The resurgence of the novel coronavirus in Cyprus has not been kind to its airports. In normal times, Hermes Airports has 70 airlines operating at its Paphos and Larnaca airports. Currently, there are only 25.
“The company is making a priority of bringing all that business back as soon as restrictions are lifted, whether because of a vaccine being distributed or because the pandemic is brought under control,” insists Maria Kouroupi, senior manager Aviation Development Marketing & Communications, in an interview with Cyprus Mail.
Kouroupi says that, in June, activity started picking up but later the sudden resurgence of Covid-19 soured all that.
“We want to ensure that all that capacity we had in 2019 comes back. The main thing is that we stay connected with airlines and we discuss how we will get things going again.
Everyone is mobilized, because we cannot have another year like this one.”
Hermes Airports shares the assumption, which many in the industry support, including Ryanair’s O’Leary, that next year from the summer season onwards there’s going to be some kind of normalisation.
“Either because some kind of vaccine is found or because the many people who really want to travel will find a common way to address the challenges.”
Kouroupi does expect that there will be a common protocol for testing, that new measures supporting travel will be effected, and that, in general, people will, even in the absence of a vaccine, have more confidence in travelling and will get moving again.
Consistent approach to testing sought – ‘halfway there’
“Our CEO, who is a board member of Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, and the Minister of Transport have been pushing to create a consistent testing procedure across the EU,” Kouroupi explains. “And I think we are about halfway there. There is significant pressure from the industry for this, as it would make travel much simpler for consumers. There is definitely going to be testing prior to departure and probably testing upon arrival. I think some countries may start rapid testing and others will offer PCR tests.”
Cyprus is still a valued destination
Regardless of the current crisis, Kouroupi points out that Cyprus is still a valued destination.
“The important thing is also that Cyprus is in demand. What we get from the airlines is that people want to travel. Airlines want to implement programs.
I think post-Covid there is an opportunity for Cyprus, because it’s a destination that’s not overcrowded, one that offers a more authentic and relaxed experience. So there is potential there, not only to gain back traditional markets and segments but also to target new categories of travellers,” she continues.
“All of us in travel and tourism, along with the tourism authorities, are working to realise this potential. We need to ensure that the elements that people are looking for are implemented and reinforced.”
Meanwhile Hermes Airports is upgrading many aspects of travel through the Larnaca and Paphos airports, including the installation of automated baggage drop-off. The new Tagomat® and Bagomat kiosks allow passengers to self-tag baggage and drop it off, greatly simplifying the baggage process and saving passenger time – it takes less than 10 seconds.
Hermes Airports was also recently awarded the Airport Health Accreditation by the Airports Council International (ACI) World for Larnaka and Pafos airports. The AHA programme assesses new health measures and procedures introduced as a result of the pandemic.
Cyprus support scheme for aviation is highly regarded
Airlines have lost billions during the crisis. There is likely to be an aggressive price war once travel opens up again. There is concern about airlines surviving this.
But Kouroupi expects fares to stabilise. “Airlines still need to maintain a certain level of fares to cover their costs. I ‘m not worried because at Larnaca and Paphos there is a mix of airlines, we have low cost, hybrid and network, and charter airlines. So I would expect that the cost of travel will be competitive as demand picks up.”
Both EU and government funds are expected to continue to support the aviation sector.
“Cyprus has such a scheme in place, and it has received considerable praise from the Commission and the industry. It’s now considered a model by many observers,” she explains. “The scheme provided critical support at the time it was most needed – it was a risk-sharing scheme to support occupancy levels.”
“The market needed a restart incentive, and we went to the government and they agreed to fund this under the new EU temporary framework. We have collaborated on this with the ministry of transport and this is being implemented through the end of the year and currently there is work underway to allow its extension to next year.
Hermes Airports will work to restore high levels of traffic
Once the restart is accomplished, bringing back all the airlines and rebuilding traffic will be the priority, Kouroupi points out.
“Of course, Cyprus is fortunate to have a good mix of airlines. This is very important, not only because it prevents dependence on one airline type but also gives the right mix of routes. If you have Lufthansa and Austrian and Aegean, it allows a broader range of travel, because, even if you don’t have direct connections to some destinations, you can go via their hubs. Obviously, Cyprus is very small, and we’ll never be able to satisfy all the demands in terms of destinations, so we’ll need to have a way out,” she adds.
“We also want to ensure Qatar, Emirates, the Middle East etc. continue operating. We want all the connections eastbound and westbound.” And of course, the rest of the airlines, low cost and hybrid which are offering point to point connections.
Then Kouroupi is concerned with restoring demand. “We have to work with the airlines and with the tourism stakeholders in Cyprus to ensure that we get high levels of demand. In 2019, the average year-round load factor was over 90 per cent. This is incredible. This calls for a lot more capacity. This means working with airlines and stakeholders to take advantage of pent up demand as well as new segments of individual customers we see showing interest for Cyprus can significantly support recovery. We really want to find a way to penetrate these segments to get more of these, instead of remaining stuck to the old school of thought which is the mass market,” she concludes.