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Paphos failing to tap full potential of sports tourism

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INDUSTRY professionals and tourism experts are working closely together to promote sports tourism in Paphos but authorities say that further infrastructure is needed to keep up with the demand, as some athletes are being turned away.

“We are already struggling to cope with the demand which is spread among all sorts of sports activities, from visitors, individuals and organised groups,” Andreas Demetriades, head of the Paphos chamber of commerce and industry, EVE, told the Sunday Mail.

Sports training camps have been established in Paphos and are attracting world and Olympic medal holders and there are plans to further expand this market and increase the appeal for foreign athletes he said.

And, although there is some good infrastructure in place, such as Olympic sized swimming pools and sports training grounds, which can accommodate this type of tourism, more needs to be done as facilities are already stretched, stakeholders agree.

“We have already approached the government to request state owned land in Paphos to be rented for a period of ten years which could then be used to accommodate football training and other sports,” said Euripides Loizides, head of the Paphos Hoteliers Association.

Demetriades confirmed that EVE is working closely with local municipalities, the local tourism board and other stakeholders to increase the number of playing fields and other facilities.

Loizides said that unlike the wider tourism sector, sports tourism, once established, is a steady market, where athletes will return year after year for training and holidays. All sorts of athletes are visiting Paphos, he said, including those participating in football, cycling and swimming.

Head of the Paphos regional board of tourism, Nasos Hadjigeorgiou said that the existing infrastructure meets the demands of the most intensive, professional training programmes, and that sports tourism is a multimillion industry for Paphos, and a very important niche market.

Athletic events also act as leverage to ease seasonality and to extend the tourist season, keeping Paphos buoyant as an all year round destination. He said that the top five sports where Paphos should further invest are: golf, cycling, running, swimming and football training.

“Even though infrastructure hasn’t changed much during the last few years, the tourism board has been working closely with and supporting local professionals, which has brought great results,” he said.

Hadjigeorgiou said that joining forces with other authorities and professionals to focus on promoting the region, has resulted in the number of athletes choosing Paphos to train to increase every year.

“Also, participation at our main athletic events such as, the marathon, the four day challenge, triathlon and others has doubled,” he said.

Such a positive outcome has been helped by Mokapot Productions which was set up in Paphos two years ago by Tony Martin, a 53-year-old former British Army Commando Royal Engineer. Martin has specialised in sporting events and training camps for over 24 years and the company provide, amongst others things, sports training camps and support services.

He has also designed and produced international events in Antarctica, the North Pole, Colorado and Siberia, as well as television programmes including Top Gear Polar Challenge and others.

Mokapot established Xterra, an internationally recognised off-road triathlon in Cyprus, which initially attracted athletes from 17 countries. They are expecting around 40 or so countries to participate in April 2018. They have also joined forces with other stakeholders to bring ‘Ocean Lava’, an international on-road triathlon, to Cyprus in 2018.

“We currently have World Champions, Olympic gold and silver medallists, a full time pro squad in Triathlon and Olympic standard swimmers all training here,” he said.

Mokapot is also actively testing out various locations in Paphos for triathlon athletes and Martin said that current triathlon world record holder Daniela Ryf returns regularly to Paphos. Gold medal Olympian Nicola Spirig is also set to return in April 2018 with her ‘Kids cup foundation’, which will also benefit children in Cyprus.

One of Mokapot’s primary aims over the next eight years, he said, is to bring young athletes from Cyprus up to Olympic standards, and they are currently identifying young people with potential to commence training.

Martin has also brought a leading triathlon coach, Brett Sutton of Trisutto, to Cyprus. He said that Trisutto now has a European headquarters in Paphos, and are looking to help local aspiring athletes to become coaches.

A number of Paphos hotels such as Almyra, Aliathon, Constantiou brother’s and Louis hotels, as well as others, are already involved in the sports tourism market and have special facilities for athletes such as bike gyms, pools and training gyms.

Hadjigeorgiou said that from 2017, the tourism board, along with hoteliers and sports professionals have implemented a specific action plan to promote the five top level athletic events taking place in Paphos: Gran Fondo cycling, Cyprus marathon, Xterra triathlon, Paphos triathlon, four day challenge, as well as attracting athletes through training camps.

“We are aiming to create greater awareness to attract more athletes to training camps and expand numbers participating in our top athletic events.”

He said that the tourism board, event organisers and Paphos hoteliers have print and digital material prepared and that PR activities, mainly in the UK, German, Russian and Israeli market, are about to get underway.

However, he said that immediate measures must be taken to further establish Paphos in this field. Improvements need to be made in terms of air connectivity and a more targeted and aggressive marketing approach needs to be implemented.

“It’s unacceptable to reject dozens of requests from football teams for training because we do not have enough training fields or to reject a request from national swimming teams from all over the world because we don’t have the resources to keep the Olympic size pool open all year round.”

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