The new under-ministry, or state secretariat for tourism, could be up and running by January 1, 2017 President Nicos Anastasiades said on Tuesday.
Anastasiades was speaking at the AGM of the Association of Cyprus Tourist Enterprises (STEK), which represents four and five-star hotels. He said once the new parliament, after May 22, passed the relevant legislation the new structure would be put in place.
“This under-ministry will manage all matters relating to tourism, effectively coordinating all concerned government agencies and private entities,” Anastasiades said.
“The function of the state secretariat, if and when adopted by the new parliament, will work after May 22. I hope that it will be by January 1, 2017,” he added.
Stakeholders in the industry have been calling for years for a central body to coordinate tourism matters between the public and private sectors as the Cyprus Tourism Organisation has specific functions under its set-up that do not allow for this type of mandate.
Anastasiades said he hoped parliamentary support would be forthcoming for all new measures needed to streamline the industry and help growth.
Although last year was a milestone for tourism with 2.7m arrivals, a rise of 8.9 per cent compared to 2014 with a revenue hike of 4.4 per cent to €2.11bn, Anastasiades said the tourism sector was facing “specific perennial ills”.
“Some of these stem from the fact that our tourism product has for years focused almost exclusively on sun and sea,” he said. “Consequently, our country has come to be unable to compete in price with neighbouring destinations that offer the same product at a lower cost.”
Seasonality was another issue, he said. Cyprus seemed unable to make inroads into attracting big numbers outside of May to October. He said what was puzzling was that although there was a subsidy programme to help hotels stay open out of season, it had not yielded the desired results.
“All of these things, if allowed to remain as they are, without continuing to implement the necessary structural changes leave the country at a disadvantage,” he said.
As part of the sweeping changes, Anastasiades said the study for a new tourism strategy was well underway between the tourism ministry and the CTO and the study is due to be completed in around six months. The president said it was hoped it would help do away with bureaucracy in the industry. In the meantime, the CTO has drawn up a business plan for 2016-2017.
Anastasiades also mentioned the opening of centres in China to facilitate the speeding up of visa processes. Ultimately 15 centres are to be opened.
Tourism Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis spoke of the necessity of extending the tourism season. Speaking on the sidelines, Lakkotrypis said: “The main challenge is to combat seasonality.”
The minister said the signs so far for this year were encouraging. “I want to say something to all players: we expect a lot of visitors this year and we should all behave responsibly toward our guests so they can have the best experience,” he added.”
Asked about the limited availability of beds, he said that there was very little margin to address this during the summer months so the focus was on making the October-March season more attractive.
In his address, president of STEK Akis Vavlitis underlined the importance of the state secretariat for tourism so that a structure would be in place to “deal in a concerted and systematic way with tourism stakeholders who have the expertise.”
He said that the CTO was governed by an outdated institutional framework and that was no longer effective in today’s world. A new structure was needed “whose name does not matter” as long as it worked. Under the government’s plan the aim is to give the CTO the tools and skills it needed to deliver a horizontal national tourism policy and less bureaucratic work involving largely outdated and labyrinthine regulatory frameworks.
Vavlitis also called for a VAT reduction to 8 per cent from 9 per cent today, a significant reduction in property tax, and efficient investment in overnight charges collected by municipalities. He also called for improved infrastructure, and promoting the planned casino and golf courses to alleviate seasonality problems.