With holidays abroad out of bounds, Cypriots rediscover home
Greece’s relegation to the category B list of countries this week has killed the last chance to recoup any lost business this summer, travel agents say, and it has put an end to most hopes of travelling abroad as the main August holiday period nears.
With no other option than a staycation, and with no competition from foreign tourists, Cypriots are mostly able to pick and choose where they want to stay. While this is good for holidaymakers, it will not have any significant impact for travel agents or hoteliers in areas exclusively catering to foreign custom.
“With the government’s decision regarding Greece, we practically lost our last window this summer,” the head of the travel agents’ association (Acta) Vasilis Stamataris told the Sunday Mail.
“We had multiple meetings with the government regarding the exchange of tourists between Cyprus and Greece this summer and all that work is now pointless.”
Stamataris said the sole occupation for travel agents now was arranging cancellations for people who had previously booked their holidays to Greece.
Georgia, a resident of Limassol who had booked plane tickets to travel to Greece in August, said she had to cancel her plans after Greece was placed in category B.
“I would have travelled with my family, five people in total. The fact that now each one of us will have to pay for the Covid-19 test when we come back to Cyprus has dissuaded us from travelling to Greece. I simply cannot afford it,” she said.
“I will try to find a place to go locally. The silver lining is that perhaps this is the right occasion to rediscover my own country, like so many other Cypriots are doing this summer.”
The pandemic has completely transformed the summer of 2020 for everyone in Cyprus.
Holidaymakers, hoteliers, travel agents and anyone involved in the tourism and hospitality industry have all been affected by a situation no one has ever experienced before.
With overseas destinations essentially off limits, Cypriots will be rediscovering their homeland this month, and with foreign tourists essentially out of the picture, nowhere is out of bounds.
Whether bargains are available is another matter of course. Hotels and those renting villas have been criticised for advertising special deals that do not exist or failing to offer them at all. The consensus here seems to be: phone directly. Haggle aggressively. Never book online.
Certain hotspots of success have quickly emerged as the holiday season hits, especially those who never really catered for foreign tourists.
Take the Polis Chrysochous beach campsite. A perennial favourite for the young and alternative crowds, it looks set to be full for the rest of the summer, according to Maria, one of its managers.
“We definitely have more visitors than last year, both for weekend and week-long stays,” she told the Sunday Mail.
It costs around €10 a night for a couple to pitch their tent at the site, €3 per person and €4 for the space. For those suffering financially from the pandemic, it’s a cheap holiday.
“So far, we had enough space at the camping site to accommodate all visitors. But I think we will have to turn some people away when the holidays following the August 15 weekend start,” she said.
“We have been inundated with phone calls from people asking to book a spot. It’s going to be a very busy couple of weeks for us.”
Aside from the two, non-organised campsites at Pachyammos and Kato Pyrgos, the lack of competition in the central and western part of the island.
is another reason why the Polis one is so popular this summer.
The opening of the new, official campsite near the Baths of Aphrodite in the village of Neo Chorio has been delayed by the lockdown.
The four campsites in the cool mountains run by the forestry department are not open at all this year, even for reduced numbers to follow social distancing regulations. It’s a cruel decision during such a difficult year, according to some.
“I have been going to the Polis camping site in the summer for the last ten years and am planning to go this year,” said Nicolas, a resident of Nicosia.
He worries about the crowds though.
“I have friends who never went camping before and will try it out this year for the first time. I reckon I won’t enjoy my time there this year. There needs to be a bigger choice. Having hundreds of people in one campsite is neither pleasant nor safe.”
Perhaps due to its unique setting and its reputation among Nicosians for being “far”, the remoter areas of the Paphos district have experienced a surge in popularity from the domestic market.
“After what’s happened this year, we were surprised with how many visitors we had over the summer so far,” Maria Kyprianou, one of the managers at Pyrgos Bay Hotel in remote Kato Pyrgos in the northwest of the island, told the Sunday Mail.
“Things are looking good for us. We are almost fully booked throughout the rest of August and even during some weekends in September,” she said.
“We don’t normally have many foreigners stay at our hotel, so this year, with Cypriots reluctant to go abroad, we have registered an increase in bookings. We certainly cannot complain.”
Ellie Petrou, owner of the Tylos Hotel, agrees.
“Cypriots are rediscovering the island. It’s a necessity, as the pandemic complicates travelling abroad, but it’s not all bad. Our island is magnificent, and locals are falling back in love with it,” said Petrou.
Like other hotels in the area, Tylos Hotel has also seen a surge in local bookings.
“We are not yet fully booked for the rest of August, but, to be honest, I expect to be. Cypriots tend to book at the last minute, I’m sure they will do the same this August.”
Back down in the part of Paphos more familiar to foreign tourists, the situation is terrible of course, and the fact that Cypriots are notoriously late bookers offers no solace.
“The situation for hoteliers is dire, this will be the worst August ever for hoteliers in terms of number of visitors,” said president of the hoteliers’ association for the Paphos district Thanos Michaelides, adding that that overall those hotels that are open remain only 40 per cent full at the moment.
“Sure, we have more demand from locals, but unfortunately they cannot make up the numbers provided by tourists from the UK and from Russia.” He said supply was higher than demand “which never makes for good business”.
In the Famagusta district, Cypriots’ long-standing love affair with Protaras has been strengthened through necessity this year and during the holiday week of August 15 it promises to be packed. This year, Ayia Napa, usually taken over by foreigners, also gets included.
The area is experiencing a different kind of tourism, according to the president of the hoteliers’ association for the Famagusta district Doros Takkas.
“Despite the obvious difficulties we face this summer, we have a good number of locals choosing this area for their holidays,” he told the Sunday Mail.
“The case of Ayia Napa is particularly interesting. It has always been difficult for Cypriots to book a place there, simply because every summer foreign tourists flock to the area.”
This summer, however, locals have been able to experience emptier beaches and a wider range of hotels.
Takkas said that August and the beginning of September are looking good in terms of bookings, even with the lack of foreign tourism.
“Of course numbers will be lower and our businesses are suffering, that is natural. But, at least, locals will be able to see a different Famagusta this summer, emptier and quieter.”
In the mountain areas, the situation is more complex. Traditionally, Cypriot holidaymakers invade the mountains in the summer for weekends only, especially the one closest to August 15. Perhaps surprisingly, this year does not appear to be much different.
“The business of hotels in the mountains as far as local tourism is concerned is a weekend-only one,” said Nicos Matheou, the owner of the New Helvetia hotel in Pano Platres.
“We have a few week-long stays in August, but not enough to make up for the losses caused by the lack of foreign tourists.
“We are missing tourists from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Them not being here in the summer is a big blow for us.”
But due to the recent cluster of coronavirus cases, it is Limassol that stands to lose the most in terms of Cypriot visitors this month.
Traditionally catering to Russian tourism, no longer a possibility under present conditions, the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases has also dissuaded locals from choosing it as a holiday destination.
“I had booked a weekend stay at a five star hotel, where I go every year with my wife and three kids on August 15,” Costas, an engineer from Larnaca, told the Sunday Mail.
“I was looking forward to my holidays until more Covid-19 cases were detected in the city. We decided to cancel our holidays and stay in Larnaca instead. Perhaps we will rent a villa in the area,” he said.
“I cannot enjoy my time off knowing that my family’s health might be in danger. It’s an unlucky year for everyone. I must say I am looking forward to 2021, hoping for a better summer.”