By Poly Panteldies and Bejay Browne
AS THE traditional August holiday period approaches, the tourism industry is receiving mixed signals where domestic demand is concerned.
According to industry insiders on the eastern part of the island, accommodation is filling up fast and residents need to get their act together on bookings. Yet on the western coast, traditional Cypriot holiday strongholds say business is dire with one hotel dealing exclusively with locals already seeing a 50 per cent drop.
It seems inevitable that more residents will choose to holiday in Cyprus this year given the financial crisis, but there are also those who may have holidayed at home in previous years who can no longer afford to do even that.
On top of that, according to Ellie Petrou, the owner of the Tylos Beach Hotel, a family-run two-star facility in Kato Pyrgos, government subsidised holidays for certain groups such as pensioners and large families have been cut by 80 per cent. Kato Pyrgos had been taken out of the loop altogether she said. “The government is only paying for mountain holidays this year and not beach holidays. Things are very bad,” she said.
Tylos Beach has been in existence for 41 years but Petrou said things have never looked so dire for them.
“Our bookings are down by 50 per cent compared with last year and even though we have special offers at the moment we still have rooms available for August, a time when we are usually packed.”
Kato Pyrgos is situated in a valley on the northern foothills of the Troodos Mountains it has the added bonus of an unspoiled beach with crystal clear waters. But despite the superb location and low prices – €35 per person per night including breakfast – fewer people are booking while some have cancelled after losing their jobs or having wages slashed.
“People are still unsure about what is going on with the banks and psychologically they are not okay. Most of our guests are locals and we can no longer take advance payments as people just don’t have available cash to do it,” said Petrou.
Chairman of the Cyprus Hotels Association (PASYXE), Haris Loizides yesterday confirmed that most areas have not yet fully recovered from the financial meltdown in March when bookings from abroad stagnated due to the uncertainty in the banking sector.
Limassol, Larnaca, and to a lesser extent ‘Paphos proper’ are lagging behind, Loizides said. Within each district, there were areas faring worse than others such as Kato Pyrgos, Loizides said, whereas the touristy Paphos-proper was doing all right, Loizides said.
On the eastern side of the island however, tourism officials are rubbing their hands with glee.
In the Famagusta area, the tourist board expects to run on full capacity by the end of July and for the whole of August, said the board’s head Lakis Avraamides.
“Assuming as a starting point that more Cypriots will choose not to go abroad, it’s natural to expect more domestic tourism this year,” Avraamides said, adding that it was well know that Cypriots were last-minute bookers.
He said to avoid disappointment, residents should book in advance because already, hotels in the Famagusta area are at 85 per cent of capacity.
He said there had been few cancellations from abroad after a general numbness in arrivals in March. Agents from abroad kept their bookings for May and June arrivals on standby as they waited to see how the situation would unfold, Avraamides said.
“Over the past ten days we’ve seen a return to our good old form with more bookings for July and August, because that’s when everyone wants to come,” he added.
Troubles in neighbouring Egypt and Turkey have also encouraged tourists to seek alternative destinations, mostly in Greece but also in Cyprus, he added.
Because demand has been good, the Famagusta region in general has not tried to attract people via special offers. “We have good high quality tourism,” Avraamides said.
Britons and an ever-growing number of Russians continue to visit Famagusta, which boasts beautiful sandy stretches in Ayia Napa and Protaras. Plenty of Nicosia residents also have holiday homes in the area, escaping the summer heat whenever they get a chance.
Loizides said hoteliers were hope that by the time August rolls around capacity would be closer to 95-100 per cent, rather than the current 85 per cent on average.
He said the discounted prices in April had gone a long way towards helping the recovery, especially when it came to Russia when it looked like some chartered flights might be cancelled for fear they would not be filled.
But how important is the domestic market in all of this? Not very as long as the beds are being filled from abroad. “It [domestic tourism] accounts for seven to eight per cent of the total market,” Loizides said. As tourism in Cyprus goes, it is the foreign visitors who are the bread and butter of the industry for most hoteliers. However some like to target both markets.
The Five Star Grecian Park Hotel in Paralimni is a luxury hotel resort close to Protaras, Ayia Napa, Cavo Greco and the popular beach of Konnos Bay. This area is always popular with holiday makers both from home and abroad, and this year is no exception. The hotel allocates a certain number of rooms to tour operator’s abroad but many of their guests are Cyprus residents.
Sales and reservations manager for the hotel Sonia Christofi said: “We have very limited availability left for July and August and we haven’t seen booking dropping off at all this year at all, which is good news.”
Christofi added: “Our hotel has always been popular with the Cyprus crowd and they are one of our target markets, we have always tried to give the best we can and we have a special local rate.”
She noted: “What we have realised is that more people from Cyprus are booking with us in July, which is something new. This area is always popular and it attracts a lot of people.”