UK media reports about ‘terrified Britons’ ready to ‘flee Cyprus’ in the run-up and immediate aftermath of air strikes on Syrian government targets from the RAF base at Akrotiri early Saturday were described as scaremongering by officials on Monday.
British tabloids spoke to a number of potential holidaymakers and people who have relatives living in Cyprus who appeared to fear Russian retaliation against the bases over the airstrikes.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May had called President Nicos Anastasiades on Saturday, hours after the strikes to brief him on the military action in Syria and to reassure him that there was no question of any danger to Cyprus.
Cyprus has been seeing record tourism arrivals over the past three years and is looking forward to another bumper year in 2018. The UK is Cyprus’ biggest source of the three million tourist arrivals last year, followed by Russia.
Authorities and British residents themselves in Cyprus were at pains to stress on Monday that there would be no impact from the limited strikes and that it was a one-off message to the Syrian government on its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Neither the UK nor the US has changed their travel advisories for Cyprus this month. The UK advisory was last updated in March and remains current as of Monday. The US advisory is a year old.
A British High Commission spokesperson told the Cyprus Mail: “The fact of the matter is we have not changed our travel advice for Cyprus and have no plans to do so. The tone of the articles in the British press is not right. It’s scaremongering.”
British bases spokesman Sean Tully said they had seen no evidence of British residents or tourists wanting to flee Cyprus. “It’s very safe to come to Cyprus. The PM [May] stated her case clearly at the weekend. We stand by the PM’s comments. Cyprus is a very safe place,” he added.
Local tourism authorities said the same on Monday. Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) acting director general Marinos Menelaou told the Cyprus Mail there had been no cancellations and no flight delays due to the airstrikes.
“We keep monitoring the situation. We have a PR firm in London monitoring the [UK] tabloids. We’re on top of the situation,” he said.
In a written announcement later, the CTO referred to official statements, from the government, the foreign ministry and civil aviation authorities as the situation unfolded last week culminating in the military action.
“Cyprus remains the safe holiday destination it has always been,” the announcement said.
“The number of enquiries has been minimal. It comes as no surprise that the UK, foreign office has not issued any advice about travel to Cyprus. In fact, one popular UK tabloid referred to Cyprus as being the 36th safest country in the world, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF),” it added.
The director general of the Cyprus Hotels Association (Pasyxe) Zacharias Ioannides told the Cyprus Mail there was no reason to worry. “Our planning remains unchanged and we are eager to get back to work as normal with UK tourists. The British prime minster said it herself. We don’t have any indications whatsoever of cancellations and booking are not affected.
Ioannides said there had been a slowdown in bookings in the run up to the air strikes but that was a global phenomenon “not just Cyprus” and was related to concerns over a wider third world war. “It was a normal reaction for people to ‘wait and see’,” he added.