The government aims to repeat record tourist arrivals in the coming years, tourism minister Yiorgos Lakkotrypis said on Tuesday.
Lakkotrypis, along with the interior and transport ministers, Socratis Hasikos and Marios Demetriades respectively, participated in the House tourism committee meeting to discuss the problems and perspectives of the sector.
According to Lakkotrypis, this year there will be half a million more tourist arrivals than in 2015.
The latest forecast for arrivals for the whole year is around 3.1m, Lakkotrypis said, compared to 2.65m in 2015 and 2.7m in 2001, which was considered up until now a record-year.
In recent years, he said, the importance of tourism to the economy is being proven, while this year will be excellent in terms of arrivals and revenue. He added that according to the latest estimates, the contribution of tourism to the country’s GDP is 12 per cent.
“I expect that this year the contribution will be greater,” he said. “The aim is to repeat this performance in the coming years and create the circumstances for a sustainable development of this sector, which is the pacemaker of the economy”.
This year’s performance, Lakkotrypis said, is the result of a combination of circumstances in the region but also of the readiness of the state and all stakeholders to seize this opportunity.
“At the same time this year’s performance shows us our limits on infrastructure issues,” he said. He added that problems have been detected at airports and in particular at passport control, in infrastructure, on beaches, and in telecommunications.
“This year is a landmark to see where these problems stem from and be able to go to the next level,” he said.
Budget is not the primary issue when it comes to tourism, he said, but that the government is ready to proceed with a supplementary budget for the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO), whose budget exceeds €50m per year, for any actions needed.
“In recent years with fewer costs more arrivals are achieved, which demonstrates that there is a better use of funds by the CTO,” Lakkotrypis said.
At the same time, he stressed the need for deep structural changes, in particular the creation of a State Secretariat for Tourism, whose regulatory framework is expected to be submitted to parliament soon, and infrastructure projects that will enrich the tourist product.
As regards the issue of the casino, Lakkotrypis said the deadline for submission of tenders expires on October 5 and that his ministry aims to complete the assessment before the end of the year.
Hasikos said that 52 per cent of the hotel industry establishments are not licenced by the CTO. As a policy, he said, his ministry and especially the town planning department prioritise issues related to tourism but that the main burden falls on the municipalities, as the licensing authority for infrastructure.
Hasikos asked MPs to approve the creation of a single licensing authority through the bill currently before the House for the reform of local government.
As regards connectivity, Demetriades said that all gaps left from the closing down the national carrier, Cyprus Airways, have been covered.
According to Demetriades, traffic at airports increased by 3.6 per cent in 2015, and so far, by 15 per cent this year. Due to the situation in the region however, he said, cruises have taken a hit the last three years as there is a decrease in the number of passengers.
MPs expressed their satisfaction for the growth in the tourism sector but stressed the need for further actions to strengthen it.