Cyprus Mail
Life & Style Profile

A life dedicated to tourism

With Paphos gearing up to be the cultural capital of Europe next year the region is set to be in the spotlight. Making sure it is ready for it and the right balance of visitors arrive is a man with tourism in his blood. NAN MACKENZIE meets him

I half expected to meet a dyed-in-the-wool government official; you know the sort, a prematurely middle-aged chap whose life is planned according to set rules and regulations about why things cannot be done, a man hanging on to both his position and pension, who speaks in the pure unadulterated way only a civil servant can. Much to my relief, executive manager of Paphos Regional Tourist Board Nasos Hadjigeorgiou displayed none of these characteristics, quite the reverse as he turned out to be not only interesting to talk to but blessed with a good sense of humour and a level of pragmatism that must stand him in good stead in his role on the board of directors of the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.

The morning we met he seemed blissfully unaware the temperature outside was not exactly conducive to anything other than freezing, but still we sat in it, wrapped in a coat, he in shirt sleeves extolling the delights of Paphos as an all year round tourist destination. Okay, it wasn’t really that cold, but as any resident will tell you, after living here for a few years the blood thins and you feel even the slightest drop in temperature, something that Nasos believes from a tourist viewpoint is actually a plus.

“We have here within the region of Paphos a wealth of both summer and winter activities, the aim being to extend the summer season for at least another three months so the promotion of activities such as hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, diving, plus a relatively new initiative which is training facilities for both professional and amateur athletes. We now have hotels within the Paphos region offering great facilities so we can actively promote the region to cyclists, swimmers, this sports tourism is I believe going to be an important asset to the region.

“Then we have our top class golf courses which at this time of the year attract those golfers keen to play the game all year round without the need for a golf umbrella every day, so again we will see even more activity from foreign visitors at this time of the year”.
For Nasos, tourism has been in his blood for his whole life, with his parents owning a complex of holiday apartments in Kato Paphos when he was a child so he grew up meeting customers from abroad and listening to the family pondering how to successfully run the apartments. “Today my job is about 75 per cent of my life”. Although he is now concerned with promoting rather more than one set of apartments, marketing the entire region to foreign visitors, tour operators, travel agents, airlines, delegates from other countries he is keen to pair up with and working to increase flights into Paphos airport.

Since 2008 when the PRTB was officially formed it has played a key role towards the development of the region’s tourism, with the knock on effect of boosting the local economy.

“Now we have to take things a bit further so we can play a more significant role in promoting the region to ensure both our current and future travellers enjoy an even better experience,” says Nasos. “It’s unfortunately not something that can be achieved with the wave of a magic wand, but, we do need to invest much more in product development, infrastructure, the quality of service and the basic marketing of the region.”

profile2But for change to take place in Paphos it must surely be spearheaded by the CTO, an organisation many see as old fashioned and riddled with bureaucracy. “There is an initiative from the deputy minister to the President to modernise the CTO, which I believe is now required. The CTO should be given the power it needs to be involved and co-ordinate the future of tourism in terms of product, and experience development as well as marketing, plus the standard of services offered. We have outdated legislation, long bureaucratic procedures and barriers to any progress. The CTO cannot play a lead role while resources are so limited.

“People in the industry agree that the CTO is these days akin to a lion without teeth. Alternatively the CTO could just focus on marketing the island and what it has to offer as a national tourism promotional agency but, that would again have to be under a different form and legal framework. The rest of the CTO’s current activities could be transferred to other government departments or be covered by the private sector – we would have to be careful of what balance would be undertaken with the private sector. Like any change this would have to be a time sensitive operation so we don’t end up with a negative situation.”

According to Nasos’ estimats the contribution of tourism (direct and indirect) to GDP is about 25 per cent, with about 2.7 million visitors last year, of which 1,010,572 or 38 per cent visited Paphos. So whatever else Cyprus offers, “we will always be perceived first and foremost as a tourist destination. It’s not just a branch of our general economy, it is the actual tree itself and during the dark days of 2013 tourism became the saving grace of this island”.

And Paphos is to play an increasingly important role with its selection as co European Cultural Capital for 2017. It is a challenge Nasos is confident the region can rise to. “All projects planned for 2017 are well on their way to being implemented, I know people may mock and consider the title something of a misnomer, but the people working towards delivering the ‘goods’ are committed and professional, plus, we are all fully aware of the ramifications of having this spotlight shine on our region. Involvement from all within the community is needed as the programme is designed to make everyone feel that they are indeed part of this exciting year for the city, and that the word culture should not put people off, it is a word which embraces a myriad of experiences so it’s not elitist.

“We have to also look at the huge benefits which will result from the title, thousands of visitors from all over Europe will visit the city and surrounding regions, we will have by then completed a modern infrastructure that offers a more modern and developed city. Bonds with other European countries will be enhanced and the city will become better known within Europe and internationally. These are going to be the positive benefits for both our region and also for the entire island of Cyprus.”

In order to pull this off, the entire region is going to have to work together to gear up to being a prime and consistent destination of choice for foreign visitors, from the bucket and spade brigade to those wanting to follow wine routes to those who just want some winter sun. “To do it well we need to seriously support the private and public sectors, reduce taxes and so help with running costs etc so we can offer a better holiday package for visitors, we really have to work at removing the obstacles in the way of this progression as all these key elements require a huge change in the manner tourism is perceived both by the public and by government.”

And Nasos is certainly qualified to have such an overview, he boasts a BSC in Hotel Restaurant and Management, a post graduate in marketing, plus the Professional Designations Certified Hospitality Sales Professional (CHSP) and Hospitality Supervisor from the American Hotel and Lodging Association as well as being a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK.

That should certainly provide him knowledge to draw on while trying to co-ordinate the myriad people involved in the tourism industry, from totally different backgrounds and trying to make the limited resources available go the longest way. “There is always the danger of becoming a bit complacent, as in this industry you need to respond to change, we all have to learn to adapt and become more modern. I am constantly aware that I work in a profession which is not only competitive, it is changeable, and incredibly vulnerable. We live in a time where a negative media report can almost instantly and effectively cripple if not mortally wound a sector of our business, so, complacency has never been an option for me”.

Our meeting last week had to be rescheduled as Nasos was due to fly to the Netherlands followed by a flight to Vienna, which raises the question of how many air miles he clocks up on an annual basis, and has he had any really embarrassing or uncomfortable moments while abroad.

“I travel a good deal, mainly to participate in travel exhibitions, forums and to give presentations so I reckon I have seen almost every airport in Europe. I have also developed tourism business in the Middle East and recently flew with a delegation to Amman, Jordan. As for moments of discomfort, well unlike a colleague I haven’t experienced being chased by a moose whilst visiting Sweden, but, I did deliver a very good impression of Goofy while on a same day flight to Lebanon, I had forgotten to take a change of shoes to go with my suit and had 40 minutes to race around like a crazy man trying to find shoes to fit, the only pair I found was two sizes too large for me, I really had no option but to buy them and so deliver the presentation, which went well but I felt like a cartoon character.”

Travelling so much must make it difficult to choose where to go for family holidays, Nasos has a wife and two young children. “Our best times have been spent on the island, especially in Polis and Latchi – we love to go camping there, and when time allows we take road trips exploring the island and treat ourselves by eating good food at interesting restaurants and taverns.”

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