The Deputy Ministry of Tourism is pressing for health protocols to be established for the tourism sector in a drive to reboot the industry after COVID-19 lockdown with hotels expected to open in July.
Noting that the best-case scenario sees two-thirds of all tourism income lost, Deputy Minister Savvas Perdios said that time is of the essence if we want to make the best of the season that is left.
Perdios told the Financial Mirror that if the industry is to welcome its first tourists from 1 July, airlines and tour operators need to be informed on how Cyprus is to handle the day after and what requirements it will asking from travellers.
Tour operators will need to know what protocols will be in place for tourist establishments, car rentals, excursions and theme parks, as they will need to know what Cyprus will be doing to keep visitors safe.
Perdios explained that protocols are also necessary for local tourist partners, such as hotels, with a number of establishments waiting for the protocols to decide whether to open or not.
“Tourist establishments need to know under what protocols and guidelines they will be working under to prepare their businesses.
They will need at least a month to get everything up and running again,” said the Deputy Minister.
“It is important to get a head start if we want to grab a significant piece of the tourism pie, which will be significantly smaller this year. The protocols offer a sense of security to travellers.”
Perdios said his ministry has been tireless in efforts to convince airlines and tour operators to reinstate flights and travel packages for Cyprus.
“In cooperation with all stakeholders, from local tourist establishments to the Health Ministry, the DMT will finalise an action plan which it is then going to communicate to tour operators by the end of next week over a series of teleconferences.”
UK tourists will have to wait
The action plan will include a list of countries from which tourists will be allowed to travel, as well as a rough timetable as to when airports will be opening their runways to each country.
He said coronavirus-stricken UK and Russia will not be included in the first batch of countries from which Cyprus will greet tourist.
Perdios said that hoteliers will have to rush to make deals with tour operators working with countries that will be on the approved list.
“We are not happy that it will be a while before we see tourists from the UK and Russia, but we have to make the most of the situation. The crisis does not come without some opportunities.”
Perdios told the Financial Mirror, that due to the pandemic the national 10-year strategy that was to be launched this year has been placed on ice.
“However, aspects such as opening up to new markets were pushed forward. One of the plan’s targets was to diversify Cyprus’ tourism product.
The pandemic has actually pushed us to start implementing this target sooner than planned as this is now a one-way street for us.”
New markets that Cyprus has targeted include, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, other Scandinavian countries, France and the Netherlands while encouraging more from Greece, Germany and Israel.
“Our efforts towards these markets have intensified because we see that they will be ready earlier than others.”
He said creating a “safe corridor” for tourists in the Eastern Mediterranean via bilateral agreements with Greece and Israel will be difficult after the EU’s latest guidelines.
Guidelines issued on Wednesday provides the first stage of relaxing lockdown of borders between neighbouring EU states which have a similar epidemiological data regarding the spread of the virus, and at a later stage opening borders with non-EU countries.
Specifically, the Union has called on its members to prohibit non-essential travel from third countries entering.
“We do, however, want to attract tourists from Israel and Greece. Cyprus has a strong advantage in this market, which is none other than the proximity,” said Perdios.
Travellers this year will be looking for safe destinations nearby.
Perdios said that Cyprus will be campaigning in targeted markets with the slogan “Better days are here”.
He said the DMT is in consultation with the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents to offer packages for domestic tourism, which will include accommodation, meals and visits to monuments, attractions and theme parks.
Incentives will also be given to tourism businesses so that they can reopen with lower fees. The Ministry said that a relevant plan is being worked out in collaboration with the hoteliers.
The Deputy Minister said boosting local tourism will be based on three new pillars.
The three pillars will be social tourism, which will include packages for one-day excursions, a program of short getaways and subsidized short-term vacations.
The programs will run from July 1 until the first months of 2021.
Domestic tourism accounts for 6% of overnight stays, the goal is to double that percentage.
However, Perdios said Cypriot tourists could not replace the 40 million overnight stays from foreign visitors