(Bloomberg) -- Russian visitors to beach resorts in Seychelles have jumped three-fold in the first four months of the year undeterred by the island nation’s opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Seychelles voted in favor of United Nations resolutions to condemn the invasion of Ukraine and suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, even as dozens of other African Union member nations objected or abstained. While Seychelles denounces the war, it “welcomes Russians with open arms,” the archipelago’s President Wavel Ramkalawan said in an interview from Victoria, the nation’s capital, on Thursday. 

“Seychelles is not at war with Russia. At least, we are not at war with the Russian people,” Ramkalawan said. “Seychelles is a tourist destination. Anybody is free to come in.” 

That’s good news for wealthy Russian tourists reeling from airspace closures and sanctions imposed by the US, the UK and European nations. Russia became Seychelles’ top tourist market last year prompting Aeroflot PJSC to return after 17 years. The African nation -- home to white sandy beaches and palm-fringed islands -- became the world’s most vaccinated country last year, which is helping it bounce back from the pandemic-induced slump. 

Seychelles lured more than 13,000 Russian tourists so far this year and with Aeroflot resuming flights, that number could jump, Ramkalawan said. Aeroflot didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. 

A big obstacle for Russians traveling abroad is airspace closures and the inability of many carriers to fly over Russia and Ukraine. Some die-hard tourists are using Dubai and other Gulf hubs to transit.

Last year, tourism accounted for half of Seychelles foreign currency revenue, while arrivals climbed 59%. Borders reopened in the last week of March, and it anticipates attracting slightly more than 300,000 visitors this year with many of its five-star hotels already booked out.

“The vaccination program, the reopening of the country are the two main elements that saved the country,” Ramkalawan said. “We were prepared for Covid. We had extra hospitals open. And this what has put us on a good footing.”

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Seychelles budget deficit narrowed to less than 7% last year, from an initial prediction of 14% to 15%, and is expected to narrow further to under 5% this year.
  • “If there was not the Russia-Ukraine war, we would have balanced things out.”
  • Seychelles has no intention of making adopting any cryptocurrency as legal tenure as the Central African Republic has done. “We are very happy with our rupee.”
  • Ramkalawan, who is in the first 18 months of his first five-year term, intends seeking re-election. “We will see what they say. If they say enough is enough, I will leave quietly and there will be a smooth transition.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.