By Bejay Browne
POLIS campsite has seen its popularity slump this season as visitor numbers plunged by over 50 per cent, according to the site’s manager.
The beleaguered site has been hit by a raft of problems ranging from the poor economic climate, a lack of upgraded facilities, massive beach erosion, and a dearth of shade due to a tree management programme being implemented by the forestry department.
The once idyllic campsite is found next to the beach and amongst eucalyptus trees in Polis Chrysochous. Visitor numbers in the last few years were around 8,000 for the summer season-which runs from May to October, said site manager Lakis Matheou.
This year only around 4,000 campers visited It was the lowest number since Matheou took over the management in 2000.
He said: “This season was terrible for us. I worked only to cover my costs; the rent, electricity bills and staff wages.”
Matheou pays €48,000 to the municipality each year.
Polis Mayor Angelos Georgiou says he believes there are a number of reasons for the drop in visitor numbers, the main one being a lack of finances.
“The economic crisis has affected Cypriot campers particularly, but I believe it will get better and with planned upgrades, visitor numbers will increase,” he said.
Georgiou added that a master plan for the area would include significant improvements to existing facilities including the toilet and shower blocks.
Roads will be created and there will be better access to water and electricity supply. Plans also include a designated area for caravans, allocated space for tents, a playground, configuration of a natural spring, enriching green areas and other steps which will contribute to the overall revamp.
The campsite- which currently has space for around 200 tents, is owned by the forestry department. However, Polis municipality has signed a contract for the lease of the space for a period of 15 years, said the mayor, with a renewal option for two further periods.
The site is waiting for the licence and hopes to secure a strategic investor, who will carry out the work on the agreed master plan.
This plan was prepared by the CTO, the forestry department and the municipality, who will jointly assume the management of the site.
The mayor noted that there had been some interest shown by private investors – the project will cost close to €1.5 million – but so far none has been willing to adopt the master plan which is necessary for planning permission to be granted.
He said: “Cleaning up of the area, and some minor improvements were undertaken before the 2013 season, substantial improvements will be seen once the upgrading plan gets underway and we hope to complete the revamp very soon.”
In the meantime, the current manager said that he would apply to the municipality to waive the site’s rent for next season, and use the money to upgrade the facilities.
“The toilet blocks belong to the municipality, but there are a number of urgent actions which need to be done in time for next season,” he said.
Numerous campers cut visits short this year due to a lack of adequate shade, said Matheou.
“People complained. They would book for three nights and then stay for only one, saying that it is too hot without the cover from the trees,” he said.
The site manager noted that many more of the towering eucalyptus trees had been cut back, to promote regrowth but also to prevent dangerous branches from falling and causing injury.
“It will take five or six years for them to grow back to provide around seventy per cent of the cover they were before,” he said.
The mayor, and Matheou, both pointed out that the site was also adversely affected when the beach all but disappeared after stretches of sand were literally sliced away last December. Although officials say erosion of the coastline has been a recognised problem in the area for a number of years, the scale and rate of it was unprecedented.
The head of the coastal engineers says there had been a problem with coastal erosion here for some time, and this was why there was a master plan in place to construct 14 breakwaters to protect the coastline.
So far, only four of the 14 have been created in the sea by Latsi port. Phase one was completed in 2010 and phase two, which would run from the last breaker up to the campsite at Polis, should have commenced immediately afterwards.
Sand was pumped back onto the beach, but Matheou said the solution wasn’t a good one, as it was taken by the waves almost immediately, leaving stretches of the beach far narrower.
“I have been managing this site for 14 years and since 2009 it has become more difficult each year. I have an agreement with the municipality to stay here until the master plan comes into effect. Usually we would still be open at this time of year. But this year there are no tents and no customers, this is unusual for us,” he added.
Georgiou said that the campsite played an important role in local tourism development in Polis.
“It has become a favorite destination for both locals and foreigners, especially people who love the environment and quiet holidays,” he said.
The mayor added that the municipality was looking to ‘go greener’, by participating in a number EU programme which promote ecological and environmentally friendly initiatives and practices. He said this will help to develop marine and coastal eco tourism and would include the upgrading of the campsite.