By Annette Chrysostomou
With at least three new marinas supposedly on their way, a host of questions has been raised over the economic value and environmental impact of these massive projects, including whether they will happily coexist or ruthlessly compete against each other.
Tourism experts question whether marinas are the best way of boosting tourism, while environmentalists are concerned about the impact such large constructions have on both land and sea.
One way of finding out is to look at what is already happening. The Limassol marina has been running for two years now, and buildings around the project are still going up.
Promoted as a destination for living, yachting, dining and shopping, it’s not simply a specially designed harbor with moorings for pleasure yachts and boats, but a complex project with many stakeholders.
The Limassol company running the harbour has attracted buyers for many of their properties, has 14 food and beverage outlets and 40 shops and boutiques and 650 berths. It has sold properties to people from more than 18 countries, and the 750 parking spaces of the marina are rarely empty, as 2,000 to 3,000 people visit on a daily basis, and even more – 3,000 to 5,000 – at weekends.
Other tourist towns are desperate to tap into that sort of traffic. The Paphos marina, recently approved by a supreme court decision after a legal battle which lasted for 10 years, will reportedly include more than 42,000 square metres in housing and commercial development.
In Ayia Napa, a €220 million project backed by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris and the Caramondani Group, complete with shops and housing, is scheduled to be finished by 2018. A marina is also planned for nearby Paralimni. In Larnaca, long-delayed plans to transform its existing marina will go back to tender in September.
But if the Limassol marina is a success, it does not necessarily follow that Cyprus needs the same type of development in Ayia Napa,Paralimni, Larnaca and Paphos. Aren’t the 211 apartments and 74 villas which are part of the Limassol project sufficient, given the fact that the prices for apartments start at €920,000 and the villas at €1.5 million?
Ayia Napa mayor Yiannis Karousos is full of optimism that the town’s marina will be a great success.
“It will help marine tourism and bring high spenders and investors,” he told the Sunday Mail. “The marinas are not competitive, they complement each other.” Karousos envisions boat owners travelling around the island, taking turns, stopping in Paralimni, Ayia Napa, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos. Plus, he says, it will be great for the economy.
“It will make more than one million euros for the Ayia Napa municipality. A study shows that it will contribute one billion for the Cyprus economy, as it will employ 850 people and there will be income in the form of VAT. It will also help seasonality because people not only use yachts in the summer”
During winter weekends, Karousos expects Nicosians to travel to Ayia Napa for the purpose of visiting the marina. “The investors have studied all the possibilities,” he said.
His counterpart in Larnaca is equally optimistic over new plans to transform the existing marina in Larnaca with a Limassol-style project.
“We need more space for yachts. It has been decided to use the space of the marina and the port for touristic use combined with commercial use, but they will be no industrial use. We are in touch with investors abroad,” said acting mayor Petros Christodoulou.
Plans for Larnaca marina have been plagued by years of delays and failure to find investors. The government struck a deal with Zenon Consortium back in 2010 for a €700 million project to transform both the existing port and marina.
The project incorporated development of a land area totalling 200,000 square metres, including the building of five star hotels, leisure and retail development. The consortium failed to raise the necessary funds even though the government extended the deadline up to 20 times. The project will now be put back to tender.
“The consultants are preparing a feasibility study which they will present to the ministry of commerce at the end of September,” said Christodoulou.
But many question the intrinsic value of marinas for Cyprus.
“The purpose is not the actual marina. The idea is to combine this with real estate to sell them to rich people to recover the money immediately,” explained the manager of the current Larnaca marina, Christos Petrides. “In my view, this is not going to be very successful. This is not Monte Carlo where you might need three or four marinas.”
“There are all these fast food outlets,” said Anna Farmaki, lecturer in tourism management at the Cyprus University of Technology (TEPAK), referring to many of the restaurants at the Limassol marina. “If you were a rich Russian coming in your big yacht, would like to eat there? Also, these Russians live in Cyprus. So this doesn’t do anything to help the problem of seasonality that we have.
“Everything in Cyprus is being copied. Why should this bring tourists? There are marinas in other countries and people don’t travel there to see the marinas. You might go there for lunch or a stroll if you happen to be there, but that’s it.”
Farmaki and others say the money and the space should be used in different ways if Cyprus wants to attract tourists.
