OVER the weekend, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) chairman Angelos Loizou gave a very comprehensive overview of the industry at a Limassol event, touting the fact that the island had manged to secure an extra million visitors in only two years, which in truth was quite a feat.
Arrivals this year are expected to jump to 3.6 million, an unprecedented number. Loizou said that according to the World Tourism Organisation, Cyprus’ overall growth of 32 per cent between 2013 and 2016 had far exceeded the respective growth in global tourist arrivals of 13 per cent and 9 per cent in Europe, and to southern European Mediterranean destinations of 14 per cent for the same period.
While the big increase is good news, when the percentages are broken down and compared with the global stats, it’s clear that the island’s good fortune is a bit of an anomaly and this should be a reason for caution, along with the celebrations, as such rapid growth would be hard to sustain in the long term.
If we look back to the situation in 2001, which recorded record arrivals of 2.1 million, strategic plan after strategic plan over the subsequent 15 years – all eventually shelved- accomplished very little and it has taken that long to see the current recovery. Tourism will always be vulnerable to outside and economic effects, and it is also an industry partly reliant on travel trends. Destinations can be popular for five years and then once numbers slouch, operators and airlines who see no profit ahead just simply pull out at the drop of a hat.
The fact is that even though more marketing has been done over the past number of years during which new arrival records have been established, it was not all down to the popularity of Cyprus but rather the misfortune in some instances of its neighbours in the region. That’s not to say the CTO has not upped its game, only that this could not have been the sole reason why numbers have skyrocketed, although more air connections have also been a contributing factor.
What was good another bit of good news however was that according to CTO surveys, 93 per cent of visitors said they would return. This is a huge improvement on the past when many tourists felt ripped off as industry players tried to make up for lost numbers with higher prices and scant attention was given to repeat business.
In that sense the 2013 banking crisis brought with it the realisation that prices had to come down and services had to improve. Even so, tourists have reduced their spending, and tourism revenue will come in around €2.6bn up from €2.4bn in 2016. Unlike Cyprus’ anomalous jump in arrivals, tourist spending levels are in line with global trends. So, while we can celebrate record arrivals in 2016 and 2017, it would be wise to keep in mind the lessons of 2001 and be prepared for any eventuality in the government’s newest strategic plan covering the period 2017 -2030.