COVID19: Cyprus, Greece, Israel eye safe space for tourists

2 mins read

Cyprus, Greece and Israel are in discussion to coordinate a coronavirus-safe holiday zone to save their tourism from sinking.

The Tourism Ministers of Israel, Greece and Cyprus have been discussing a proposal to create a holiday safe zone between their countries, according to the Jerusalem Post.

All three countries have had relative success in curbing the spread of coronavirus and keeping the number of severe cases low.

Discussions on the matter are in very early stages and Israel is still checking whether such a safe zone would be possible, an Israeli Foreign Ministry source said.

Tourists are unlikely to want to travel far in the COVID-19 landscape but shorter holiday trips to neighbouring countries which are relatively safe might appeal.

The economies of Greece and Cyprus rely heavily on tourism, which was only 5.9% of Israel’s GDP in 2018.

Israeli tourists are also the third-largest market for Cyprus – which relies on badly-hit COVID-19 countries Britain and Russia.

One of the major obstacles to creating a safe zone for tourism between the three countries is the mandatory quarantines for arrivals from abroad.

Another issue is that Greece and Cyprus are both EU member states that have open borders with the rest of the Schengen Area under normal circumstances.

Israel Foreign Minister Israel Katz spoke with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias about “the improving coronavirus situation in our countries and continued economic cooperation”.

Tourism accounted for 25.7-30.9% of Greece’s GDP in 2018, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation’s research department, and 90% of tourism revenue came from abroad, while tourism accounts for around 20% of Cyprus GDP.

Therefore, Greece and Cyprus are expected to be hit hard if their summer tourism season is cancelled.

Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said: “Israel is one of our strategic targets for the reopening of tourism in Greece…we have already started discussions and preliminary phases on how to align our hygiene standards and protocols which will allow travel to resume between the two countries.”

Cyprus and Greece – both exiting a tight lockdown – are also keen to regulate the number of tourists coming in to contain the pandemic and avoid a second wave.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN on Monday that he seeks to have Greece “open for business on July 1,” by setting “strict but also enforceable protocols.”

Cyprus airports are also scheduled to resume limited operations from June but flights from considered high-risk countries are unlikely to be allowed.

The government seeks to allow tourists from countries with a low rate of coronavirus infections, such as Israel, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Greece.

Israel Director of the Cyprus Tourism Organization Louisa Varaclas said “tourism is very important to us and we are working towards” starting the industry up again.

“We just started lifting [lockdown] measures and taking it two to 2.5 weeks at a time. At the end of every stage, we check the situation and then move on. Based on that, the opening of tourism and flights will hopefully take place around mid-June. That is the target,” Varaclas said.

Cyprus has begun holding meetings with the tourism industry to set the conditions by which hotels, airlines and other stakeholders can operate.

“Our first concern is not only with bringing in tourism, but we want the tourists to be safe and our people to be safe,” Varaclas said. (source Jerusalem Post)