Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative’s chairman outlines the importance of expanding the island product
Sustainable tourism has been a transformative force for the sector on the island with more importance now being given to areas beyond the sand and sea benefitting rural areas and helping to keep villages alive, Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative chairman Philippos Drousiotis said.
“We have been successful at helping the promotion and cultivation of a more sustainable type of tourism in Cyprus and there are two key reasons for this. One being the fact that we deliver on our goals and two being that we have the leverage to push for the changes we want to see being implemented,” Drousiotis said, explaining that with the backing of major travel operators, the CSTI managed to convinced the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, which has since evolved to the Deputy Ministry of Tourism, as well as the hotel unions to follow their lead.
The CSTI has its roots in a UK-based charity, the Travel Foundation, and their own efforts to improve sustainability in the tourism industry. “The Travel Foundation focused on destinations where high numbers of British tourists visit during their holidays, so naturally Cyprus was the first destination to reflect their work,” Drousiotis said. The CSTI was created in 2006, originally composed of and spearheaded by the four biggest UK travel operators and their representatives in Cyprus, giving them the aforementioned leverage to promote the organisation’s cause on the island.
The organisation has come a long way since then and on April 21 will host an online seminar titled ‘Sustainable Future: In every crisis there is an opportunity’. The event will be moderated by producer and presenter Saskia Constantinou and feature Managing Director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at Harvard university’s School of Public Health Megan Epler Wood as its keynote speaker. She has been involved with ecotourism and sustainable tourism development for over a quarter of a century.
Other notable panelists include easyJet holidays CEO Gary Wilson, Travel Foundation Chairperson Helen Marano, TUI Group Executive Committee Board Member Thomas Ellerbeck, Greek National Tourism Organisation President Angela Gerekou, and Cypriot Deputy Minister of Tourism Savvas Perdios.
Perdios has taken a keen interest in sustainability, having previously explained that the Deputy Ministry aims to rebrand Cyprus as a tourist destination, ultimately making it a more diverse. “Part of this new branding is to promote our special interest segments, but more importantly to showcase the softer aspects of Cyprus, such as its climate of wellness,” Perdios has said, explaining that the island’s uncrowded towns, clean seas and air, safety and local produce all play a part in the new image the island wants to promote internationally.
Though it is based in Cyprus and works primarily with sustainable tourism activities and campaigns on the island, the CSTI also seeks to create international links with other like-minded organisations, communities and governmental bodies. It has recently applied to participate in a number of international programmes, including the European Union’s Green Deal. “We have open channels with European countries as well as the wider Mediterranean region and we are hoping for even more connections and initiatives in the future, especially with Mediterranean nations. There are synergies involved because we are all interconnected,” Drousiotis said.
Some of CSTI’s previous and current projects include the Keep Our Sand And Sea Plastic Free programme, an initiative which includes the Travel Foundation and TUI’s Care Foundation, as well as the Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Tourism programme. The latter aimed to support women entrepreneurs in Cyprus and other European countries and was supported by institutions based in Cyprus, the UK, Finland, Spain, Estonia, and Greece. WERT was also backed by the European Union through its Leonardo da Vinci programme.
The CSTI has been in close contact with government institutions and feels like their voices are being heard. “As I said, due to the backing and involvement of these major tour operators, we have always had the CTO’s ear. We developed a destination partnership programme where sponsorship was partly provided by the Travel Foundation and partially by the CTO. A memorandum of understanding was drafted between the CTO and the Travel Foundation which enabled the CSTI to become the responsible entity for implementing these various projects,” Drousiotis said.
“Our relationship with the CTO was not perfect, but quite good overall. Towards the end of our relationship we realised that the CTO was too limited in its scope and powers. It needed ministerial authority to be able to do certain things. This also coincided with Cyprus entering a rocky path with the financial crisis which hindered some of our efforts,” Drousiotis added, explaining how though certain sustainability benchmarks and criteria for the hotel industry were created at the time, there was an issue with their implementation and monitoring.
Things have since improved and continue to be upgraded with time. “I have to say that whatever programme and initiative we have they support and endorse, especially since environmental issues have grown in importance with time. After the pandemic the issue of sustainability will grow in importance even more,” said Drousiotis.
Keen to highlight the lesser known areas of the island, the organisation uses takes the opportunity of its AGM to host a festival in various Cypriot villages, previously in Fini, Agros, Troodos and other locations. “We have done tree-planting, and more activities of that nature. Some of our members are small producers of produce or other Cypriot products up in the more rural areas. In the events we organise, these producers can sell their products and connect with people in person, which creates a bond between the people and local producers,” Drousiotis added, explaining how this can help sustain organic farming and mountain communities throughout the year.
“We were the first pioneers regarding the damaging effects of forest fires, especially with events centred around tree planting in mountainous regions. We mobilised the tourist industry and planted thousands of trees,” he added.
The organisation has public awareness firmly in its sights, as it aims to continue to educate both businesses and consumers about the importance of sustainable tourism activities. “It’s important to change people’s behaviour. We have done a lot with beaches, as you can see with our projects in the Famagusta area. We have communicated our message through local radio stations, by going to schools to inform the children and teach them about what we do,” Drousiotis said.
There is now growing optimism that the public will continue embracing environmentally-friendly causes, not because of any monetary incentives, but because it is the right thing to do. “The pleasing thing is that younger generations are more sensitive to this issue. It’s satisfying to us when hotel executives implement sustainability initiatives not because they are the trendy thing to do, but because they are true believers.”