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Coronavirus raises barriers for Cypriot travellers

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Cypriots wanting to travel abroad this year will have a hard time finding a safe destination while options to spend their holidays in Cyprus are limited as the majority of hotels have decided to remain closed this summer.

With local tourism essentially demolished by the coronavirus outbreak, outgoing options do not seem to be in better shape.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, honourary chairman of the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents, and CEO of Top Kinesis Travel, Akis Kelepeshis, said that as things stand Greece is more or less the only option for Cypriots wanting to travel abroad.

“The fact that Greece was always the number one destination for Cypriots, will somehow make things easier.

At the moment tour operators are offering attractive packages to Cypriots thinking of taking their holidays in Greece, especially the Greek islands,” said Kelepeshis.

He added that the coronavirus outbreak may have limited the horizon of Cypriots but it has also made way for opportunities.

Kelepeshis said Cypriots could take advantage of offers for Greece and its islands and have one of the cheapest summer breaks they’ve ever had.

“Tour operators are offering 4 to 5-day packages for popular islands like Santorini and Mykonos at just €350, whereas, in previous years, a traveller would have spent at least €400 just for the airfare.”

He expects Cypriots to start getting over the initial shock of the pandemic and being in lockdown and to start packing their bags for a trip sometime in July.

“We expect that countries, with a similar epidemiological data as ours, such as Poland and Serbia will be on our lists of offers in the first weeks of July, Malta is already on the list.”

He said that tour operators have already started advertising trips to countries that are expected to allow Cypriot travellers in over the next few months, with Cypriots exhibiting a vivid interest.

“Cypriots do want to travel abroad this year.”

Kelepeshis said that 90% of Cypriots who had booked holidays abroad for the upcoming months have asked for their bookings not to be cancelled.

However, he said that options will be limited, and some holiday packages may be cancelled by default, as other popular destinations such as Italy and France will probably not be available for Cypriots.

The Foreign Ministry on Friday also advised Cypriots to avoid travel to countries such as France and the UK which have been designated as countries of high risk.

Cypriots could alternatively spend their annual holiday leave at a Cyprus hotel.

Kelepeshis said that 2020 will be a difficult year, with stakeholders hoping that the UK and Russia markets will open at some point towards the end of the summer.

“If this happens, we could be looking at Cyprus saving some 40% of this year’s tourism income.”

Smaller budget

Fanos Tekelas, UCLAN Cyprus lecturer in Innovation and Entrepreneurship said that apart from Cypriots having limited options, they also will have a smaller budget for holidays this year.

“Many of our fellow citizens have seen their income shrink significantly, which could mean that some holiday plans will be scrapped altogether,” argued Tekelas.

He added that going abroad would be difficult for many Cypriots, while the option of staying at a hotel in Cyprus may not be so tempting as the culture of local hotels caters for foreign tourists.

“There is an ongoing financial crisis, with many Cypriots still struggling to overcome the initial hit from the pandemic. Most Cypriots, currently, do not have a budget to leave the country or stay at a hotel.”

Tekelas said that apart from the financial difficulties and limited options Cypriots have, potential travellers will be calculating the risk of leaving Cyprus which has proven to be quite safe when it comes to the spread of coronavirus.

“Cypriots are concerned even about going to countries like Greece with a good track record on containing the virus, as even they have their ups and downs when it comes to daily cases. Just the other day they had reported almost 100 cases.”

There is also the risk that a sudden shift in epidemiological data in Cyprus may spoil holiday plans.

“For example, at the moment Austria allows Cypriot travellers in the country based on today’s data, but an upswing in daily cases in Cyprus may force the Austrian government to reconsider and remove Cyprus from the list of countries allowed in.”

Tekelas said that things have become even tougher as Cyprus tourism received a set-back after health authorities demoted Israel from its low-risk country status which would mean that Israelis are not exempt from coronavirus test rules.

“Having a test could mean that the cost for a family’s trip to Cyprus could go up by a few hundred euros, which is a big turn off for tourists at this time.”

He noted that Cyprus is betting heavily on the Israeli market – the island’s third-largest – as Britons and Russians will probably not be able to come this year.

“The fact that Britons and Russians will not be able to come this year poses a secondary threat as a number of repeaters, people who come every year to the island, will break the circle and a relationship built over years.”

Tekelas says 2020 should be considered as a write-off, as things stand, he does not expect to see more than 300,000 tourists arriving on the island this summer.

“What needs to be done at the moment, is for stakeholders to pull together and promote Cyprus as a safe holiday destination for the remainder of the year while preparing next year’s campaign.”