With the loss of Russian and Ukrainian arrivals, Cyprus tourism is now operating with a worst-case scenario and will need to tap alternative markets and domestic custom to, at best, recover around one third of what will be lost this year, Deputy Minister of Tourism Savvas Perdios said on Tuesday.
Perdios, who was briefing the House commerce committee online, said everyone should forget about returning to the record four million arrivals seen in 2019 before the pandemic hit. Now it was a matter of trying to reach the number of visitors Cyprus saw in 2021 – just below the two million mark.
“We are now operating with the worst-case scenario, which says we will have zero arrivals because even if the war ends tomorrow, no one knows how long the sanctions will last and no one knows if the Russians will be able to travel because of the fall of their currency,” Perdios said.
“At least for this year we are deleting 2019. We must focus on catching last year’s numbers.”
At the same time, the minister himself appeared optimistic this year would see a similar number of arrivals and revenue as last year thanks to the promotion of other markets such as Germany, Israel, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Sweden and Hungary.
“With the moves of the last few years, our product is more resilient, the perception of what Cyprus is about has started to diversify, we are bringing in tourism with a higher income level,” he said.
These new markets may make up for the loss of some 800,000 Russian and Ukrainian tourists, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and sanctions imposed to the country, Perdios said. “But at the moment there is no other market that can bring such numbers through organised packages.”
The deputy minister said there would be around 20 to 40 flights a week from each of the other countries, while there were 100 flights every week from Russia.
However, if more passengers board those flights, then higher tourist arrivals can be achieved with fewer flights as last year the average flight occupancy rate was around 70 per cent, Perdios explained.
He added that both the UK and Israel have potential and will be open markets from the beginning of the season, as opposed to 2021 when many restrictions were in place due to the pandemic.
Perdios also announced measures to boost domestic tourism, saying more details should be expected in the coming days.
“We will do everything in our power to make things go as well as possible under the circumstances,” the deputy minister said.
Hermes Airports Director of Development Maria Kouroupi said there were still 10 million seats coming to Cyprus from 38 countries and 50 airlines.
“If we manage to increase the [seat] occupancy by around 10 per cent, we can talk about 300,000 to 350,000 more passengers, that is, around 30 per cent could be saved, maybe 40 per cent of what we’re losing from Russia and Ukraine,” she said. She added however that due to the price of fuel it would be difficult to add new flights during the coming period.
President of the Cyprus Hotels Association (Pasyxe) Haris Loizides told MPs that all focus should be put on markets where they are flights. “And I totally agree that we need to push these flights from 50 per cent [capacity] to 80 per cent to 85 per cent to make up for the losses,” he said.
“We have always been criticised for putting all our eggs in two baskets – Britain and Russia. It’s easy to criticise from the couch.”
Loizides said the nine markets mentioned at the committee meeting were not new markets but traditional ones and the only reason they had dropped from sight was the lack of flights.
He also mentioned how other countries were gradually lifting pandemic restrictions for travellers. “We too should abolish the Cyprus Flight Pass for foreigners as soon as possible as well as for Cypriots and at the same time to give the necessary relaxations from the SafePass,” he said.
The flight pass issue was also raised by Diko MP Chrysis Pantelides, while Christos Zannettou, president of the Famagusta Tourism Development and Promotion Company and Mayor of Ayia Napa said: “The government should decide yesterday what will be the incentives it will give to the tourism industry.”
There is a huge danger that tourist accommodations in the Famagusta region would not be able to open at all, he said.