TOURISM: A postcard from Cyprus

08 September, 2018 | Posted By: Charlie Charalambous

Five years ago, the Cyprus economy was in ruins and its casino banks were the laughing stock of Europe. Fast-forward to the where we are now, and it would have been hard to believe that the economy survived a punishing bailout, toxic debt and record high unemployment.

Banks folded, businesses went the wall, ordinary Cypriots lost their savings, wealthy Russians were severely burnt, and Cyprus bonds were worth less than recycled junk.

Austerity washed across the land staining the door of every household while financial pliers were used to pull out the rotting teeth of a toothless economy.

But somehow Cyprus got its bite back and after three years in purgatory it was invited to sit at the top table again – it still can’t afford the lobster steaks but at least it’s allowed through the door.

Among the ashes of our financial folly Cyprus tourism also took one hell of a beating, the number of tourists dipped, our product was looking shabbier than an Afghan hound with no money around to give it a much-needed shampoo.

Regional competitors were piling them in while Cyprus struggled to get its voice heard among the promotional campaigns.

The island lacked strong air connectivity to European cities, it struggled to crack new markets and it was far from being lauded as a value for money destination.

Cheaper destinations like Turkey, Egypt and Morocco were crushing it while Cyprus was getting sand kicked in its face by the beach life hedonists.

Cyprus was no longer seen as an attractive, sexy, hip destination – it smelt like the inside of an Oxfam shop (no offence) – crusty, dusty and dour but meaning well.

Tourism officials won’t openly admit it, but Cyprus was the unexpected benefactor of regional volatility and religious fundamentalist terror attacks.

Political instability and bomb attacks in Egypt and Turkey wiped those countries off the tourist map and Cyprus was conveniently placed to receive those tourists looking for somewhere safe.

Cyprus didn’t have to be the all-action destination, its family-friendly secure environment was enough to do the trick.

More tourists started coming and when they did, they liked what they saw triggering demand for greater connectivity from Europe’s provincial towns and cities.

The island was welcoming more British tourists, the Russians became the second largest market while the Germans, French and the Swedes started coming back.

Israelis and the Lebanese have also fallen back in love with Cyprus and they also want to invest.

Undoubtedly, tourism has been the key driver for economic growth, helping Cyprus to get back on its feet.

Last year saw a record 3.65 million visitors to Cyprus and the authorities expect that figure to be beaten in 2018 with arrivals touching the 4 million benchmark.

Moreover, tourism receipts for the first six months of this year have broached the €1 bln barrier, so record spending figures are also predicted.

This highlights what has been achieved after Cyprus clawed back its tarnished reputation, but the island could be doing better.

As a tourist destination, Cyprus should be achieving much bigger numbers than it is. It is behind the curve in being the complete package for all types of visitors such as niche markets like golf, yachting, wellness and nature.

It’s not just about building luxury hotels (some would disagree) but it encompasses our whole attitude to visitors.

There is a tendency to view tourists as euro signs rather than people that deserve the best of our hospitality and service.

Ripping tourists off is going to bite us back in the end. As a small island with plenty of big sharks competing against us, we must be sure to make a good impression on visitors.

This starts from the experience they get at the airports, to the cleanliness of our streets and the number of road signs they can see.

To be fair, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation has warned that Cypriots must not get complacent to think the tourists will keep coming in large numbers without any effort to upgrade the sector with a smile.

Profiteering will certainly turn them away, there are also issues such as noise pollution, touting for business on the streets, lack of public transport and sustainable development.

A new tourism ministry will be operational next January, and it is tasked with introducing a long-term strategy for the sector but there seems to be little discussion about what the future of tourism looks like.

Needless to say, the industry needs to be pro-active, think out of the box and not take the situation for granted – because their competitors won’t be. And this is where regional tourism boards can play a part in pushing the agenda forward and being receptive to local demand and trends.

Cyprus can still be proud of its long history and heritage but it’s no longer that picture postcard image of an old lady with the leathery face riding a donkey down a village street. On second thoughts…