Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Push for year-round tourism

By Jean Christou

FINANCE Minister Harris Georgiades on Tuesday promised hoteliers to do everything he could to help boost ailing winter tourism, including tax incentives, and a possible reduction in airport landing charges for specific periods.

Georgiades was addressing the annual conference of the Cyprus Hotels Association (PASYXE) in Nicosia, which examined problems of seasonality in tourism, prospects for creating a year-round destination, and upping arrivals from the current 2.4 million to 3.5 million over the next five years.

“I am fully aware of the burden on the hotel industry,” said Georgiades, referring specifically to the new property tax, part of the bailout conditions.

Georgiades said the land registry was doing its best to widen the tax base “which should enable us as part of a broader review which has already been commissioned, to lower existing tax bands,” he said. He could not announce anything specific, adding: “I am not in the business of making promises unless I can deliver.”

“We are also open to new schemes and the lowering of airport landing fees for specific periods of the year in line with EU state-aid rules,” said the minister.

PASYXE president Haris Loizides told delegates: “To respond to what is required to extend the winter tourism period we must be freed from taxes that make us uncompetitive if the industry is again to be a driving force of the economy.”

Cyprus Tourism Organisation chairman Costas Kadis said that despite the efforts of the CTO, there was a decreasing trend in winter arrivals.

“Cyprus cannot hope to tackle seasonality with half of its hotels closed in winter,” he said.

The same sentiment was expressed by Tourism Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis who called tourism a “blood donor to the economy”.

He said to be a year-round destination, Cyprus needed to offer year-round experiences.

“Tourism is a diamond we have left to become grubby and dull and we have to polish it again. It is a strategic advantage and we must not leave it to its own fate,” he said. “We have to break the vicious circle… no air links so hotels don’t open… hotels do not open because there are not enough air links,” he added.

Georgiades made it clear that the government would be actively pursuing its open skies policy “with no hesitations, with no reservations” and said it was ready to discuss offering flight freedom to non-EU carriers.

And although the government was doing what it could to save national carrier Cyprus Airways, Georgiades said: “Cyprus Airways will not be saved with additional taxpayers’ money, nor will the effort of maintaining it be to the detriment of our open skies policy”.

But any incentives to foreign airlines should be offered with “transparency and credibility” and to be valid for at least a three-year period, he said. “The incentives should start kicking in for the next winter season and the full impact will be felt in over the next years,” he added.

The wisdom of the crowd DOROS Theodorou, a commercial director for travel site Tripadviser urged hoteliers to jump on the social media bandwagon.

“It’s all about social media. No one goes anywhere any more without reading what others did,” he said, calling it “the wisdom of the crowd”.

Tripadviser has 260 million unique users every month. It has 3.7 million businesses listed including 758,000 hotels. It has 125 million reviews on the site with 80 more being added every minute, all of which are accessible from 300,000 other sites. Tripadviser is also used by 108 million mobile users.

Theodorou said the overall average score for hotels is 4.12 out of 5 across 34 countries. The fastest growing site is in Russia. Theodorou said some 64 per cent of hotels in Cyprus were rated 3.5 on average. “It’s not bad but it’s below the main average,” he said.

He said more feedback from users leads to better and higher ratings for hotels and a higher rating allows hotels to charge more. “The customer is the best ambassador you can have,” he said. Theodorou said 53 per cent of people nowadays will not book a hotel that has no reviews and 70 per cent of travelers now write reviews. “No one is going to read a glossy brochure any more. People want to check things out for themselves,” he said.

CTO chief Costas Kadis responded saying that currently it spends only 5.0 per cent of its advertising budget on e-marketing. “There is definitely room for improvement,” he said. “This is something we want to change”.

 

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