By Annette Chrysostomou
With more airlines flying into and out of the island, outbound tourism in Cyprus is changing. While it is a long time since there were few flights beyond the main markets of Greece and the UK, there are now direct flights to 49 destinations from Larnaca and an additional 27 from Paphos.
And the fact that many of these new flights are operated by budget airlines means more people are able to take advantage. “People travel a lot, in winter and summer as we are an island,” Akis Kelepeshis, executive president of Top Kinisis travel said, “now they take advantage of low budget flights and other flights depending on the cost and the cost for hotels.
“In winter they make more short trips and in the summer they will go for around two weeks. Around 300,000 travel twice or three times per year,” Kelepeshis added.
The bulk of people still go to Greece, even more than used to traditionally, although over the years the total amount of trips by Cypriots remained roughly the same overall at around 1,200,000 per year. Whereas in 2013 360,027 travelled to Greece, the numbers swelled to 466,086 in 2015. This is something that is reflected in the routes offered by airlines.
“We fly to Bucharest, Athens, Thessaloniki and Constanta in Romania. Every flight to Athens is full,” Pavlos Ioannou from Blue Air, a relative newcomer to the island said, adding “mostly they stay in Athens and Thessaloniki between three days and a week.”
Indeed, a profiling survey conducted for Hermes airports shows a preference for certain budget airlines by Cypriots. According to the survey, 83 per cent of travellers on outbound flights by Blue Air are Cypriot nationals. In addition, 64 per cent of outbound flyers with Ryan Air are from Cyprus, and only 36 per cent are from other countries.
This doesn’t hold true to all budget airlines, however. Thomson Airlines for one is frequented more by foreign nationals, with Cypriots using up a mere 12 per cent of seats. This is in line with the fact that less Cypriots now travel to the UK. The numbers have dwindled from 311,119 in 2012 to 186,857 in 2015.
“There are now less students in the UK,” Kelepeshis explained, “and so less families go to visit them. There are also less expats living here than before who used to go back and forth.”
Cypriots are also keen on travel to other places. “For long weekends, people tended to travel mainly to Athens and Thessaloniki,” Astero Efstathiou from Louis Tours said. “There were not many destinations available. Now, there is a bigger choice and people can travel further and get good deals, especially if they book well in advance.”
The changes have also affected travel agents. “The budget airlines mean that internet sales have soared,” Efstathiou said, “whereas a few years back people booked hotels on the internet, now they book the whole journey. This gives people more freedom, though it affects us.”
Cobalt Air, scheduled to start operations from June, is set to roll out entirely new routes to Europe, Asia and the Middle East using an initial fleet of five Airbus jetliners. Their intended niche market includes China.
Transavia is another low budget airline which is taking advantage of a niche. They offer two weekly direct flights to Amsterdam, formerly served by Cyprus Airways.
But while the public are taking up the cheap flights offered by the new airlines, not everybody is fond of budget airlines.
“After the closure of Cyprus Airways, other airlines took advantage of the situation and gave people no choice and only had crappy seats so it’s good that there are now other choices,” frequent flyer Andreas Georgiou commented.
He recently flew from Athens with Emirates. “The flight was less than an hour,” he said, “I couldn’t believe it when the captain announced we were going to land in 10 minutes.” It was not only fast, he recalls, but also very comfortable. “The economy class was better than the first class of other airlines,” he added. Emirates also offer flights to Dubai and Malta.
“It’s OK (to fly with budget airlines) if you book ahead and you choose the dates carefully,” Anna Lantidou, who recently used a budget airline to spend an extended weekend in Belgium, summed it up “if you are careful you get really good deals. If you just want to get somewhere and you don’t care about food and taking a lot of luggage it’s fine.”