The island’s five golf courses brought in only 25,000 golfers out of a total number of tourist arrivals of almost 2.5 million last year, according to an analysis of the sector published in Politis on Sunday.
And, the paper said, last year was one of the best years for golfing visitors so far with 103,000 games played across the existing courses, which averages out at four games per arrival over a week-long period each.
Politis, in interviews with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation said the body was satisfied with this performance as the trend to visit Cyprus for golfing has been increasing over the past three years, though it said the view was that the island could do better, especially in the winter season.
It said authorities were looking to create another 6-8 courses as golfers like to play under different conditions. Most of the golfers who visit Cyprus are from Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, due to easy flight access, it said.
Stakeholders believe that the golf courses are a solution to the seasonality of the tourism product because Europe’s golf courses are closed from October to March due to rainy weather. Europe has around 8 million golfers.
One person involved in the sector in Cyprus told the paper: “I believe that Cyprus could double the current number if there were more golf courses and if there were flights all year round to promote the product.” They said Cyprus could attract as many as 50,000 under optimum conditions.
But the paper questioned the cost-benefit of investment in the sector compared to the returns, given the water shortage plus the fact that major building developments accompany the creation of golf courses in Cyprus, and the environmental impact that this brings.
Because it is considered that the investment to build and maintain a golf course is not economically viable in itself, creating a golf course is generally accompanied by developments such as residences, a five-star hotel or a tourist village.
Referring to the policies of the governments of Tassos Papadopoulos and Demetris Christofias, Politis said relaxations given for the creation of golf courses were a cover in some cases to grant incentives to build hotels and villas.
In April this year Cyprus found itself in hot water with the EU after the Commission sent an official letter telling the government to cancel building permits for two golf courses, scheduled to be built at the Limni area near the Akamas national park.
The Limni project Polis Chrysochous, developed by the Shacolas Group, also includes a five star hotel, a wellness centre and luxury residences.
The Commission opposes the project, saying that the Limni area overlooking Morphou Bay is part of the Natura 2000 network of nature protection areas.
Cyprus was cautioned to respect the Natura 2000 guidelines and asked for a conservation study to be commissioned on the effects of the project to the surrounding area, something that was bypassed by the state during the final days of the Christofias administration in order to speed up the process.
The same incentives policy was being pursued by the current government, Politis said, with the adoption by the cabinet in 2013 of measures to help economic recovery that would allow an increase in the ratio of golf course to development from 1:10 to 1:15, in other words raising the building area from, 100,000 square metres to 150,000 square metres.
“With this decision businessmen can build even more villas and tourist villages,” the paper said, adding that according to Town Planning, there are applications for up to 14 more golf developments, all of which were being processed to some degree or another.