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Coronavirus: Tourism industry counts the cost of more lost time

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Photo: Christos Theodorides

Tourist industry stakeholders paint a grim picture of upcoming July following the UK’s announcement that Cyprus would remain in the amber category, effectively delaying the arrival of British holidaymakers for a further three weeks at a minimum.

“All I can say is, it was not unexpected,” Cyprus Hotels Association (Pasyxe) director general Philokypros Roussounides told the Cyprus Mail. “All our UK links have been preparing us for this possibility”.

He said Cyprus was moving further away from “good scenario” and if it has a season similar to last year, some businesses may not be able to make it.

An initially improving epidemiological picture stoked hopes that the tourist industry would finally be getting a much-needed push forward after a meagre few months, with deputy tourism minister Savvas Perdios visiting the UK in a bid to convince officials to give Cyprus green status.

UK PM Boris Johnson’s decision to delay fully lifting restrictions for another month was one indication of the unlikelihood of Cyprus ending up in the UK’s safe list, and with cases doubling and hospitalisations starting to creep up once more as of late, the Cypriot tourist industry was bracing for the worst.

“This is a bad development for us, not only because we are in the amber list, but more because other destinations that usually compete with Cyprus during peak season, like Malta, are now in the green list,” Chrisemily Psilogeni, general director of the Association of Cyprus Tourist Enterprises (Stek) told the Cyprus Mail.

Over the past week health authorities have not ruled out the possibility of an outbreak of the more infectious Delta variant, making repeated appeals to younger people to vaccinate as the variant is six times more infectious than any previous strain, and mainly affects the unvaccinated.

Daily cases returned to triple digits, reaching 175 on Thursday, with the health ministry attributing the rise to a combination of relaxations of restrictive measures, a low vaccine take-up among younger people, and a lax attitude towards personal protection measures and social distancing due to pandemic fatigue, which has led to the formation of clusters.

Pasyxe chairman Haris Loizides told Cybc that hoteliers were particularly alarmed by the number of unvaccinated staff members, with many considering not allowing those who have not had the jab to come to work.

“If [according to the ministry] 90 per cent of serious cases are unvaccinated, consider what this means for a hotel with 100 staff,” he said. “If someone gets infected with the virus, the hotel will be forced to close down, and incur unspeakable damages”.

Roussounides presented the same argument, adding that a hotel cluster could potentially negatively impact the surrounding area and tarnish the reputation of the already weak tourist industry.

“An entrepreneur has a personal responsibility towards preserving public health, but they also need to keep their business from going under,” he said.

July is the most crucial month for the Cypriot tourist industry, with mainly Brits arriving to the island in droves during normal times. But the island’s amber status “means that hotels will continue not getting any work from the British market,” Thanos Hotels CEO Thanos Michaelides told the Cyprus Mail.

As it stands, those returning to the UK from amber countries need to enter a 10-day quarantine, largely a deterrent for many Brits, but the Daily Telegraph reported that UK officials are drawing up proposals that could allow fully vaccinated travellers to avoid that– although they will still have to be tested.

According to the Times on Friday, the department for transport said that travellers returning from amber list countries who have had two jabs will avoid the requirement to self-isolate at home for up to ten days from “later in the summer”. It is widely expected that the policy will be introduced in August, just before the end of the peak summer season.

The UK government said it expected the change to “occur in phases starting with UK residents”. This means that foreign visitors entering the UK from most overseas countries will still be required to quarantine on arrival. This would affect British residents of Cyprus travelling back to the UK.

The change, if it goes through, would effectively turn amber countries green for the vaccinated, opening up the possibility of quarantine-free travel to most major holiday destinations in Europe, including Cyprus.

But Michaelides was apprehensive, saying that “thoughts and actions are different things”.

“Even if this happens, July will still have been lost,” Psilogeni said, adding that Brits will most likely still go for destinations on the green list.

And even though the UK is not the only tourist market affecting Cyprus, the absence of British tourists has left a “huge gap” that cannot be filled by the tiny, in comparison, numbers of tourists from other markets like Russia and Israel, Michaelides said.

Having almost crossed into its traditionally peak month, the season is going to be extended well into early Autumn, Psilogeni said, “but one or two months cannot really make up for a whole year”.

All stakeholders stressed the importance of extended support for the tourist industry, with Psilogeni saying that the government perhaps needs to find new ways to secure and keep alive businesses that have had no liquidity for over a year.

Meanwhile, Roussounides said there are thoughts to extend the deputy tourism ministry’s domestic tourism scheme, which usually pauses during peak season. It involves fixed hotel room prices for participating hotels, allowing Cypriots to help the industry through benefiting from discounted hotel stays.

“We will continue being patient, but sadly the pandemic won’t let us rest or make any predictions,” Loizides said.

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