Cyprus is attempting to lure more tourists from the Middle East but it’s proving to be an uphill battle, deputy minister for tourism Costas Koumis says.

He also says Cyprus can never again become a two-market destination as it has been for decades, juggling the UK and Russian markets that together accounted for more than half of annual arrivals.

Brexit, Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine knocked both markets back at different points since 2016. In 2019 both markets helped the island to a record year for arrivals at just over four million tourists.

Since the loss of Russian visitors, Cyprus has been looking to boost smaller markets to make up the numbers, seeing some success from Europe and a growing number of people from Israel last year.

Israel has now become the island’s biggest market after the UK with 277,397 Israeli arrivals last year, nowhere near the number of Russians at their peak of around 800,000.

In addition to smaller markets in Europe, the government has opened fronts with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia by boosting flights, Koumis, in an interview with Phileleftheros, said the UAE was a difficult market to crack in terms of tourism.

The deputy minister who recently visited the UAE to discuss prospects, said that from July, Larnaca will be connected to Dubai and Abu Dhabi but what was most needed was exposure and marketing to attract tourists from there.

In general, tourism from Arab countries, though it was a mainstay for Cyprus in the eighties before the boom of that time, is low.

Last year arrivals from the UAE amounted to only 21,206, approximately the same as in 2019, from Qatar 3,448, from Bahrain 967, from Kuwait 1,519, from Saudi Arabia 2,900, from Jordan 15,538 and from Lebanon 37,704.

“We must finally take advantage of our good geographical position in relation to the Middle East market. It is definitely an additional advantage for our country over other European tourist destinations,” he said.

Koumis said 9.3 million people live in the UAE, but 80 per cent are foreign workers from around the world, though he said Cyprus is interested in attracting this large segment of the population as well as Emiratis.

“Of course, to achieve this we need much more intense advertising compared to what we do today and a series of other actions, frequent presentations to industry participants, the public, regular presence in their media… The same should be done in several of the other countries in the region and I am not only referring to the UAE,” he added.

Citing figures, he said Cyprus gets around 1.7 per cent of the outgoing UAE tourism market of one million and growing annually.

Seventy per cent leaving the UAE for holidays tend to head to western and central Europe and the UK, also being a top choice.

The preference of 28 per cent of UAE tourists is for city breaks with 17 per cent liking to holiday in the countryside and only 11 per cent seeking sun and sea.

Koumis conceded that a population with strong purchasing power like that of the UAE are interested in the shopping experience and luxury living. This was one of the things he picked up on during his recent visit there.

Another sticky problem, he said is the fact that Emiratis are entitled to travel to Cyprus without a visa, but this accounts for only 20 per cent of the population. Turkey, he said, which receives huge numbers from the UAE had, made it easier for everyone travelling from there.

“We have made the contacts, and what is needed now is to maintain constant communication and build strong bonds,” Koumis said. He said this was important so that the three airlines who fly – Emirates, Cyprus Airways and Wizz Air – can maintain occupancy that will keep the routes open.

One situation, he said Cyprus must never find itself in again, is to be dependent on two markets, hence the push to “spread the risk” by wooing smaller ones as well.

“Never, never should a business depend on only one or two markets,” he said.