AFTER years of discussions and changes in plans, the establishment of a junior ministry for tourism was approved by the legislature on Tuesday. The government’s bill also stipulated the appointment of an under-secretary for tourism who will be directly answerable to the president but would not be a fully-fledged member of the Council of Ministers. He or she would not be able to submit proposals to the council or have the right to vote on decisions, but will only take part in meetings discussing matters relating to the tourism portfolio.
The government had for some time wanted to scrap the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, a semi-governmental organisation under the authority of the ministry of commerce, industry, energy and tourism. Apart from wanting to reduce the policy-load of the commerce ministry, once energy had become a major policy issue, the government also believed that the CTO had very few powers to be an effective organisation as it could not draft or implement tourism policy. Government sources had often dismissed it as an “over-staffed bureaucratic inspectorate”, insisting that it should go.
It was of course not the fault of the CTO that it had no autonomy and existed primarily to implement policies decided by the ministry. Nor was it the fault of the CTO that the strategic plans for tourism, drafted by successive governments, were not pursued by the commerce ministry. In the end, the organisation was left to promote the Cyprus tourism product abroad, running advertising campaigns and offering incentives to tour operators as well as policing tourism establishments and facilities.
According to the bill approved on Tuesday the junior ministry for tourism would come into being on the first day of 2019 when the CTO will be abolished. All its staff will be transferred to the newly established entity. Deputy government spokesperson Klelia Vasiliou hailed the decision as a “milestone for boosting the tourism sector, which is a key sector of the economy”. The junior ministry would usher in the implementation of the national strategy for tourism, she said. But that should be taken with a pinch of salt, considering the number of national strategies ending up in the recycling bin over the years.
We sincerely hope that the junior ministry will ensure the implementation of a “strategy that includes clear targets and timetables that will lead to the upgrading and promotion of our tourist product”, and “increase the industry’s momentum”, but it is difficult not to view these claims with a large dose of scepticism. The junior ministry will have more powers than the CTO, but it will also be a bureaucratic structure, operating at the glacial pace of the rest of the state sector.