By Angelos Anastasiou
The owners of a small traditional agrotourism establishment in Chirokitia, Larnaca, have been taken to court by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation for non-compliance with the law on swimming pools, which they say requires them to take on absurd and unnecessary high expenses to meet demands originally laid down for much larger hotels.
The House of Achilles is a family-run agrotourism establishment, and comprises a single house that can sleep just six to eight people at a time. It has been owned by the Achilles family since the 19th century, and the Achilles – Rosanna and brother Nicholas – spent a small fortune in restoring it and putting in a small swimming pool. It attracts – “with difficulty” – approximately 100 tourists per year. The house is usually rented out to one extended family.
“They spend money, see the real Cyprus, and generally write us five-star reviews,” Rosanna told the Sunday Mail.
“We make little or no profit, but the house is conserved and preserved for the next generation.”
On October 29, the Achilles – both in their sixties – crossed the courthouse’s front door as defendants. Despite having registered the swimming pool, and the House of Achilles, with the CTO and the Cyprus Agrotourism Company, and paid the relevant dues, they were found in breach of the law on swimming pools. They should have put in men and women’s changing rooms, men and women’s toilets, and kept a lifeguard on duty during the swimming pool’s operating hours. The forbidding cost notwithstanding, the house does not even have the space for these to be accommodated.
“Research before the court case revealed that the 1969 legislation that we were summoned under was enacted for ‘some’ large hotels,” Rosanna explained.
“Agrotourism properties such as ours did not exist in those days. The legislation was for the likes of the five-star Hilton in Nicosia, and the Castelli Dome Hotel in Kyrenia.”
Not our problem, the CTO said.
“The issue of the operation of swimming pools is regulated by the Law on Swimming Pools, responsibility for the implementation of which rests with local authorities (district commissions or municipalities),” CTO acting head Annita Demetriadou told the Sunday Mail.
Translation: we didn’t make the law, and we don’t monitor its enforcement.
Indeed, inspections of swimming pool facilities are carried out by local authorities. Predictably, this has resulted in similar establishments being treated quite differently. Offenders in Larnaca have already seen the inside of the courtroom, while those in Paphos have enjoyed immunity – presumably because the authorities in Paphos are more understanding of the unreasonable elements of the legislation.
“There are inconsistencies as to how this law is being applied in each district in Cyprus, with some districts not applying it at all, and others, such as Larnaca, applying it per se,” Rosanna complained.
And in a letter last month to Tourism Minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis, she signed off with yet another distortion.
“I have learnt that none of the unlicensed houses in Cyprus are affected by this legislation, as the Cyprus Tourism Organisation have admitted that they do not have the necessary funds to pursue unlicensed properties,” she told him.
“How unfair is that?”
But the CTO never took any hotel businesses to court for breaching the law on swimming pools – nor has it any jurisdiction over such matters, Demetriadou said.
“Monitoring and implementation of the relevant legislation [on swimming pools] rests with other authorities – the Interior ministry,” she noted.
“In this case, following recommendations and allowing sufficient time for compliance, the CTO has taken judicial measures against [Mrs Achilles] for operating a hotel business without the CTO’s required permit.”
Of course, the “required permit” entails the issuance of a licence to have a public swimming pool – which cannot be issued unless the owners have met the exhaustive list of criteria, including a life-guard, and men and women’s changing rooms and toilets.
Still, it seems that someone, somewhere, has realised there’s something wrong with the law on swimming pools. For at least five years, discussion on amending the rules has been ongoing, as yet with no result.
“The issue of licensing swimming pools operating in small hotel units, like [the House of Achilles] and other small agrotourism businesses, is being examined, following the relevant recommendations of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, by the Interior Ministry’s appropriate service, in the context of the ongoing effort to amend the Law on Swimming Pools,” Demetriadou noted.
Meanwhile, Rosanna and Nicholas will go back to the Larnaca District court on February 4, and, barring some Deus-ex-machina plot twist, they will be found guilty.
The House of Achilles, along with a number of other agrotourism businesses whose owners have also found themselves in the same predicament, remains closed and is withering fast.
“My brother and I love the house, the village, and Cyprus, with a passion,” Rosanna said.
“I wish the minister of tourism takes action to urgently change the law for owners of small establishments before we are turned into criminals in our sixth decades.”