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Paphos hotels desperate for British holidaymakers

Gemma and John Harrison

Time is rapidly running out to salvage any hope of a tourist season, and for Paphos hotels absolutely everything hinges on the UK market which still has not been definitively cleared for arrivals after August 1.

Hoteliers told the Sunday Mail that the government must do more to highlight the island’s major 2020 selling point as a safe, well-monitored holiday destination with practically non-existent new cases of coronavirus.

Of the 102 hotels, both large and small family-run establishments in Paphos, only 36 are open, according to Euripdes Loizides of the Paphos hoteliers’ association. A further six or seven may open next week, but all are unsure, he said on Friday.

Hotels were encouraged to open but most are empty and now haemorrhaging money.

At the moment there is ‘zero business’, with the exception of a few hotels that have local customers staying at weekends in spite of the government support scheme.

“We were tricked and trapped by the government. They want hotels open to welcome tourists but there aren’t any. So many of us were forced to open and are losing millions,” said Loizides.

He said that like other hotels that are open, his hotel is clean, open and ready to welcome visitors, but there aren’t any. He has 18 staff working with almost nothing to do, normally it would be 120 at this time of year.

For most of last week his hotel was completely empty, with at best a handful of guests, and many of his colleagues have under ten rooms occupied.

“I’m sceptical, it’s a very tough situation. The government can’t afford to keep paying out and we need a worldwide marketing blitz to highlight that Cyprus is 100 per cent safe to encourage people to come.”

The government estimated that around 800,000 tourists were expected from Israel, Germany, the UK and Cyprus but all of those numbers have gone out of the window and all that remains is the local market, the hotel owner said.

This year, even the summer months will be like winter at best, said Nassos Hadjigeorgiou, head of the Paphos regional board of tourism.

“For the five remaining months from August to December there is no way it (the tourism industry) will be close to that of last year,” he said.

For Paphos, virtually everything depends on the British market.

From August to December in 2019, 600,000 visitors from the UK travelled to Cyprus under normal market conditions and with an increase in air capacity, he said.

“In 2020, firstly there is reduction of capacity, and who can estimate who we can attract. This is still a big question mark.”

Two weeks ago the government announced that after August 1, Britain should be able to enter Category B for those countries that can come to Cyprus if they have a negative coronavirus test before arrival, but the government has yet to make a final decision, making it enormously difficult for potential holiday-makers to make plans.

The required tests would also add significantly to the cost of a family holiday. This has led to reports that the government is considering that from August 1 all category B arrivals in Cyprus will be able to take a free rapid coronavirus test at both Larnaca and Paphos airports, paid for jointly by the hoteliers and the government. This would only be available for tourists staying at licensed hotels and hotel apartments.

Hadjigeorgiou questioned, however, whether people including the British market will really want to travel, as currently aircraft from allowed destinations are arriving with just a handful of passengers.

“We have to see how the markets will react, even travellers don’t seem sure if they want to travel yet or not.”

Gemma and John Harrison, British business owners who are regular visitors to Cyprus, were due to fly to Paphos from the UK in April, along with other members of their family, to visit relatives living in Cyprus. The couple said they would holiday in Cyprus this summer if they could.

“We would feel a bit nervous to fly anywhere for four or five hours on a plane, but we would do it anyway. It’s important to help keep the economy running and when the virus is finally under control in some way we want to be able to go back to normal. That won’t happen if so many companies are gone and we must support businesses and support the economy,” they told the Sunday Mail.

However, the idea of a free test does not appeal.

“We would much prefer to be tested before flying, otherwise if we tested positive on arrival, there would be a quarantine period.”

Radu Mitroi, manager of five star Almyra hotel in Paphos which is part of the Thanos group with three hotels in the district, said that allowing passengers to take a free coronavirus test on arrival in Cyprus would be an excellent move as it’s impossible for hotels to operate without the British market.

“British people will come if this testing is introduced, Cyprus has always been a favourite destination and even more so now, as it is one of the safest concerning coronavirus numbers, I believe there will be more demand from people who may not have been here before,” Mitroi said.

The hotel’s need is obvious. Last June and July, Almyra was running at 90 per cent occupancy, this year it is at 25-30 per cent.

The best hotels can hope for now is merely to limit their losses, as it will be impossible to even break even this year. “The best scenario we can all hope for is to lose less,” he said.

And to achieve even that, he said, it was crucial that the government make firm decisions concerning the UK, its status and possible testing. August 1 is less than three weeks away and families need time to arrange and book their trips, he said.

“This is in the hands of the government now and they need to decide what to do. Hotels were asked if we would be willing to pay for half of the costs and the government the rest for a rapid test on arrival. We all think it would be good.”

 

Almyra was the first hotel to open in Cyprus on June 5 after the lockdown and is popular with Cypriots and other residents. Although occupancy during the week is low, weekends are busy, around 65 to 70 per cent occupancy with many Cypriots and Russian and Israeli permanent residents booking mini breaks.

Without the government support scheme they probably wouldn’t have opened, he said.

“It encouraged us to open and if the scheme was not available we wouldn’t be able to operate with such low occupancy. We couldn’t have covered 100 per cent of the wages. I hope that they will extend this scheme until the end of the year,” he said.

The support scheme for hotels until July 31covers 90 per cent of employees in a businesses that resumed operation if it had a drop in turnover of over 40 per cent, while 80 per cent of employees will be covered for businesses that do not resume operation.

From August until October 12, the scheme will cover 50 per cent of employees for businesses that reopened that experience a decrease in turnover of more than 35 per cent.It will continue to cover 80 per cent for those that remain closed. However, the government reserves the right to re-evaluate this figure.

The scheme will cover 60 per cent of employees’ wages and employers the remaining amount.

Among the conditions are that businesses must not have laid off any staff for financial reasons from March 1 until October 31. They are also required to have special offers in a bid to boost local tourism.

“Once we ‘open’ Cyprus, we have to understand that there will be a few cases here and there whenever we make this move. We have to ensure that we have the facilities in place, designated isolation facilities, life support and such necessary things. We should be very proud of Cyprus, but we also don’t want to end up with no employment,” Mitroi warned.

However things unfold in the coming days and weeks, industry professionals agree that it will be a very difficult year for tourism, and that there is still no clear idea of how many people will holiday in August, or for the rest of the year.

“It seems as if our first projections will not be realised. We will have to wait at least another 10 days to find out more,” said Hadjigeorgiou. “I think that some visitors from several countries could have the desire to come to Cyprus and the UK could react positively.”



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