After three record years, bookings to Cyprus are down five to 10 per cent this year, depending on area, hoteliers said on Tuesday.
Brexit uncertainty, Russian rouble exchange rates with the euro, and the re-emergence of competitive neighbouring markets such as Egypt and Turkey, the latter due to the fall in the Turkish lira, are all having an impact, according to chairman of the Cyprus Hotels Association (Pasyxe) Haris Loizides.
Loizides was speaking at the association’s AGM in Nicosia, which was also addressed by President Nicos Anastasiades.
“The target set for 2019 and 2020 was to stabilise at the satisfactory levels of 2018,” said Loizides, referring to the almost four-million visitors last year.
“There is currently a noticeable reduction of five to 10 per cent in bookings depending on the tourist area,” he added.
In addition to political issues, Loizides said Cyprus had been badly affected by the loss of Germania airlines and Cypriot company Cobalt and he stressed the need for new incentives to airlines as the lack of connectivity “makes the situation even more difficult”.
“We are going through a transitional period of correction, which we must use to upgrade our tourist product as a whole. In order to be able to continue the upward trend of arrivals, but above all, revenue,” he said.
Loizides said the modern tourist was no longer satisfied with sun and sea and was more interested in a holistic experience. “They measure the level of service they enjoy from the airport and the accommodation to the tavern, to the entertainment, to the quality and professionalism of the staff,” he added.
In this respect, he warned that a negative comment from a tourist on social media could sound the death knell for a hotel or restaurant.
“Conversely, there is no better advertising for the restaurant than a positive Tripadvisor review and a photo accompanied by positive comments on social media networks,” Loizides said.
“Therefore, we must not ignore the fact that the internet is a transmitter of messages to every corner of the globe and largely defines the image of a tourist destination as a whole.”
One of the impressions Cyprus needed to get across was to have potential visitors see the island as a destination for all weathers, which required a new branding strategy, improvement of hotels and the product in general, the strengthening of the flight programme, less bureaucracy and more utilisation of technology and social media.
Here he mentioned Airbnb regulation. “Cyprus cannot escape, of course, the trends and needs of the globalised tourist market but where there are no rules, fatal problems are born and unpleasant situations are created,” said Loizides.
He said the best way forward for the industry was to continuously raise the bar and work constantly to improve the product “move ahead of our competitors rather than following or copying them eventually”.
One issue of concern for the industry at the moment was the serious difficulty in finding staff. Hotels currently employ some 35,000 people, up from just over 29,000 in 2013. Loizides spoke of ongoing negotiations with the unions on collective agreements and appealed to the unions for “the need for logic, prudence and a positive approach to reaching consensual solutions.
“For our part, we are ready to agree immediately on setting a minimum wage,” he said. “Safeguarding labour peace is a sine qua non”.
In his address, Anastasiades lauded the government’s efforts to rebrand Cypriot tourism and said the creation of the deputy ministry for tourism was “a milestone” as was the new national tourism strategy 2019 to 2030. The president also referred to such moves as licensing a casino, the creation of more marinas and other incentives.
“Nowadays tourism has grown into a highly competitive market influenced by regional developments, and changes in people’s habits, which constantly produce new needs, interests and pursuits,” he said.
“Therefore, to be effective management of the sector at the state and private-sector level, requires knowledge, constant market monitoring, decisiveness and speed in decision-making processes. Additionally, it is necessary to apply imaginative and bold policies so that our country is always competitive and high on visitors’ preferences.”