Mind the digital gap

2 mins read

If there’s one thing that the impact from the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us, is that Cyprus continues to face an enormous digital gap, despite the high level of university graduates and the revenue flow from the services sector.

The fact that our tourism sector has been hurt most should make us reconsider the outdated “sea, sun and sand” model while the leisure industry should reinvent itself.

This risky attitude of complacency is driven by the idiom “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” which is why hotels today offer nothing different than what was in brochures a decade ago.

Yet, three years ago, Cyprus saw an unexpected rise in holidaymakers, with arrivals reaching record numbers, summer after summer.

Was this newfound favour for Cypriot shores due to our ‘booming’ golf sector? Did the marina craze attract thousands of yacht lovers? Has the price of a bottle of water or an ice cream dropped anywhere near the EU average?

None of these helped.

Rather, it was a series of minor events that made the overall holiday package more attractive.

The rise of the Russian vacationer urged everyone to vie for a piece of that pie while regional conflicts pushed many away from rival destinations, publicity money couldn’t buy.

A refurbishment plan also helped as some hotels underwent a long-overdue facelift that tour operators had been begging for, together with improvements in public infrastructure.

But the fallout from this year’s pandemic proves that the tourism industry is not sustainable.

We’ve put all our eggs in one basket and have yet to learn from this mistake.

What the tourism sector needs is a major overhaul, it must become innovative, greener, more pleasant for everyone to enjoy, and hopefully return, year after year.

We may not have the sunset of Santorini or the snorkelling of Sharm, but we have just as attractive wine routes as Tuscany where reaching the destination will be as enjoyable as the glass to be indulged at the end.

Although Cyprus cannot attract the tens of millions of tourists opting for other holiday resorts, it can become a niche destination by introducing innovation at all levels of the food and supply chain.

By innovation, we don’t suggest robots, smart devices and ‘wired’ services every step of the way.

Innovation could be the methods employed to attract, welcome, and sustain tourists.

And this could be just as effective if transposed to other sectors, such as agriculture, education, health, the maritime family, or even public services.

Universities in Cyprus are highly innovative and have absorbed serious EU funds, but often lack the human resources.

Whereas hundreds of talented Cypriots continue to excel overseas with no intention of returning home, at least not at a younger age.

Cyprus needs to reinvent itself and come out of the coronavirus crisis a winner.

This administration has a new junior ministry for innovation and digital policy, which did well during the lockdown, mostly as a coordinator, getting different platforms or systems to communicate.

The state also has a technocratic advisory arm that has evolved from various departments in the past into the Chief Scientist’s office.

A trend that is fast picking up throughout the EU, to converge projects with funds in the ultimate goal to create new, sustainable sectors for our economy.

There are many opportunities, endless ideas and a great appetite among many individuals and businesses.

We need someone to reach out to all of them, bring them together, create unimaginable partnerships and develop a new economy that will become sustainable over the long term.

There are ‘good news’ cases that are just waiting to be discovered.

Let’s at least give them the right tools to become the success stories that will give the ‘Cyprus’ brand the image it deserves.