The Seychelles has become a dreamy escape for many honeymooners and families, but the country owes much of its success in the tourism industry to one pioneering family…
One family kick-starting an entire country’s tourism industry? Most people would say it couldn’t be done. Rewind back to the 1970s in the Seychelles and that’s exactly what the pioneering husband and wife team of Kathy and Mickey Mason achieved. Sensing an opportunity following the opening of the country’s international airport in 1971, Kathy and Mickey established their own destination management company (DMC), Mason’s Travel, a year later.
They started by running reef safaris to Sainte Anne Marine National Park, covering every bay and cove of these protected islands that tourists wouldn’t otherwise know existed. It was the unique nature of these original tours – along with the Masons’ burning desire to show off the Seychelles’ hidden beauty – that kickstarted the Seychelles tourism industry and kept visitors returning year after year.
Getting to know Denis Private Island
This passion, coupled with their instinct, has meant Mason’s Travel has grown from running one-vessel excursions to offering extensive ground-handling operations and tours. This evolution culminated in 1996, when the Masons bought the stunning Denis Private Island, their imagination captured by its pristine beaches and lush tropical interior.
Buying this private escape wasn’t a snap decision according to their son Alan, who’s now the company’s managing director: “My parents had tried to buy Denis Island 20 years previously, but it unfortunately fell through and a French entrepreneur purchased it instead, who then built a resort on the island.”
However, the Masons had left a lasting impression and their original good intentions for the island were fondly remembered. “When the owner came to sell Denis Island in the 1990s, he had plenty of offers,” adds Alan. “But he remembered my parents and wanted to sell it to them because he knew they understood what Denis Island was about, how special it was and that they would look after it.”
Denis Island’s former owner was right. But he probably didn’t realise how much of a positive impact the Masons would have on this gorgeous hideaway. Inspired to preserve this island idyll, the last two decades have seen them strive to restore it to its natural beauty.
Back to its beautiful best
Like many of the Seychelles’ smaller islands, much of Denis was a coconut plantation during colonial rule, stripped bare of its indigenous flora and replaced by grids of palms. “We’ve replanted a lot of trees that are endemic to the island, restoring it to its original look before the plantation took over,” says Alan.
It’s been a long process and one that’s still ongoing. Other victims of the invading plantation were the endemic birds, who lost large chunks of their nesting habitats as a result. The Masons have sought to rectify this too, instigating tough measures to eradicate rats brought over on ships and invasive myna birds, so the natural fauna could flourish again.
“We’ve reintroduced lots of birds like the Seychelles warbler, magpie-robin and the paradise flycatcher. They were once close to extinction and now they’re no longer at the top of the endangered list,” explains Alan. “It’s almost like Noah’s Ark.”
To further show their seriousness for the conservation cause, Denis Island is one of the Green Islands Foundation’s (GIF) permanent outposts, a non-governmental organisation which tags and monitors both the birds and the island’s nesting hawksbill and green turtles, as well as helping to restore coral reefs. Ensuring their guests can also be involved in these conservation schemes, as much or as little as they wish, is also an important part of the sustainable framework of Denis Island.
From farm to fork
The Masons’ successful commitment to conservation is an incredible achievement, but it’s not the only string to their bow. The very nature of the Seychelles as an archipelago nation means almost everything has to be imported. However, such is the Masons’ desire to become a self-sufficient escape, the reality on Denis Island is actually the opposite and this is arguably their greatest triumph.
As well as the fish caught on its ocean doorstep, the Denis Island farm means everything from ducks to chickens and pigs are reared on-site. The cows supply the beef, while cheeses and yoghurt have also become specialities on the island. It’s the only place in the Seychelles where you can get fresh milk and production is booming, something ironically attributed to the cows’ love for coconut palm leaves.
“Around 80% of the food we serve to our guests has been made from ingredients found on the island,” says Alan. “Our flourishing orchard and garden mean a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables is always on the menu as well.”
It’s a mightily impressive farm-to-fork concept that belies its geographical location, with every meal largely made from scratch just a few feet away on this pint-sized isle, each one a fresh plate that mirrors the Masons’ pioneering vision.
Raising the sustainable bar
The sustainable approach at Denis Island extends beyond the kitchen. Mason’s Travel was the first DMC in the country to adopt hybrid vehicles into its daily operations, while in 2018 the team built the biggest solar farm in the Seychelles in an attempt to move away from relying on environmentally unfriendly diesel generators.
There are some things that never change – reef safaris are still one of Mason’s Travel’s most popular excursions. However, the travel industry in the Seychelles tourism industry has been transformed, revolutionised even, over the last 45 years and throughout the entire time, it’s been a local family called the Masons leading the charge.