The first Deputy Minister for Tourism, Savvas Perdios, will have his hands full the day he walks into his new office on January 2, with the restructured Cyprus Tourism Organisation now having more powers as well as responsibilities.
The first task will be to implement the National Strategy for Tourism, a blueprint developed by foreign consultants, which has taken three years to come into force, and nobody knows why.
These strategic plans have been to-ing and fro-ing between the CTO and the competent ministry for at least two decades, suggesting that either those commissioned to conduct the studies were not competent to do so, or other obstacles popped up, such as trade union demands or hurting the interest of stakeholders (hoteliers, tour operators, travel companies, etc.)
The last time we were talking about a new national strategy, tourist arrivals were at 2.5 million, with the plan preparing the island for 5 mln. Already we have reached nearly 4 mln and no plan in sight.
The hoteliers want parliament to pass the ratings reform that will allow units to be classified on quality, and not just structural issues, i.e. room size, number of pools and restaurants, allocated car parking, etc.
At the same time, the new regulations for self-catering apartments, such as Airbnb, have been watered down and ignored the whole point of getting some order in this sector.
What needs to be done here is to license such apartments, if they conform with basic Tourism Ministry rules, health regulations and insurance for customers, and ensure that the state is not denied millions in lost revenue by tax evaders.
Instead, MPs chose to enforce harsher rules of ‘neighbourly conduct’ reminiscent of Stalinist days when the citizens’ watch would determine who goes where, how much water is used in the bathroom and what’s cooking on the stove.
Tourism also suffers from paltry promotional budgets that have been slashed due to the recent economic crisis, not realising that this is a sector that should be advertised all year round, with bigger marketing spend in order to compete with rival destinations in the region.
The trouble with the new Deputy Ministry of Tourism is that it will suffer from the same constraints as with all the rest of the government machine, with the civil service mentality hampering any progress.
Now that all CTO staff will become public servants, we shouldn’t expect any improvement in attitudes, let alone someone answering the phones, as with all other government departments.
It would be unfair to compare Tourism with the recently established Deputy Ministry of Shipping, because in the latter’s case, the industry itself has determined policy over the past four decades, and will continue to do so, in which case the transition from the Department of Merchant Shipping was smooth, with the junior minister having little trouble to acclimatise herself with the sector.
In the case of Tourism, Perdios will be an easy target for critics, simply because he already hails from the hotel’s sector where his family is involved and cannot afford an excuse of needing time to learn about the workings of the department.
He has a huge burden on his shoulders and a lot on his plate.