Bicentenary of Napoleon’s death - Interview with the St Helena Tourism Board
Kenickie Andrews, officially selected to be St Helena Napoleon Ambassador. Credit ©St Helena Tourism
2021 marks the bicentennial of the French emperor’s death after 6 years in exile in St Helena. Love him or hate him, Napoleon continues to fascinate and his fate is inextricably linked to the history of the island. A British Napoleonic Trust has even been set up to raise awareness of the island and its fascinating history.
How is St Helena planning to mark the anniversary of Napoleon's death and capitalize on this event to increase the number of overseas tourists in 2021 and beyond, especially from Britain, France and Europe?
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, St Helena will mark the anniversary of Napoleon’s death with a local low key programme of ceremonies which have been arranged by St Helena Napoleonic Heritage Ltd.
With St Helena being unable to predict how the COVID-19 situation will impact travel and in order to ensure that the people who are interested can still feel a part of the commemoration, there is an opportunity for them to arrange for a mini wreath to be laid at the Tomb on their behalf.
St Helena will also try to ensure there is as much international coverage of the events for people to view.
In addition to Napoleon’s home at Longwood House, are there exhibitions and activities that will be taking place in 2021 to commemorate his life on St Helena?
On the island there are currently two museums, which are owned by France: The Briars where Napoleon lived for a few weeks and Longwood House where he spent the remaining six years, as well as his Tomb, all of which are available to visitors on the island. The Museum of Saint Helena will also have a small exhibition to commemorate Napoleon’s legacy on the Island. There will also a the low key programme of ceremonies.
What are the current entry conditions linked to Covid-19?
The situation is changing very quickly, but at present entry requirements to St Helena are for essential travel only which means returning residents (whose primary residence is St Helena) and their dependents. All of those coming for essential work or business, like critical health workers and their dependents can also travel to St Helena. Holidaymakers are not currently granted permission to travel to the Island. These passengers need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 results test prior to arrival and undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine, with a test on day 14. The St Helena Government website provides regular updates.
How hopeful are you that these restrictions will be lifted in the coming weeks and months for British, French, EU and other European travelers?
As stated above, it is difficult to predict how and when the restrictions will be lifted. The Government Officials are monitoring the situation on a regular basis. With the AstraZeneca vaccine programme being rolled out on St Helena, the Government Officials will be looking at the next steps.
Do British and EU visitors require a visa to enter St Helena?
British and EU citizens do not need a visa to visit St Helena
How easy is it to travel from the UK or Europe to St Helena and do visitors usually combine it with a trip to South Africa or even Namibia?
The pre-covid-19 commercial flight schedule is from Johannesburg, South Africa; therefore visitors have to fly from the UK or other parts of Europe to Johannesburg to visit St Helena. Usually, visitors combine their visit to St Helena with a stopover or a holiday in South Africa.
Are there any direct flights from the UK or Europe and how long do visitors spend on the island?
There are currently no direct commercial flights from the UK or Europe. When people do get to visit, they on average spend one week on the island.
It should be noted however that, at present there are no commercial flights to the island, as part of St Helena’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure St Helena is able to repatriate residents, medivacs, contract workers and essential medical supplies a six weekly chartered flight is procured by the island. Reopening the commercial flight service will depend on when leisure travel restrictions are lifted.
St Helena has a unique fauna and flora and is a paradise for water sports lovers and hikers. What are the most popular activities and are there Napoleonic trails available for visitors who want to combine outdoor activities and history?
The most popular activities on St Helena are Diving, Walking & Hiking. Most of the walks have a historical aspect along the way. Climbing Jacob ’s ladder is one of the top attractions but require some level of fitness. They enable visitors to explore the costal fortifications that were built as lookouts for Napoleon’s exile, experience the unique fauna and flora, endemic insects, and take in the most breathtaking spectacular landscapes and views ranging from the rugged hillside to the lush green fields. There is a book called ‘In Napoleon’s Footsteps on St Helena’ which can be purchased from Longwood House shop and it enables visitors to retrace Napoleon’s time on the Island by visiting some of the locations mentioned.
What is the best time of the year to visit St Helena?
St Helena is a year-round destination, although if you want to experience the seasonal migration of the whale sharks or want to soak up the warm southern hemisphere sun, we suggest December to March. Walking is an all year around activity and if you want cooler weather then come from April to November. For history buffs, any time is a great time!
I heard that it is a year-round destination with mild winters, although it can very windy even in the Summer. Are ferries and flights more frequent at specific times of the year?
Prior to COVID-19 and during the summer months of December to March St Helena increases its commercial scheduled flights to 2 flights a week, unlike the rest of the year it when it only has 1 flight a week. The MV Helena travels between Cape Town, St Helena and Ascension Island on a monthly basis and although it is a cargo ship, it has a 4 berth cabins which enables passenger to visit St Helena by sea. The Cruise Ship season is from October to April.
The islanders are renowned for their conviviality and warm welcome. What can UK and European visitors expect in terms of accommodation, food and overall experience to make them feel “at home” even on one of the most isolated islands in the world?
One of St Helena’s greatest attractions is its people. Their warm welcome and friendliness give visitors a strong sense of belonging to their small community.
The St Helenian food has historical influences from Portugal, Britain, Southeast Asia, Malay, China and Africa. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the island’s cuisine include a lot of fish and seafood. The most popular dishes include tuna or wahoo fishcakes, fish‘n’batter, tuna curry, stuffed tuna and tuna chutney, not forgetting other local fish such as conger eel, bulleyes, jack, mackerel and solider, which are either fried, grilled or baked. Other popular meals are plo, a curried dish which consists of a choice of meat or fish, vegetables and rice and the famous Helenian Black Pudding which is much different to Black Pudding elsewhere in the world. St Helenians also have a sweet tooth and enjoy local treats such as pumpkin fritters, coconut fingers, fruit duff, fudge and coconut ice cream. A visit to St Helena is not complete without tasting “Bread‘n Dance” or tomato paste sandwiches. St Helena is also renowned for its unique and wonderful Coffee and if you are lucky, try tasting one of the purest honey in the world.
The accommodation on Island ranges from a 4* hotel to quirky and cozy B&Bs whereby locals welcome visitors into their homes. St Helenians are well known for home hosting and it is often said by visitors that it is the people who make St Helena so special and memorable.
Looking beyond 2021, how does St Helena hope to capitalize on Napoleonic tourism to further enhance its profile in terms of infrastructure and investment, to better cope with an increase in the number of tourists?
Napoleon’s exile on St Helena is being used and will continue to be promoted as a ‘hook’ to get people interested in coming to see and experience where Napoleon spent his final days. Once here, there are lots of other different products for the visitor to participate in, such as whale shark tours and dolphin trips whilst viewing the coastal fortifications by sea, walking and experiencing the contrasting landscapes, touring first generation African burial ground and learning about St Helena’s involvement in the abolition of slavery, which Napoleon also influenced during his time on the island. As more visitors come to the island and spend money on their experiences we are able to use this revenue to help improve the product (and the overall experience), invest in expansion of amenities to cater for them.
Likewise, a British Napoleonic Heritage Trust has been set up in the UK, with influential trustees on board to help raise donations for improvement of local infrastructure. Whilst the Trust primarily focuses on Napoleonic related assets, they cover St Helena’s built heritage assets in general. Just recently the Trust received a donation that will primarily repair our famous Jacob’s ladder and other built heritage assets.
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