HOW REFRESHING it was to hear a government official advocate a more practical and pragmatic approach to tourism policy, as the under-secretary to the president Constantinos Petrides had done at Tuesday’s annual conference of the Cyprus Hoteliers’ Association. Over the years, we have heard countless strategic plans from ministers and CTO chairmen about conference tourism, medical tourism, golf tourism etc that were never drafted let alone implemented. This was how we were supposed to attract ‘quality tourism’ that everyone loved to pay lip service to.
Petrides shunned the wishful thinking that has always been a big part of tourism policy, focusing instead on the problems facing the industry, such as over-dependence on two markets – Britain and Russia – lack of competitiveness, excessive regulation and a tired, standardised product. Tackling these was as important as promoting the product. He also highlighted the failure of the CTO which, through no fault of its own, focused on bureaucratic work involving labyrinthine regulatory frameworks which stifled innovation and diversification.
State agencies in Cyprus have always operated under the illusion that the more the regulations and bureaucracy the better they were doing their job. As Petrides pointed out, the regulations governing the operation of hotels and restaurants led to standardisation rather than diversification and flexibility, while the way hotels were categorised prevented innovation. It was a long-overdue critique of state interventionism and bureaucracy that plagues not just the tourist industry, but the economy in general, stifling entrepreneurship and business initiatives.
These weaknesses would be addressed by the National Strategy for Tourism, a long term plan that aimed to maximise the comparative advantages of Cyprus. Experts would be brought in to help develop the strategy that would look at all issues relating to tourism including, seasonality, future trends, growth opportunities, competition, destination branding, performance, infrastructure, training etc. Stakeholders would also be involved in the discussions regarding the new plan, which is an indication that the CTO’s regulatory zeal could be restricted.
This is by far the most ambitiously, far-reaching tourism plan undertaken by a government. “When before has there been an attempt to produce such broad, structured and integrated planning for tourism development,” asked Petrides during his presentation. The big question though, is would it ever be implemented? Many strategic plans for tourism have been announced over the years, admittedly none as comprehensive and innovative as this, but none have been implemented. Petrides spoke about specific actions plans and timetables for implementation, covering a 10-year period, but he should allow us to have our doubts given past experience.