This week Seychelles Nation talked to Marie-Alise Elcia Grandcourt, a daughter of Seychelles who is doing her best to make the Seychelles flag fly high. After a career in tourism in Seychelles, she is currently the director of the Regional Department for Africa for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Ms Grandcourt was recently in Seychelles to attend a conference and and a chat with Seychelles Nation.
Who is Marie-Alise Elcia Grandcourt?
“I am a daughter of Seychelles, born and bred. My mum is originally from La Digue, my father is British but of Irish origin and after he separated from my mum I have been brought up by her along with four other siblings. I was reunited with my father at the age of 25 after I took it upon myself to launch a search for him.
I was always curious and wanted to know who my biological father was, hence why I was keen on finding him. Today, we all have a good relationship and my kids are so happy to learn of their ancestral roots. I also have my stepfather to thank for stepping into the role of a father figure and helping to ensure we were well brought up. This quest I went on I believe already defines my character – a hard-working and determined person who strives to achieve the best out of life. I am a proud mum of two great boys whom I love so dearly.”
Her childhood, adolescence and youth years
“I grew up and went to school in Bel Ombre and most of my school holidays were spent on La Digue where my mother is from and where most of our family still resides. So, Aroa, Lady Mary, Lady Esmée and all the other schooners that used to ply the waters between Mahé and La Digue come the feast of the Assumption (better known as Lafet 15 Out), I was there! I used to play on my aunt’s small farm picking fresh tomatoes and sweet potatoes and always waiting for a nice ladob that we would enjoy after a meal on Sundays. It was also the occasion to spend some time with my grandparents, ride in ox carts and on bicycles and eat gato kreol. I still make it a point to visit La Digue whenever I am home.”
My primary and secondary education was at Bel Ombre school, then I went to the National Youth Service (NYS). Back then I did one year on Ste Anne II and finished off at Cap Ternay. I then went onwards to the Seychelles Polytechnic for my O-Levels and A-Levels. I benefited from a scholarship from the Seychelles government to study hotel management at the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC). That was the first time I experienced culture shock! Coming from a small island and moving to another small island that is completely different and very diverse, it was truly an amazing and memorable experience.
This is also where I feel I was moulded professionally into what I am today, from work ethics to being driven by your passion and what you believe in. To complement the work I am doing and getting a deeper sense of the world of diplomacy while in employment I challenged myself and studied for a Master in Dynamics of Cooperation, Conflicts and Negotiation in International Relations and Diplomacy. I must admit it was challenging as I was juggling my very demanding job, the heavy travels, taking care of two young boys with practically no local support network since all my families are back home. I made it thanks to the remote support I received from very close friends and family. But more importantly from my two children who kept encouraging me and putting up with the disruptions this brought to our routine as I attended classes after hours meaning they had to have dinner on most occasions without me.”
Her journey as a young adult in the working world
“My career has always been in the tourism industry; following my studies I joined the world of work as a duty manager at the Coco de Mer Hotel on Praslin. With a need to relocate back to Mahé, I joined the Seychelles Institute of Management (SIM) as an administrative officer before joining the national airline, Air Seychelles as a flight attendant. As a young woman, with a passion for travel, I was attracted to join the national airline as a flight attendant and this allowed me to discover the world, a definite eye opener and exposure to even more cultures and the diversity that exists in our world. Having reached the level of senior flight purser, I decided it was time to return to the hotel sector where I joined the then Northolme Hotel as reservations manager. When Hilton took over the management of the hotel, I had the privilege to be part of the rebranding team of the now known Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa. I learned a lot more and followed several courses online with Hilton University, building my capacity that resulted in being promoted to sales and reservations manager.
Then my second child arrived and a change of scenery brought me to join Creole Travel Services as a marketing executive. I moved from the private sector to the public sector upon being appointed as the deputy chief executive of the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB). I was then promoted to chief executive of the STB which as you know is the body responsible for the promotion of our beautiful country both locally and internationally. I always wanted to pursue my career at international level and the opportunity presented itself when I came across the position open of the post that I currently occupy at the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), discharging my responsibility as Regional Director of the Africa Department.
I went through a rigorous and transparent competitive process involving written exams and competency based interviews. Accepting the position meant relocation and I did not stop to think or falter that it was to be in a country so far away from home, different culture, language, weather etc… However, I discussed extensively with my family and they all encouraged me to go for it, and here I am today with my two kids that have been my rock throughout the entire journey and still are today. It has been and still is a great journey and learning experience for all of us. But I am still filled with the same zeal, passion and determination I had when I left the Seychelles. Most of the work I do is focused on Africa, working with member states and encouraging them to mainstream tourism in their national agendas. This has given me the opportunity to travel extensively across the continent where I am appreciating, learning and discovering a lot in a way that I would never have even if I had been travelling to the continent with previous jobs.”
“I have learnt a lot over the course of the years, the most important lesson is to always be true to yourself. Always work with passion and believe in what you do. You may not always have everything your way so when things are not necessarily working out as it should be do not give up, remain focused and work towards achieving your goal. Prioritising your work would help to free up so much space for you to be able to spend valuable time with family, it is the most important ingredient for our entire wellbeing.”
Advice you would give to young girls/women
“We all have a purpose in life, so set yourself a goal and work towards achieving that goal. Nothing is easy but with the right support, passion and determination everything is possible. Remember to always look at the bright side and make the best out of every situation, focus on turning challenges into opportunities, focus on your goals and don’t sweat the little things in life.”
There is a concern in Seychelles that women are taking over, and we see the absence of men be it at home or even professionally, what does she think about that?
“Family life is very important and lately in Seychelles we are seeing that more men are taking more and more responsibilities at home and in direct correlation to this more and more women who were previously burdened with household responsibilities are now able to pursue a professional career for themselves. Throughout the world women are increasingly being empowered and experiencing gender equality, working alongside men to achieve common goals and solving a variety of issues. If you look at the UN Women Strategic Plan 2018–2021, it clearly outlines UN Women’s strategic direction, objectives and approaches to support efforts to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. I believe the government of Seychelles is responding well in working towards achieving the strategic priorities which are good not only for the country but also for the Africa region.”
Do you miss Seychelles? And what do you miss about our Paradise islands?
“Of course, Seychelles is my home and I am always filled with a great sense of pride when I am asked where I come from. I have been fortunate to come home regularly and also with the technology available today it’s like I am in Seychelles even when I am away. I follow the local news (SBC) every day to keep myself abreast of what is going on at home. Apart from missing being physically present with my family and friends especially on special occasions what I miss the most would be our calm, turquoise blue sea, white sandy beaches and the possibility to escape to a nice secluded beach to enjoy the sounds of nature. Food wise it is not an issue as I can find mostly everything I need for a nice Creole meal except bred mouroum (moringa), but I make do with what is available.”
By: Vidya Gappy