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Our View: If we don’t want ‘cheap’ tourism we must improve the product

IT WAS a bit surprising and it sounded a bit petulant when transport minister Tasos Mitsopoulos came out with the line: “Maybe we don’t want to be a cheap destination” during his visit to London for the World Travel Market. 

We have been hearing about quality tourism for more than two decades yet it has failed to materialise other than at a few spa and golf resorts on the island. Studies have shown that 95 per cent of Cyprus’ clientele still come only for the sun and sea.

Diversifying into niche markets has helped somewhat, but those activities are simply not bringing in the numbers. Although what the minister meant was that Cyprus did not want to be a cheap destination in terms of its product, the irony is that the island is not a cheap destination when it comes to prices.

At the moment we are an expensive destination with a cheap product, not an expensive destination with a ‘not cheap.’ product.

It takes more than just a fancy hotel to attract the type of tourist Cyprus says it wants, as long as those outside the five-star environment are still out to make a quick buck from what is often regarded as a ‘passing trade’.

Perhaps instead of constantly studying why tourists come to Cyprus, the CTO might look at why others don’t come to Cyprus.

A case in point is bird trapping. The recent bad publicity abroad through various reports and documentaries, according to environmental organisation Terra Cypria, could have lost Cyprus as much as €41 million in tourist revenues.

A Terra Cypria study said 5,200 people from 81 countries wrote to Cypriot authorities in 2010 – when New Yorker magazine reported on illegal bird trapping on the island – to say they would not be visiting the island because of the practice.

Of those, 3,900 hailed from countries that traditionally visit Cyprus. Using CTO figures on how much those people would have spent the direct loss of revenue was estimated at €4 million. And as a rule of thumb in the industry for every person bothering to write, ten others did not, raising the loss of potential revenue.

The illegal trapping market is worth some €12 million a year, which goes, not into state coffers, but into the pockets of criminals, and successive governments, including the current one, have done nothing about it.

It’s time to start pandering to the interests of the tourist instead of local lobbying groups whose vote you think you need while expecting potential tourists to take it or leave it with the usual ‘this is Cyprus’ shrug. Clearly many are choosing to leave it.

Also this is not a time for a government minister to be sending a message that ‘maybe we don’t want to be a cheap destination’. Firstly because right now every tourist we get counts, and secondly it was mass market tourism from Britain that pulled Cyprus out of the economic collapse in the early eighties in the wake of the Turkish invasion.

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