Just over a year ago, the prospect of the Seychelles experiencing a dramatic drop in travelers seemed near inconceivable.
Revered for its beautiful beaches and jungle landscapes, the Indian Ocean archipelago was riding high as one of the world's most alluring destinations, and its popularity was only growing.Arrivals numbers were up 4%, and tourism officials were bracing themselves for what seemed destined to be another hugely successful 12 months.
But of course, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to almost every plan or prediction made for 2020 and the world as we knew it has changed irreversibly.
Like so many destinations that are highly reliant on revenue from international visitors, the Seychelles, which is situated 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Tanzania, was dealt a huge blow by coronavirus.
While the 115-island nation managed to ward off the virus relatively well, with just 3,798 cases and 16 deaths at the time of writing, it's economic impact has been immense.
According to the Seychelles Tourism Board, tourist arrivals were down by 70% last year and the sector's 2020 revenues dropped by around $368 million.
"The country had almost ground to a halt in terms of tourism activities," Sylvestre Radegonde, minister of foreign affairs and tourism for the Seychelles, tells CNN Travel."And as our economy revolves a lot around tourism, it means that other activities also slowed down.
"Everything from fishing, to farming, arts and crafts, restaurants and bars. So we started the year in a really bad state."
However, officials have pulled out all the stops to ensure that travelers can return quickly and, more importantly, safely.
From Thursday (March 25,) the Seychelles is lifting restrictions for all visitors, other than those traveling from South Africa.
Although incoming arrivals are required to present a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to their departure, travelers are no longer subject to any quarantine requirements or movement restrictions during their visit.
"Over 300 passengers flew in this morning, which is the biggest number we've seen in a day for a long, long time," Radegonde said just hours after restrictions were lifted.
"Up to now, our weekly figures have been around 200, so getting a plane full of passengers is great."
Another 100 or so travelers were due to fly in later Thursday, and the nation is expecting hundreds more over the coming days.
The move comes towards the end of an "aggressive" vaccination rollout scheme which aims to fully vaccinate at least 70% of the Seychelles' estimated 98,000 population.
Officials put the plan into motion after receiving a donation of approximately 50,000 vaccine doses from the United Arab Emirates government.
According to the New York Times' Global Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, the Seychelles is just behind Israel in the race to become the first country to vaccine its entire population.
"Over 90% of our population has received the first dose of the vaccine and over 45% have already had the second dose," explains Radegonde.
"We hope to have reached our target in the next few weeks, or certainly within the course of April."