HAS the government decided to sabotage our booming tourist industry even as it hits new arrival records every month? Perhaps it concluded the country cannot cope with the constantly rising number of visitors and took action, which could also be sold to the electorate as patriotic, to limit them. This may sound far-fetched, but there seems to be no other plausible explanation for the bizarre policy of denying entry into the country to tourists from non-EU countries who have bookings at Greek Cypriot-owned properties in the north.
The policy of barring entry to third country nationals was implemented at Larnaca airport on Monday night with mixed results. Of the 51 visitors initially denied entry only 16, from Lebanon and Serbia were put on a plane back home. Thirty-five Israelis with bookings in the north were eventually allowed into the country, but only after the intervention of their embassy which they had contacted to complain. A Lebanese couple was sent back after telling the policeman at passport control they would probably visit the north. The over-zealous officer ignored the fact the couple would be staying in the Republic with a Greek Cypriot friend.
According to this officer’s interpretation of the new guidelines, third country nationals who express merely an intention to visit the north had to be denied entry. At the same time, Israelis with bookings at the prohibited hotels were allowed through because their embassy kicked up a fuss and our authorities did not want to upset relations with Israel.
Meanwhile, citizens of EU countries can stay in whatever Greek Cypriot-owned property they choose in the north after being picked up from Larnaca airport by a Turkish Cypriot cab. They can even be collected by a mini-bus sent by the hotel in the north that is owned by a Greek Cypriot.
Only our narrow-minded foreign ministry officials could come up with such a spectacularly inconsistent and blatantly discriminatory policy in the name of the national interest. The ministry compiled a list with the name and location of each hotel in the north, owned by Greek Cypriots, and gave it to the police at the airport. So now, the first experience of any non-EU tourists arriving in Cyprus will be a police interrogation about where they will be staying and their entry will be at the discretion of the officer asking the questions. They will think they have come on holiday in a police state.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides, exhibiting the rationality obviously lacking in foreign ministry officials who did not think it necessary to inform embassies and travel agents about this discriminatory policy nor gave any thought to its consequences, suspended the directive for 15 days to give the authorities time to decide how such cases would be handled.
The only proper solution is to scrap the directive. But that might be too daring for a president seeking re-election and hoping to attract the super-patriotic votes.