By Bejay Browne
PAPHOS’ YEAR in the cultural sun as European Capital of Culture in 2017 is set to shine brightly, an expert in the programme said this week.
“Paphos, slightly unexpectedly, but with the involvement of the locals, won the title and is now revealing itself after a tough time. It’s a small city of great potential,” said Neil Peterson, who was part of the team that ensured Liverpool’s nomination in 2008 and was brought in to give advice ahead of Paphos’ winning bid in 2013.
“The city’s assets can be developed and reconnected both physically and spiritually. I believe it can be one of the most interesting and successful capitals of culture, particularly given its natural assets, including the climate and the seaside.”
Peterson, whose successes include the ‘08 Volunteer Programme’ which has become the benchmark for European Capital of Culture volunteer programmes, now works for candidate cities and on programme development for successful cities. Current clients include Leicester (UK City of Culture candidate city), Ravenna (Italy 2019 European Capital of Culture candidate city) and Pilsen (2015 European Capital of Culture).
“I have been helping out with the bid in a number of ways, including how to connect with the tourism aspects and am currently in Paphos helping with advice on engaging volunteers,” he said.
Following his guest spot as the speaker of the ‘Dialogue with the volunteers of Pafos 2017’ this week, Peterson said that Paphos, as an existing tourist destination, must take advantage of its winning bid and connect local communities to the title.
With its tourist infrastructure already in place, Paphos should see that the Culture Capital title presents even more opportunities to encourage visitors to return. Cultural tourism is massive in Europe, he said.
“Now is the time to get the message across to the key tour operators that Paphos is not just a good and consistent destination, but also European capital of culture, this will make a difference. The season can be extended and the local tourism board should use Paphos as the ‘attack brand’ to reenergise Cyprus tourism as a whole.”
Peterson said he expects the tourist season will be extended as many cultural tourists will want to visit in the quieter periods.
But there are hurdles ahead.
“Like all European capital of cultures there are a tricky couple of years between winning the bid and really getting going but I’m quite taken by the amount of enthusiasm that is starting to build and some of the programme ideas which are emerging from the team,” he said.
“The title is quite a fluid beast and is different every year. After winning the bid it can be a roller-coaster ride, with people questioning why is all this money being spent on expensive salaries and we’re not seeing anything. You just have to go through that process. In fact you can guarantee there will be a real coming together of people, and when Europe turns its attention to Paphos in 2017, people are going to be very proud of the city.”
He emphasised the importance of volunteers and people power, saying that one of the differences between Paphos’ winning bid and Nicosia’s, for example, was the enthusiasm of the volunteers.
“There were a lot of active volunteers who were very pro the Paphos project and this is very important.
There is a general growth in event volunteering over the last decade or so; the Olympic Games is a good example of that,” he said.
Peterson added that volunteers most often become the ‘human face’ of the events, allowing visitors to connect with local people. Paphos’ ‘Welcome programme’ would also give residents the chance to rediscover Paphos and further spread the word.
Budget limitations are not necessarily a hindrance to the town’s success, as it can foster creativity. Peterson pointed to the concept of an ‘Open air factory’ – possible in Paphos’ warm climate – which found favour with the judges.
“The ability to deliver events in the open air makes staging costs lower here and I can see visitors will get quite a lot of programme for the money. There are some really exciting things being planned, it looks like a good mix,” he said.
He also noted that Paphos old town has real potential which is starting to emerge, with good quality restaurants and cool cafes and bars.
“It’s important for people to get behind the city and not be negative, they must get involved and support the title, and everyone needs to come together.”