Cyprus Mail

Our View: Risks need to be taken to get tourism back on track

EVERYONE agrees that the arrival of tourists would provide the boost needed to push the restart of the economy after the extended lockdown. Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides underlined this in an interview with the Sunday Mail a few weeks ago, when he said “we need the recovery of tourism” to “make the recovery of the economy happen.”

The recovery of tourism is not discernible yet as industry insiders believe it is too early to say how things would shape. They all agree they would have a better idea of what will happen by the end of this week, by which time the airports would have been open for a couple of weeks and some indication would be given on the number of flights arriving.

Early indications are that hopes there would be an increase of arrivals from Germany and Israel to kickstart the tourism season until we open up to visitors from traditional markets such as the UK and Russia, have not fulfilled. Israel has been moved from the category A countries to category B because of a surge of cases recently, while the German market is proving difficult to crack.

“We are realising that the broader public of Germany is not familiar with Cyprus as a tourist destination,” said a member of the Hoteliers’ Association, we spoke to. Although there have been attempts to promote Cyprus in Germany in the last few weeks, bookings were disappointing said the same source. It is difficult to sell an unknown destination to the majority of Germans in such a short time, no matter how safe Cyprus is as a destination.

Perhaps more could be done to promote our unique selling proposition, as a safe destination. Speaking at a teleconference on tourism last Wednesday, TUI group’s head for Cyprus, Malta and the Middle East Ian Hay said Cyprus was “not promoting enough as a safe destination,” adding that “others are doing more.” While this must be a valid point, would emphasis on a safe destination work in markets not familiar with Cyprus as a tourist resort?

Despite all the efforts to attract visitors from new markets, hoteliers and other tourism professionals know that the way to tourism recovery is the opening of the UK market, which remains closed for now, on the advice of the government’s scientific team. The UK still has a relatively high number of infections per day, although these are falling, and the Cyprus authorities, understandably are worried about allowing travel from Britain, even if it is our main tourist market.

Fearing that opening up travel might take longer than expected, the Hoteliers’ Association, according to its President Haris Loizides, is exploring the idea of paying airlines to carry out a basic coronavirus test of passengers in the departure country so that all those with a negative result could fly to Cyprus without any concern. This measure would be primarily used in the UK market, but the government would have to give the go-ahead and the airlines would have to agree, which is not very likely. There is also the cost, that may prove prohibitive for testing on a mass scale.

Things regarding the UK market were further complicated on Saturday when the government’s decision to relax the blanket restrictions on non-essential overseas travel would be relaxed from July 6 were reported. People will be allowed to travel to a number of European countries without having to go into quarantine for 14 days on their return to the UK. Cyprus, however, was not among the countries listed so far, which included Spain, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Germany among others, even though it has an extremely low, almost non-existent, infection rate.

It had been suggested that the reason Cyprus was not on the UK list was because it had not opened travel from Britain, but Greece had not opened an air bridge to Britain either although it was still on the list. Greece’s tourism minister Haris Theoharis told the BBC it could be another three weeks before the country opened up an air bridge to the UK as health experts were still considering this option. The full list of countries is due to be released in the coming days.

We are sure our government will take up the matter with the UK government and ask why Cyprus had not been placed on the list of ‘no quarantine’ countries. Meanwhile, the deputy minister of tourism Savvas Perdios told The Sun newspaper he expected flights from the UK to Cyprus to start by mid-July, but there has been no official confirmation because the authorities have still not decided whether it would be safe to allow visitors from the UK.

Although it is understandable the Cyprus authorities do not want to be rushed into a decision on travel from the UK for fear it could cause a surge in infections it cannot allow the matter to remain in limbo for much longer. The Hoteliers’ Association issued a statement on Wednesday saying it was absolutely imperative for the government to give a specific date for the start of flights from the main markets. It should at least do this because without a date why would anyone book to stay in a hotel in Cyprus even in September.

Unfortunately, the government will have to take a small risk if the recovery of tourism is to commence.

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