It was good news that the EU has approved the €6m subsidy for Cyprus to create a ferry link with Greece, which is long overdue.
However, this is really just the first stage of the process following the initial decision. The usual bureaucratic delays plus the pandemic have already put paid to the idea of the ferry operating this year as was originally hoped.
It was probably just as well that the service did not kick off this year. It would barely have got off the ground when it would have had to shut down due to the coronavirus and could have been shelved indefinitely by now.
Even though outgoing deputy minister for shipping Natasa Pilidou seemed optimistic on Monday that the service would be in place now by next year, there are still no guarantees.
The next stage will be the bidding process, which as we all know in Cyprus in nearly every case ends up at the Tenders Review Authority, adding to the time for implementing urgent projects. Just look at what happened with the public transport tenders process. On top of that there will have to be negotiations between the government and the ports operators in Cyprus and Greece to work out the final deal.
The whole process could go two ways due to the ongoing uncertainty over the virus. There may be more bidders than initially thought, given that tourism has been washout both here and in Greece in 2020 and companies may end up vying harder for more business.
On the flip side, coronavirus has made doing business ten times more difficult and costly for any venture involved in the travel industry. Ships especially have people in close proximity for much longer periods of time, and any outbreak leaves them vulnerable to being stuck at sea and refused entry to ports. This might put companies off bidding at all and decide to adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
No one knows if social distancing rules will be lifted by next year. Will there be a second wave, a new lockdown? Will there be a new pandemic? It’s probably likely that most in the travel industry are pinning their hopes on a vaccine for a full ‘return to normality’. That is not guaranteed yet either.
The other issue is whether travellers will bite. Cyprus has been so long without such a service, people are more used to flying and may not want to spend endless hours on a boat. Some will, however. With what appear to be low fares at the moment, people will have the chance to take their own cars, and once off the ferry will be free to visit as many European cities as they wish without having to go through multiple airports or spend a fortune on car rentals.
All things considered, the ferry plans really do need to go ahead. As an island nation, Cyprus desperately needs at least one alternative to air transport.