By Penelope Karaolis
RECOGNISING the rising number of adventure-seeking divers from around the world, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) is focusing on shaping the island’s diving scene into one of the best in the Mediterranean.
“Cyprus is a growing market in the field of diving tourism,” CTO officer Christodoulos Papachristodoulou told the Cyprus News Agency. “Our country can become a major destination in the Mediterranean.”
In an effort to upgrade Cyprus’ diving tourist services, the CTO has funded the purchase of vessels for scuttling to create artificial reefs by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research (DFMR).
Four vessels have been scuttled so far: Nemesis III in Protaras (23 meter depth); Costandis and Lady Thetis in Limassol Dasoudi (depth of 25 meters and 21-23 meters respectively); and Laboe in Paphos at approximately the same depth. Warship Kyrenia will be added to the list in early 2015 in Ayia Napa.
“The transparency, clarity and temperature of our waters, the quality of diving services provided, as well as lodging and boarding services, safety conditions and treatment facilities in case of accident, can help designate Cyprus as an important diving destination in the Mediterranean,” Papachristodoulou said.
He added that Zenobia, a Swedish cargo vessel sunk in Larnaca in 1980, is one of the top five most popular diving attractions worldwide.
Asked about the number of tourists visiting the island specifically for diving, Papachristodoulou said that the first official statistics for diving tourism will be available by the end of 2014. Currently, unofficial estimates hover around 35,000-50,000 per year.
He said that Cypriot diving tourists mainly comes from the United Kingdom, the Scandinavian countries and Germany. But the CTO, he added, aims to target travellers from Israel and Central European countries.
The president of the Association of Diving Centres Nicos Nicolaou said Cyprus must focus on upgrading diving tourism as a revenue stream.
“In recent years we have convinced the government to recognise and invest in what we call diving tourism,” Nicolaou told CNA. “The results are obvious after the scuttling of vessels and it is evident that progress has been made. Our appeal to the competent bodies is to invest in the scuttling of more and larger vessels aims at making Cyprus a diving paradise, putting it on the map as a favoured diving destination.”
Many tourists visit Cyprus to take introductory diving courses. Others wish to explore its mesmerising underwater world, see shipwrecks and marine life (corals, fish, and other aquatic organisms), as well as underwater caves. But they all love to see marine fauna and flora when submerged, according to Papachristodoulou.
“Those who come exclusively for diving are the ones who bring most cash to the government and diving centres,” Nicolaou said. “They buy expensive diving packages because they know diving is an expensive sport and plan their budgets accordingly. But most are tourists visiting Cyprus for holidays who give diving a try.”
Despite estimating the number of diving lessons taken each year at 100,000 in the island’s 50 dive centres, Nicolaou said that the economic crisis had caused a slump in diving activity.
“Diving offers tranquillity, away from the stress of everyday life,” he said. “People are no longer in the right mindset to dive and leave their worries behind. There is a decrease in diving but I hope that economic recovery will bring diving to pre-crisis levels. Divers are generally obsessed with diving – once you become one with the sea, you can’t do without it.”