It's never going to be a cheap trip, but Joanna Booth can help you enjoy the Seychelles without breaking the bank
Synonymous with five-star luxury and private island resorts, the Seychelles has long been seen as an expensive destination, its delights only accessible to the wealthy or those splashing out on a honeymoon treat.
In recent years holidaymakers from mainland Europe have had their perceptions altered, snapping up offers in the smaller, simpler hotels, or even self-catering properties dotted all over the islands.
However, we Brits have been slow on the uptake, and have tended to stick to the costly options or stay away altogether, which has resulted in falling visitors numbers from the UK - this year numbers are 24% down on last year.
But with inside knowledge of cheaper options under your belt, you can sell the Seychelles to clients who never dreamed they'd be able to afford it.
Let's not beat about the bush; this is never going to be a budget destination. There's a long-haul flight to contend with for starters, and some hotel prices are tied to the euro. Plus, a large quantity of food and beverages are imported.
Having said that, much of what makes the Seychelles unique and special isn't expensive at all. Its stunning beaches are public, so anyone can lie beneath a palm tree and rest their head on the softest, whitest sand imaginable, before cooling off in the azure, bath-warm sea.
There are fantastic snorkelling spots accessible from many beaches, so for the price of mask and flipper hire, clients can swim among vibrantly coloured fish and even spot turtles.
Giant tortoises roam free, and many a happy hour can be whiled away feeding them leaves and watching their antics (see one of them on video below).
The local Seybrew beer is cheap and tasty, and there's no charge to watch the sun set and spot the local fruit bats soaring on the evening air currents while drinking one.
Accommodation costs can be substantially reduced by avoiding the large, five-star resorts - they're exquisite, but they are pricey. A few years ago, the Seychelles Tourism Board launched the Seychelles Secrets brand, an umbrella grouping for small, unique hotels and self-catering properties on the islands that offer value for money and international standards of service.
Elite Vacations carries 20 of these properties, plus other small, good value hotels. Managing director Peter Jackson said: "These small properties have always been what I consider unique about the Seychelles, as they have a local Creole flavour. The French, Germans and Italians have picked up on these value options, and now is the perfect time for the UK market to follow suit."
So there's no need for clients to drop a grand a night on a hotel - Elite Vacations' lead-in rate for five nights in one of these small hotels is £899, and yes, that is including international flights and private transfers.
All-inclusive has never really caught on in the Seychelles, and beyond some of the private island resorts that offer full-board, most hotels offer bed and breakfast.
Eating out can be relatively cheap - advise clients to steer clear of the restaurants in the top hotels (though the food is fantastic if they're looking for a special night) and head for local places or the restaurants of the smaller hotels.
Here you'll find great Creole cooking and pay from about £10 to £25 a head for a meal. A local Seybrew beer costs about £1.60. Paying in the local Seychellois rupees tends to work out cheaper than paying in euros.
Hiring a car needn't break the bank either - I paid €35 for a day's hire with Prestige on Praslin. There's so much to explore on every island. On Mahe you can visit the tiny capital, Victoria, taking in the local market and 'Little Ben', a tiny replica of London's most famous clock.
Up in the mountains, you can visit a tea plantation and factory for €1 a head. There are sprawling beaches and tiny secluded coves everywhere, so it's easy to find a bay where you're completely alone, or select a beauty spot such as Anse Lazio on Praslin, where there are beach restaurants to retreat to for shade and seafood.
Two wheels are all that's needed to get around on tiny La Digue, and bike hire is around €10 per day.
Unfortunately, excursions aren't cheap in the Seychelles, but it may be some comfort to clients to know the reasons for the prices. These trips almost invariably involve trips to different islands, all of which carry fairly hefty landing fees, some as high as €30 per person.
Despite the cost, recommend clients take at least one excursion and remind them that they'll save money if they book in advance - and earn you commission at the same time.
Creole Travel Services' Tale of Three Islands trip justifies its relatively steep €225 price tag: visiting Cousin, a sanctuary filled with exotic birds, giant tortoises, crabs and lizards; Curieuse, a former leper colony which is now home to the rare coco de mer, a palm with suggestively shaped double coconuts; and St Pierre, a rocky islet with wonderful snorkelling opportunities.
Creole is launching a new trip for families this summer. The Finding Nemo itinerary features a time in a brand new glass-bottomed boat from which kids can spot clown fish. There's gear available for snorkelling, too.
Where to stay
Joanna Booth sampled Seychelles Secrets with Elite Vacations
I stayed in three Seychelles Secrets properties, one on each of the three main islands.
On Mahe, I stayed at Le Relax Hotel and Restaurant. This pretty 10-room, three-star deluxe property sits two minutes from Anse Royale beach on the island's east coast, its shallow pitched white roof typical of Seychellois architecture.
The room was bright and clean with a view over the bay, and it was a short walk down a few flights of steps to the pool area, which is next to the restaurant.
As well the local Creole cuisine, it offers Indian food, burgers and snacks, so it's great for those who fancy a change, and has a wider range of veggie options than many places on the islands.
There's a sister property on Praslin, Le Relax Beach Resort, which offers the same menu. Again, a three-star property with 10 rooms, set out in villas in lush, flower-filled grounds surrounding the pool area, and directly on the long white stretch of Grand Anse Beach.
Both properties offer free beach towels, parking and internet access, and can arrange car rentals.
On La Digue, I stayed at picturesque Chateau St Cloud. This old vanilla plantation has been in the same family for six generations, and current owner Myriam St Ange offers a friendly service with bikes available for hire - a great bonus, as cycling is by far the most popular way to get around La Digue.
The deluxe rooms are especially good - vast in size and stylishly decorated. There's a large pool next to the restaurant, which has live music most nights and a buffet option on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, offering a wide and tasty spread of Creole food.
Anse Source D'Argent beach on the island of La Digue is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It's been used as a film set for movies such as 1980s classic Castaway and adverts for Bounty, Bacardi and Carling.
Joanna posted observations and photos to our Postcards blog throughout her trip to the Seychelles. Hit the link for more on island-hopping, culture, and flora and fauna - including an encounter with Fatty the Tortoise, captured on camera below...