Cyprus Mail

In from the cold, Russia agrees to liberalise flights

By Peter Stevenson

IN WHAT seems like an about-turn from previous decisions that could have spelled disaster for the Ayia Napa and Paralimni holiday resorts, Russia has given the green light for additional flights to Cyprus during the winter season, following a decision to liberalise the air routes between the countries.

With flights from Russia’s main cities now liberalised, the popular eastern resorts expect as many as 300,000 tourists to arrive over the next six months until the 2014 summer season starts in May.

This decision is expected to inject much-needed revenue into the tourism sector that has seen a mild drop in overall arrivals this year, primarily due to the financial crisis and the fallout from the bad publicity that Cyprus got. However, the rising rate of unemployment, most evident in the tourist industry, may be curbed somewhat as many hoteliers will remain open, probably throughout the year.

The official agreement will be signed on Monday at the Transport Ministry following persistent efforts by the government, hoteliers, tour operators and local authorities to liberalise flights in order to breathe life into the Famagusta district hotel market.

“On Friday afternoon I received a letter from Russia’s Transport Minister, in response to our letter which was sent on July 31, informing us that Russia accepts our request to fully liberalise flights from Cyprus during the winter period,” Transport Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said.

The Minister added that liberalisation would mean that additional chartered and scheduled flights could come from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities, expanding the number of airlines which can operate flights to Cyprus.

“By liberalising flights we are essentially solving the problem of seasonality by bringing more tourists, enabling our hotels to stay open during the winter period,” Mitsopoulos said.

The agreement will come into immediate effect once an amendment is made to the Cyprus-Russia Memorandum of Cooperation on Monday, Mitsopoulos added.

Ayia Napa Mayor Yiannis Karousos, who was also speaking on behalf of Paralimni Mayor Theodoros Pyrillis, said he was delighted with the new agreement.

“The liberalisation of flights will benefit the whole region and we expect around 300,000 tourists from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other areas of Russia to visit these parts during the winter period,” he said.

Karousos thanked the government and the minister as they had put a lot of pressure on Russia to accept Cyprus’ demand to liberalise flights during the winter season. When Russia had first asked to liberalise flights last year, Cyprus officials had initially snubbed them, designating Paphos airport as the port of arrival.

Then, in the midst of this year’s crisis, Cyprus officials turned to Moscow for help by trying to convince Russia to agree to liberalising the flights with the hope that any upturn in tourism would boost the economy. Russian officials initially rejected Cyprus pleas but eventually agreed.

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