Article
Property

The Church of Cyprus -- An unexpected tour operator

10 February, 2019 | Posted By: Antonis Loizou

By Antonis Loizou F.R.I.C.S. – Antonis Loizou & Associates Ltd – Real Estate Valuers, Estate Agents & Property Consultants

 

I had never thought that religion could be a source of tourist attraction to the extent that it has developed.  The Russian, Ukrainian, Egyptian (those who are Copts) and other Orthodox countries, showed an added interest for Cyprus based partly on religion.  We are now experiencing an increased interest mainly by Russians and Russian-speaking tourists.

It seems that some of these nations are more religious than we are, in the sense that they treat the church with much more respect than we do.  We use our churches, amongst other things, for political speeches, have national flags hanging on the ceiling and people chatting during the ceremony with the psalms just being a background “music”. This is partly the fault of our ceremony which is held in ancient Greek, where very few people understand what it is all about, they get bored and start chatting with their neighbour in church.

In our business we get a lot of enquiries regarding religious places to visit, especially for out of the way chapels which are usually placed in a beautiful environment, on hills and even right on the beach.  These isolated chapels are now in fashion ranging from weddings, christenings, etc, whereas caterers can provide all necessary food, tents, portable WCs etc.  Bear in mind that all Christian denominations can use the local churches subject to the local Bishop’s approval.

We came up with the idea of seeking the Archbishop’s help on the matter and were introduced to the Bishop of Mesaoria, an enthusiastic and computer-literate person, who has surprised us, not only because the church has a website on the subject (www.churchofcyprus.org.cy) in four languages, he told us that at any reasonable time any visitor wishing to visit a chapel, he would arrange a tour through the local church representative, to show them around and explain the history etc (at no cost but a small suggested contribution of say 30 euros in the churches box will be appreciated).

There are lovely stories, a history behind each church and little did we know that Tripiotis church (a Nicosia chapel) has its unique history.  Nicosia at a time was flooded and the people ran to the church asking God for help. God appeared and struck with his cane the ground creating a big hole where all the flood water was drawn and Nicosia dried out.  Lovely story and the hole is still there (similar to Moses’ exodus of the Jews from Egypt).  We are aware that there are no set excursions for such religious visits, but individual groups or persons by renting a car can be found everywhere.

This is another plus for real estate promotion, used with the correct Christian meaning, but it is interesting to note the volume of demand.  The Bishop reported that there are approximately 7,000 visits to out of the way chapels every year and this in addition to the town churches, whereas the more popular monasteries such as Kykko, Trooditissa etc, can attract more than 2,000 foreign visitors each.

In one of our projects at Pissouri, we built a small chapel fully decorated by one of the local residents, a British artist with beautiful murals on the ceiling and it named St. Demitios.  The bell was gifted to the church by a Russian resident and a number of local icons by the locals.

Alas, the Paphos Bishopric does not allow any religious activities in it, since it must belong to the Bishopric and not to individuals (in this case to the whole project).  But if not for Cypriots, surely weddings, christenings etc can take place there.  This is a major attraction to the project and we have had two “engagements” (exchange of vows) in it and two pending christenings.  We are now hoping to organise an Easter celebration in the church yard not only relating to food, but also inviting the local priest and a Limassol chorus – if they come – with little money.  A religious festivity with a message of love to all residents.  We cannot say that we sold more properties than otherwise (had we not had this chapel) but it is something that people come to like more and more. 

Choosing a residence close to a proper church mind you can be a problem due to nuisance (we tend to have megaphones so that the psalms are heard far away) and never ending fireworks that frighten people during Easter.

We tend to relate all Russian speakers as being Russians, but had the recent Ukrainian troubles not happened, Ukrainians would have formed the majority of Russian speakers in terms of home purchases/investment.  On the one hand one can argue that the troubles will encourage those wealthy Ukrainians to seek a permanent residency/ passport under the Cyprus scheme, but although welcomed, this is not a sustainable source of demand.

Everything emanates from tourists and then it is followed by real estate investments.  It is beyond us how Crete with its +3 mln tourists has 1 mln Germans and Cyprus has only 100.000.  Germany that suffered a tremendous death toll of its soldiers during the second world war and with cemeteries for German soldiers in Crete they are still going to Crete, but then why not Cyprus?  A recent interview by a German tour operator on the subject said that Cyprus has too many Russians and our clients do not really like this.

“They are everywhere in hotels, places of entertainment” etc. So? What is the problem since they are by majority the least troublesome tourists and the highest spenders.

Keeping on the subject of religion shall we build a couple of chapels for the German tourists/residents to be?  We also seem to have ignored the U.K. based tour operators and with their tourist numbers the highest, the Cyprus Government has undertaken a charm offensive to that country in the hope of renewing interest in civil weddings in chapels as well as christenings.

During the years of the tourist boom (1980s) Cyprus was very much in demand by the Northern European countries, especially Sweden.  There was a time that we set up a sales office in Stockholm and we employed two Swedish sales staff in Cyprus to cope.  Now they are almost nowhere to be found.

Now that circumstances are tough and now that Egypt and other Arab countries have lost a big share of tourists, it is time to investigate the situation and ascertain the route towards recovery.  One of the reasons of Cyprus failure, we are told, is the restriction on chartered flights and as a proof of this, Crete with no direct flights still attracts the same number of tourists as Cyprus. The protection that past governments have offered to Cyprus Airways, restricting chartered flights is one of the reasons which have cost us dearly for the sake of a few hundred jobs of the Cyprus Airways staff.

Will we ever learn?

 

 

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