Cyprus’ tourism should be based more on its own competitive capabilities and less on external or geopolitical factors, Undersecretary to the President Constantinos Petrides said on Tuesday as he outlined a sweeping new strategy for the sector that includes wide-ranging legislative reforms.
Petrides presented the bones of the new plan to industry insiders during the annual conference of the Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE) in Nicosia.
Last year was a record tourism year with 2.7 million arrivals, a hike of 8.9 per cent over 2014. Much of the increase was put down to a series of terrorist attacks on competitor countries in the region such as Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt.
“I came here to tell some truths, because if we move forward we move forward together,” Petrides told delegates. “You, better than me, you know very well the enormous potential of tourism. But it is not enough to talk about the prospects. We must talk about the substance.”
Petrides also said it was unacceptable that such a vital sector suffered from excessive dependence on two main markets – Russia and Britain – “and becomes thus vulnerable to external factors”, he said.
“I believe that tourism policy should focus on increases competitiveness and not only in promoting the product,” said Petrides, adding that through integrated and coherent policies Cyprus could surpass its competitors and see tourism income double over the next few years.
The first part of the new National Strategy for Tourism will focus on simplifying the legislative framework for business licensing by reducing red tape by up to 60 per cent. A raft of bills are being drawn up and will shortly be submitted to parliament, Petrides said.
Other major legislative reforms will focus on the semi-governmental Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO), which Petrides said was restricted in its scope but does its best. “It is unfair to blame it for the incongruities in tourism or the lack of a national policy,” he said. The plan was to give CTO “real tools, real skills and to strengthen its people whose energies should be channeled more into delivering a horizontal national tourism policy and less on bureaucratic work involving largely outdated and labyrinthine regulatory frameworks”.
He said the regulations governing the operation of hotels and catering centres, including the way hotels were currently categorized, was distorted and that industry players should be focused on greater diversification. Flexibility and imagination, Petrides said, should be rewarded and the sector needed to move away from offering the same tired product across the board.
The design of the National Strategy for Tourism aims to addresses the problems and maximise Cyprus’ comparative advantages. The plan will be long-term “rather than consisting of piecemeal policies and actions with little prospect of achieving anything as was done for years”.
Petrides said there would be specific action plans and timetables for implementation covering a period of ten years. The strategy would include infrastructural and public transport needs, education and training, promotion and incentives.
It will also cover vision, direction, sustainability and competitiveness, and make use of global analysis, future trends and growth opportunities. It will identify local weaknesses, poor performance and obstacles, seasonality, quality tourism, studying competitors and developing a destination brand “which will be associated with an enriched and differentiated product, beyond the exclusive ‘sun and sea’ which does an injustice to Cyprus”, Petrides said.
The government plans to work with international experts and expects the first data by September. Stakeholders will also be included in the discussions through workshops and conferences.
Petrides said it was a reform plan of actions and not just words. Addressing any critics he said: “When before has there been an attempt to produce such broad, structured and integrated planning for tourism development? When has there ever been an attempt to use scientific approaches based on international best practices?”
Petrides said the government had talked with main opposition AKEL, which has produced a tourism strategy that contained some useful points, and he would be talking with them again, he said.
“Of course everything must pass through the House and I hope we have the support of the parties. We have launched a serious effort to change things and do what had not been for so many years,” he said.
“We want to see the big picture from a new angle. We want to grow the pie to the benefit of the country and not just to redistribute the existing pie,” Petrides said.
In response to a question during the panel discussion later, Petrides said the pie was currently stagnant “and this is not in my view due to any other factor than loss of competitiveness and new emerging destinations not around the 1980s”.