“Based on the size of the country it is not sustainable to have the same product in all regions, using vast amounts of resources,” tourism lecturer Elena Spanou commented. “Tourists want to see something different in each region. For example, there should be one area concentrated on sports, or a conference centre or golf. What’s the point in spending all the money on one product? It’s ridiculous. Who will go there?”
The tourism experts are concerned that there is no Cypriot authenticity due to the fast food outlets. Instead, they argue, there should be fish taverns and in general a more ‘Cypriot’ atmosphere. As it is, the shops are also mainly occupied by international companies.
What do the people who operate the fast food outlets in the Limassol marina think? Nicos Kaloudis is the manager of business development at PHC, which has eight outlets in the Limassol marina, including KFC and Pizza Hut. When asked if the company would consider renting spaces in other marinas, he said that it depends on how valid they are going to be.
“Limassol is a successful venture. It is the main tourism city and the marina was much awaited,” he added. “Paphos is equally interesting as it is going to be the cultural capital in 2017, but as for Ayia Napa and Paralimni we will have to see. It’s too early to see how significant they will be.”
There is also the environmental impact. General comments by mayors that ‘consultants’ have carried out environmental impact assessments have failed to reassure environmentalists.
“The new marinas that exist and are planned are used as Trojan horses to create new houses and apartments around them,” said Kostas Andreou from the department of environmental science and technology at TEPAK. “The houses and apartments in turn block the public view and create a big aesthetic impact. They destroy the character of the area. During the construction the main problem is the use of the material – the transfer of huge amounts of rocks for which new quarries need to open.”
Other concerns are the oil spills and the sewage from the ships which the marinas attract.
There are also consequences under water. Sediments are removed where there is a need to create more space for the ships to dock and this has a biological impact.
The impact is not just felt in the immediate vicinity of the marina.
“The problem is that they are building the houses and apartments on the water, they create artificial islands which means they need so much more building material which comes from the mountains,” said Green Party MP Charalambos Theopemptou.
“At the time, the government gave the right to the developers of golf courses to develop them with properties so the marina construction companies demanded the same and the government gave in.”
Theopemptou, who is a former environment commissioner, said the environmental studies carried out are of questionable value.
“The environmental study is given to a private company of the developer’s choice. If they don’t like the results, they can fire the company and give the job to someone else,” he said. “In the UK, there is a list of government approved companies and if they don’t do a good job they are removed.”
Expert in aquatic tourism Glafkos Kariolou agrees that economically it makes sense to provide more berths for boats. In fact, Cyprus desperately needs more of them. What it does not need, he argues, are the luxury properties alongside the marinas.
“In the Mediterranean, the need for berths be far outstrips the existing facilities,” he explained. “Cyprus as an island unfortunately depends on tourism and needs exports so we need marinas.”
This has to be carefully investigated. “The first item in the mind of any developer has to be the environment,” he said. “Marinas should not be built in pristine areas. They should be in places which are already developed.”
The developer should also keep a balance in mind when it comes to the use of materials. “There is not a single natural harbour in Cyprus, there are no coves at all, so the use of material like rocks is a must.”
He said it was not necessary to create artificial islands on which villas and apartments are built as has been done in Limassol. Any buildings can be constructed on land. The space in the area which has been created should have been used for more berths, he suggests, at least 1,000.
“Because this area was already destroyed, and we need more berths. As it is, it is no use to the locals and middle classes, as it is too expensive to pay for a berth there,” he said.
It’s up to the government to control the environmental and economic aspects of such a project, but it is not in control of the private sector in Cyprus, plus there are no public marinas which would be easier to govern, he added.
Amazingly, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation is not involved and there is no central body with any strategic plan regarding aquatic tourism.
The marinas which have been planned, he argues, are like five, six or seven star hotels, but unlike hotels on land they are difficult to control. There is the question of how to control noise pollution like radios on board, and on board toilets and waste, as nobody wants to bring their boat to a polluted place.
The berthing issue could be solved by providing more yachting harbours with services, such as currently exists in Larnaca, and yachting shelters like the existing one in Zygi and Ayia Napa which are just for parking the vessels.
And what about the villas, apartments and the fast food outlets such as exist in Limassol? “They needed the money quickly, there was no other way,” Kariolou said. “And only the big companies with the fast food outlets can pay the rents there.”