By Elias Hazou and George Psyllides
THE Cyprus Hotel Association (Pasyxe) was on Thursday quick to dismiss an estimate by the Ayia Napa mayor that the Famagusta resorts would see Russian tourism drop as much as 50 per cent this summer as neighbouring competitors re-emerge after several years of internal instability.
Mayor Yiannis Karousos, who is also the chairman of the district’s tourism development company, said Famagusta expects 50 per cent fewer Russian tourists this year after the ‘reopening’ of the markets in Turkey and Egypt and the fall in the Russian rouble.
Ayia Napa would make efforts to offset any losses by attracting more tourists from Europe, he said.
Karousos said the season started mid-March and both that month and April went better than previous years.
“A drop in tourist arrivals is expected, especially from the Russian market, which could even reach 50 per cent,” he said.
The causes were the reopening of the Turkish market, which has normalised relations with Russia, and Egypt. Both neighbouring countries offer competitive packages and prices, and substantial discounts, he said.
The Russian rouble has also lost some 15 to 20 per cent on the euro, resulting in Russians opting for Turkey.
“The Russian market helped Cyprus’ tourism a lot but unfortunately certain factors make it a market with ups and downs.”
At the same time though, tour operator TUI has 40,000 seats reserved for Famagusta between April and November, balancing out things somewhat.
“This (Russian) market has grown so much that anything relating to the country has an immediate impact on Cyprus,” he said.
But his dire warnings were not shared by the hotel association, though it acknowledged a slowdown from Russia and conceded that the return of old competitors might have an impact. Cyprus has set records in arrivals over the past three years, surpassing the three-million mark in 2017.
But Pasyxe appeared surprised by the number that Karousos cited.
“A 50 per cent decline in Russian arrivals this year isn’t a realistic figure, it doesn’t even fall with the realm of probability,” Pasyxe director general Zacharias Ioannides told the Cyprus Mail.
Ioannides conceded that the resurgence of the Turkish, Egyptian and Tunisian tourist markets presents “a “formidable challenge, but it’s a challenge we are confident we can tackle through a concerted effort by all stakeholders.”
This could include discounts by tour operators to allow Cyprus to stay price-competitive.
According to Ioannides, the data at Pasyxe’s disposal does not at all indicate a dramatic decline in arrivals from Russia.
It is true, he said, that over the past weeks there has been a slowing down of Russians tourists compared to last year. And the figures for January to March 2018 show a 5.4 per cent drop when compared to the same period of 2017.
“However, planned aircraft capacity (seats) from Russia to Cyprus for all of 2018 indicates a 3.7 per cent rise on the previous year.
“So we are confident that we can maintain the same figures as last year.”
Asked where Karousos may have got the 50 per cent figure, Ioannides surmised that perhaps the mayor had inferred this from booking data from certain hotels, but certainly not from enough hotels to draw such a conclusion for the whole Famagusta area.
At any rate, said Ioannides, any decline in the Russian market should be offset by significant growth in Scandinavian markets, Germany, Switzerland and Holland.
These markets have shown “remarkable increases” during the month of April.
Last year Cyprus received approximately 1.25 million British tourists, 825,000 from Russia, 262,000 from Israel and 185,000 from Germany.
Israel has been the fastest-growing market over the past five years.
Karousos said the state’s failure to create a separate tourism ministry had had a toll. If one existed, he added, its head would have forecast the developments in the area and taken action.
The mayor said Cyprus tourism had to be set up in such a way so as not to be affected by geopolitical developments.
Cyprus cannot compete with Turkey and Egypt which can offer five-star all-inclusive stays for $25. The island could however, promote safety and security, quality, food, and services and resolve problems seen in the past like noise and visual pollution and touting.
In March, Karousos wrote a letter to tour operators telling them louts were no longer welcome in Ayia Napa, but he says that would take a few years to accomplish.