SPEAKING at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Limassol, President Anastasiades said the government would carry on working for the viable and sustainable development of tourism and the economy. The use of the adjective ‘sustainable’ has become obligatory when referring to development and economic growth, but it is questionable whether the politicians that use it know what it really means.
Their policy decisions suggest that ‘sustainable’ development does not enter their thinking. Tourism is the perfect example. Tourist arrivals hit a new record level in each of the previous three years, but forecasts of slight slowdown this year have worried the authorities while the tourism industry has been applying pressure on government to address the issue.
During the AGM of the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents (Acta) on Wednesday, its chairman listed enrichment of the tourist product, seasonality, better service and connectivity with bigger markets as being the main challenges facing the sector. He also used the obligatory word, in referring to the government’s target to turn Cyprus into a year-round, ‘sustainable’, premium destination hosting five million tourists a year by 2030.
How sustainable would that be? Would there be any beaches left to be enjoyed by the future generations of locals as more hotels are built? And how would the enrichment of the tourist product be achieved if it is characterised by overcrowded and noisy beaches, packed airports and restaurants, bars and clubs designed to serve mass tourism, which is the model we have embraced? The better connectivity to big markets that Acta is demanding could further boost arrivals but this is not necessarily a good thing for the local population which will inevitably be faced with higher prices for everything as overall demand for goods and services increases.
It would be good to hear the government acknowledge that we have reached the limits of arrivals for the summer period. The priority must be tackling seasonality and extending the tourism period, objectives mentioned both by Anastasiades and the Acta president. This is what the deputy ministry of tourism should be focusing on from now – selling the island as a destination for the winter months, when the temperatures are higher than the rest of Europe and the sun shines most days.
Extending the tourist season to the winter months would also compensate for a drop in arrivals in the summer which would be no bad thing as it would ease the strain on resources. Only then would the use of the term sustainable development of tourism be justified.