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Our View: Tourism policy based on improvising not planning

OVER the last year, the tourism industry has set many new records, starting with the highest ever number of tourist arrivals – 3.2 million – in 2016. Winter tourism hit new highs this year, arrivals up a staggering 54 per cent on 2014, while this May was the best ever, the number of visitors reaching 419,000 – 150,000 more than the average for the month. Cyprus had two times the percentage increase of Spain, Croatia and Malta last year.

These are impressive figures, even if they were boosted by exogenous factors such as terrorist attacks and instability in competing destinations rather than any major change in our tourist product.

In a speech read out at Monday’s AGM of the Hoteliers’ Association (Pasyxe) President Anastasiades used the figures to make some very optimistic predictions. Efforts were under way to turn Cyprus into an all-year tourist destination with the aim of reaching six million tourists annually by 2030, he said. He went as far as to predict that of these, 4.8 million would be quality tourists.

This would be achieved by the national strategy, he said. We have had countless national strategies for tourism over the years, but these have existed on paper, rarely implemented. For instance, we have been hearing about government plans to attract quality tourism (always an objective of the national strategies) for the last 20 or more years, but this has never happened. The infrastructure for attracting quality tourism does not exist because Cyprus has always followed a mass tourism model, which has served the economy very well.

How will the government change this? Will it tell the tourists who have been filling our tourist establishments year in, year out that it no longer wants them, or will it push up prices in order to attract visitors with more money? There is also a contradiction in the government thinking. Anastasiades boasted that thanks to the incentives offered by the state there were 11,000 new hotel beds, but this is another reason for pursuing the mass tourism model. Quality tourism will not fill the constantly increasing number of hotel beds, no matter how many golf course and marinas we build.

This mixed up thinking has always characterised tourism policy, for which there has never been a coherent, rational policy. Even the aim of doubling tourist arrivals by 2030 has not be thought through. Do we really want six million tourists? Has anyone carried out a study on the impact this would have for the residents of the island? Do we have the resources to cope with such numbers? Could we do this without causing more damage to our environment? Have we considered what effect these numbers that would push up demand have on prices of goods and services for the local population?

We suspect no thought has been given to such matters, because tourism policy has always been the result of improvisation rather than planning.






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