A tourism expert explains why the decades’ old dream of a tourism upgrade has no chance of success
By Victor Mantovani
I am not very fond of Sundays. As a matter of fact, if I could, I would have loved to cancel all Sundays from my life. Knowing this is impossible I have to find things to entertain myself and one of them is the Sunday Mail’s “Tales from the Coffeeshop”. Last Sunday (April 3) the pleasure was double as Patroclos brought up one of my favourite subjects – ‘quality tourism’:
“What else but madness is it for ministers to insist that Kyproulla needed to attract ‘quality tourism’. Communications Minister Yiannis Karousos and Deputy Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios repeated this joke at a conference a few days ago claiming only ‘quality tourism’ would endure in time of continuous crises. We have been hearing about the need to attract ‘quality tourism’ since the early 90s. If after 30 years of trying we have still not attracted this quality tourism, it might be time to give up our delusions and accept that Kyproulla is not for the discerning, wealthy tourist…,” Patroclos wrote.
Now my question is quite simple. If Patroclos, who is not a tourism professional, has come to this obvious conclusion how come our ministers cannot? I have been involved in Cyprus’ tourism industry for almost 40 years and unfortunately the stories of lunacy that I have witnessed in this extremely important sector of our economy are beyond description. One of the unsolved issues has of course always been how to attract ‘quality tourism’, but it is not the only one. The following are just a few examples:
We want to differentiate the source markets of our tourism, but do we cater for any other markets except the British and the Russian?
We have spent millions of euros in promoting Cyprus in the German market, but have we ever investigated the needs of this market? Same goes for the French, Italian and other markets. Why do Crete and Rhodes attract hundreds of thousands of Germans, French, Italians and Dutch tourists but we can’t? Simply because we do not have the product for these markets, and nobody bothers to develop it (including the private sector).
Whenever there is a crisis in one of our main markets, we remember these other markets but as soon as the crisis ends we go back to square one. It seems that long term planning is not something we like in this country.
We wish to prolong our tourist season, but come November most of the hotels, restaurants, bars and shops in our main resorts are closed. The government, instead of encouraging the private sector to stay open, does exactly the opposite. The lack of coordination is also apparent. One year we have flight connectivity, but the hotels remain closed; the following year some hotels remain open, but we do not have the flights!
We have tried to attract cyclists, but do we have any decent cycling routes? You must have suicidal tendencies to cycle on many of our routes. Has anybody been to Mallorca to see the infrastructure that has been developed over there for cyclists?
We have tried to bring golf tourism, but the number of our golf courses is limited. Same goes for football training tourism. Antalya is way ahead of us in football fields and other sports infrastructure. Some years ago, we even had the bright idea to attract medical tourism. As if we have a branch of Mayo Clinic on the island.
And don’t let’s mention agrotourism. Have we bothered to find out how agrotourism works in other countries? What we offer, except on rare occasions, is accommodation in rural areas but no real agrotourism.
But coming back to the quality tourism, do we really think we have the product for this level of the sector? Do we have the standard of services, the gastronomy, the shops and bars, the night spots and generally the infrastructure that the discerning traveller is looking for? And most importantly do we have the culture needed to develop it? We have flooded our airports with low-cost flights which is the last thing a wealthy traveller is looking for. I think Patroclos has already given the answer on this.
For two years our island was practically closed to tourism. What have we done during this time to improve our touristic product except talk? Are we more environmentally friendly than two years ago? Is our countryside cleaner. Have we learnt not to park our cars on the pavements? Have we tidied up our resorts or educated our hotel and restaurant staff? Tourism is no rocket science, but it is a mosaic of little stones that need to be placed at the right position at the right time, and this can be more complicated than many people think. Before we aim for something let’s be ready for it first.
Some might claim that it is good to set high targets. I agree, but only if they are realistic and achievable. Otherwise, we end up wasting our funds, our time and our resources without any results.
We are lucky that we have a beautiful island, but we also need to remember that we are not the only beautiful place on earth. Let’s stick to the kind of tourists who will leave our island happy and satisfied and stop living in a land of make-believe thinking that we can cater for all kinds of tourism.
Victor Mantovani is honorary president of Cyprus Travel and Tourist Agents Association (ACTA)