for example has the highest female labour participation rate of all world regions, and more women in high-level leadership and management positions than the broader economy. Importantly, tourism also unlocks value chains in other sectors, such as artisanal handicrafts or agriculture. However, the participation of African women in tourism remains at a severe disadvantage to their male counterparts. The barriers to entry and progression are greater for women. Discriminatory social and cultural attitudes intersect with this inherent inequality to severely limit the opportunities tourism can offer to women both in Africa and worldwide.
My focus has been and is still very much on the wellbeing and education of my children. That said I would still very much like to contribute towards the achievement of sustainable tourism development in Africa, as there is still much to be done in achieving the set goals, and further encourage many countries from the region to mainstream tourism in their national agendas, and consider the sector as a key socioeconomic contributor to the livelihoods of many, especially in the communities where lives of youth and women are being impacted.
I take a lot of inspiration from people with integrity, determination and who displays the will of helping others and always striving to do better. I also admire women that have made a mark in society through their hard work, good values and shows respect to others such as our own governor of the Central bank of Seychelles Ms Caroline Abel. I have been hugely motivated and inspired by a former minister of tourism of Egypt H.E. Rania Al-Mashat and the principles of success she firmly believes in – the four Cs: competence, connections, confidence and charm. To briefly elaborate, it is important to be competent in anything you do and be passionate about it. Connections are extremely important as it helps to open doors and allows you to expand your own network. Having confidence allows you to better deliver on your work and finally charm is being able to deal with different situations and certain circumstances taking into account different aspects such as gender, age difference, different cultural background and being sensitive to how you address these situations.
A Moment in time
I will indulge in sharing two important moments that to me are interlinked and these would be when I met my biological father for the first time at 25 years of age and when I became a parent. Meeting my biological father gave me a sense of fulfilment and made me feel complete, as it allowed me to get a better sense of who I am, where I come from, which then prepared me for the arrival of my own children. This has in turn allowed me to better explain our family, trace our ancestral roots and appreciate the diversity that exists in our family which is a true reflection of the cultural fabric that Seychelles is also made of.
I do not have any regrets in life-I believe that any given situation or life-changing decisions that I have been faced with were informed decisions that I am accountable for, and as such I take ownership of the outcome. But with that said, I strive to take lessons out of and learn from any mistakes that may have been made.
Then and now
I wish I had known that it is okay to have a ´Dolce Far Niente´ moment, an Italian phrase that translates into the sheer ‘sweetness of doing nothing’. I had been so focused from the outset on achieving my goals at work and discharging my responsibility as a mother to my children, I left no or little time for myself. Following a serious car accident resulting to fatigue got me to stop and rethink how best to strike that work-life balance, but also leaving time for myself to either read a book, watch TV, go for a walk, enjoy a massage, practise mindfulness or simply do nothing – allowing me to disconnect from the daily responsibilities that come with the job and parenting.
Your Life’s Motto
Not to focus on what was but rather look towards what is and will be.
Happiness is…living in the moment, appreciating, being thankful and grateful for what we have and nurturing our personal wellbeing.