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Our View: A new agenda for tourism should not worship numbers

CYPRUS marked World Tourism Day on Thursday with members of the industry all highlighting the importance of tourism to the economy. For decades it boosted entrepreneurship, created jobs, strengthened social coherence and gave rise to opportunities for a better future, said a hoteliers’ group while travel agents (Acta) believed the utilisation of innovation and digital progress would allow the “effective use of resources” which was one of the targets of the broader agenda of “sustainable development.”

These are fine words and it would be foolish to underestimate the consistent contribution of tourism to the economy over the years. Even during the recession, it brought much-needed foreign currency into the economy and helped put the country on the recovery path. We disagree however with the assertion about the effective use of resources and the claim about the broader agenda of sustainable development. There has never been such an agenda, although politicians often pay lip service to it, without giving it any thought.

The reality is that there has been rampant, anarchic development over the years and we are still pursuing the same model of bringing in as many tourists as possible. The authorities take great pride in announcing the record-breaking number of tourists arriving every month or year. In 2017, arrivals were up 15 per cent, reaching 3.65 million and setting a new record; 2016 was also a record-breaking year. August 2018 had the highest volume of tourist arrivals “ever recorded in Cyprus during a specific month,” reported the Statistical Service 10 days ago.

A new record is on the cards for this year, but where should the ever-increasing number of arrivals stop? At four million, or will we set a target of five? The increasing numbers, whether we like it or not, are putting a strain on our resources, which would only get worse if this trend continues. The mass tourism model, which everyone claims to be against, has many negative consequences in the medium term and is not sustainable.

This is why the main issue the new under-ministry for tourism that will come into existence next year should consider is the formulation of a new agenda for tourism, which does not worship numbers. For years, we have been hearing the politicians and the CTO talking about “quality tourism” while pursuing the mass tourism model and lauding the success of the latter. At some point, decisions will have to be taken about what we want, a plan/strategy formulated and stuck to. This must be the number one priority of the under-ministry, because constantly increasing numbers of visitors will make a mockery of the boast of sustainable development.

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