By Jean Christou and Stelios Orphanides
Following a record year for tourism arrivals in 2015 with numbers up by 8.9 per cent to 2.7m, the industry is hoping to build on last year’s success but is cautious about being overconfident of another bumper year in 2016.
“Early indications support a cautious optimism for 2016,” said Zacharias Ioannides, Director General of the Cyprus Hotels Association (PASYXE).
However he was careful not to predict a done deal, saying that tourism is an “easily upset-able” industry. “It is also dynamic by nature. One development can have a chain reaction,” Ioannides told the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday.
Last year’s record arrivals after a slump and stagnancy period that lasted almost 15 years, have been put down to a number of factors from a strong sterling pounds boosting UK arrivals, to negative events in the region that have affected competitors such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) says the boost was due to “targeted and responsible efforts”.
However one tourism professional with a large company said on Tuesday it was less the result of a well-planned and diligently executed strategy and more of a combination of favourable factors,
“We have to be sensible and realise why we did well,” the professional who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
A strong sterling combined with a drop in oil prices, which increased disposable income in oil importing countries, combined with political instability in north African countries were sufficient factors to increase demand for holidays in Cyprus and so offset losses caused by Russia’s economic downturn partly caused by western sanctions, as well as a drop in revenue from energy exports, a major Russian export commodity, the source said.
“We are lucky we live on an island and don’t share a border with Syria,” the source said. “So, we should not take an ephemeral approach during good years and think that we have solved all our problems.”
Cyprus’ tourism, he added, continues to face serious problems related to seasonality, reliance on two major markets, the UK and Russia, and the quality of services offered by sport facilities and restaurants.
“In Cyprus there is no long-term policy which gets us anywhere,” he said. “There has to be at last some sort of closer cooperation between the private and the government sector”.
Ioannides agreed the record arrivals were due to a combination of different external factors but also a result of “good coordination work in reversing the original gloomy outlook for 2015.”
Cyprus started the year with the closure of national carrier Cyprus Airways and a slump in the Russian market due to a fall in the rouble.
Adverse events in competing destinations had had an impact Ioannides said but added that Cyprus had also put in the work to regain previously falling UK tourism and in overcoming the obstacles that were affecting the Russian market at the beginning of the year. Efforts were also put in to strengthen the central European markets, Israel and the Gulf countries, which had all paid off.
The CTO dismissed any notion of the upsurge in arrivals as being a fluke, calling the result “hard and methodical work, achieved through a multi-level and complex effort” which had begun early last year and had included “intense and targeted action” in key markets, close cooperation with tour operators and airlines, advertising and other promotional activities.
“With regard to the views expressed by some circles that success this year lies in international developments and circumstances,” the CTO said, there was no substantial correlation between the record performance of specific months and events in Tunisia – a massacre of tourists on a beach – or Egypt – the shooting down of a Russian commercial flight over Sinai.
The Tunisia event, CTO said had happened during the summer season when there was limited bed availability already for Cyprus, while from the additional arrivals from the tragedy over Sinai in October, Cyprus absorbed an estimated 15,000 Russians in the last two months of the year after the summer months had already hit record levels.
During the year, the total number of British tourists in Cyprus exceeded the one-million mark for the first time since 2011 and rose to 1,041,208, which was almost 20 per cent above the respective 2014 figure. The number of tourists from Russia, the second largest source, fell almost 18 per cent to 524,853.
CTO said that if the island’s other markets had not grown at the same time as the Russian decline, overall tourism arrivals would have been down 5 per cent.
Tourism from Germany rose 29.9 per cent in 2015, Israel 43.3 per cent, Poland 49.3 per cent, Ukraine 23.2 per cent, Austria 35.3 per cent, France 25 per cent and the Netherlands 32 per cent.
As for 2016, the organisation said it would strive for even better results. “We should not however ignore the data from the geopolitical scene, the unpleasant events in our region and the continuing threat of terrorism, which are expected to adversely affect global tourism, and particularly the eastern Mediterranean region and the Middle East, with which potential visitors inevitably connect Cyprus owing to its geography,” the CTO said.