By Jean Christou
BRITAIN’S bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria from the Sovereign Bases Areas (SBA) this week opened a debate in the British media yesterday on whether Cyprus was still a safe destination for holidays, but tourism bosses hit back saying the UK itself was far more at risk.
Even though Cyprus ranks amongst the lowest countries on a Foreign Office map when it comes to the risk of a terrorist attack, the Daily Express headline screamed: ‘Is it safe to travel to Cyprus? The terror threat REVEALED’ but the article went on to admit the terror threat was classed as ‘underlying’ – like it is for most European countries – as opposed to countries like Russia and the UK, which faced a ‘high’ threat.
A quick poll on the newspaper’s website showed that almost half of those who read the article said they would still holiday here, as opposed to a third who said it “seemed too dangerous now”. The remainder said they would still come, but they would “feel nervous”.
British tourism to Cyprus – the island’s biggest market – was massively boosted this year after terrorist attacks hit neighbouring countries including Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia, but huge publicity surrounding the Syria bombing campaign may have changed some perceptions.
The director of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) in London, Orestis Rossides told the Cyprus Mail they had received one concerned call yesterday, but assured that Cyprus was still one of the safest places to visit. He said he had seen the newspaper article and had spoken to all of the major British operators. “The message they are giving out is that in Cyprus it’s business as usual,” Rossides said. “Cyprus does not have the fundamentalist issues that Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia have.”
Rossides said the sight on British TV of the Typhoon military jets flying out to Cyprus on Thursday likely made people question whether it was dangerous to travel to the island now. However, Britain has been bombing ISIS in Iraq from the bases for more than a year without it affecting tourism at all. Rossides said he hoped the current hype over bombing Syria from Cyprus would die down by the time Britons were planning their 2016 summer holidays.
The UK Foreign Office, he added, had not changed its travel advisory on Cyprus in months, which indicated it did not consider the island to be at huge risk. “I am more scared here [in London] than I would be in Cyprus,” Rossides said.
His boss, CTO chairman Angelos Loizou, said in Nicosia he did not think it necessary to even answer what the British tabloids were reporting on the topic, though he could appreciate they might be looking out for the concerns of their readers in the UK. “There is only one answer,” he said. “It has been proven over many decades that Cyprus is probably one of the safest places on Earth.” Loizou said there was hardly anywhere in the globe which did not have either a British or American military base. “So it’s not just about Cyprus,” he said.
Noel Josephides, the director of the UK-based Sunvil Travel and head of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) told the Cyprus Mail he too had talked to members and said that as of yesterday there was no perception among them that Cyprus was unsafe. “No one is saying don’t go to France or don’t go to Brussels, so why say it about Cyprus?” Josephides said. “The UK is a bigger target.”
The veteran travel expert said he had been down this road before during the first Gulf War in 1991 when Cyprus’ tourism fell 50 per cent overnight after reports in the UK that Iraqi Scud missiles could reach the island.
Josephides said he had come to Cyprus and met the then President George Vassilou who had spoken to the US Pentagon and was informed that Scud missiles could not in fact reach Cyprus. “So, we had a positive message to bring back with us,” he said. If the current scaremongering persisted, he added, the Cyprus government would have to get on top of the situation quickly.
Cypriot authorities have upped security islandwide since the Paris attacks last month with a visible presence of armed police officers on the streets.
Cyprus has not seen a terrorist attack on its territory since 1988 when a powerful car bomb intended for the Israeli embassy in Nicosia killed three and injured 16 on Grivas Dhigenis Avenue on May 12 that year.