While tourism stakeholders have welcomed Cyprus’ latest decision to open its doors to Covid-vaccinated British holidaymakers, travel experts fear that Cyprus may have a lot of catching up to do as other rival destinations have been quicker to lure tourists to their shores.
As of May 1, Cyprus will allow restricted entry to vaccinated British tourists without needing a negative test or undergo quarantine.
“We have informed the British government that as of May 1, we will facilitate the arrival of British citizens immunised with EU-licensed vaccines to enter Cyprus with no negative Covid-19 test and no quarantine,” tourism junior minister Savvas Perdios said on Thursday.
He said the arrangement is similar to a deal reached with Israel last month.
Britain and Israel, together with Russia, have been the biggest markets for tourists to Cyprus, with total arrivals breaking past 4 mln in 2019.
Speaking to the Financial Mirror, Noel Josephides, former chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) and managing director of Cyprus-specialist Sunvil Holidays, said that Cyprus’ delay in deciding on allowing vaccinated Britons in has cost it dearly.
Arguing that while things were picking up earlier in the year with a surge in bookings for summer, the percentage increase in some cases reaching four-digits, Cyprus sent out ‘mixed messages’.
“An impressive rate of bookings in late January and early February is down to minimal bookings during the previous weeks, as Cyprus has yet to launch a promotion campaign in the UK, pending their decision regarding vaccinated travellers from Britain,” said Josephides.
He explained that at the moment, Cyprus has been overtaken by Greece which has played its cards right, clearly stating in January that they would let in vaccinated Britons without further requirements.
“Greece is leading demand by far, leaving Cyprus well behind, and overtaking Spain. Greece has played its cards right.
“Not only did they send out clear messages to tour operators and tourists in time, but also unrolled an aggressive campaign through the media, social and conventional,” he noted.
Josephides said Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis has been making the rounds on British TV promoting Greece and the islands.
“Cyprus finally made the news on Friday, following Deputy Minister Savas Perdios’ announcement regarding vaccinated Britons,” said Josephides.
Confidence needs right messages
He explained that for people to have the confidence to book a holiday, they must receive the right messages.
“Unfortunately, Cyprus’ unclear stance on the matter, combined with even more mixed messages coming from the UK government, have complicated things. One day we are told that we can start booking our holidays as the pandemic is getting under control, the next day officials tell us that it is too soon to even start thinking of a getaway abroad,” said Josephides.
“Amongst all this frustration, Greece was sending clear messages and has taken the lead. Cyprus’ message was caution, caution, caution,” said Josephides.
“We needed a positive message from Cyprus. We have finally got one now, but Cyprus will have to push forward with an aggressive promotion campaign if it is to cover lost ground,” he concluded.
Echoing Josephides’ concerns about Cyprus losing ground to rival destinations, particularly Greece, a tourism expert said that as always, Cyprus is one step behind Greece.
“Greece has proven to be more organised, sending an early message to tourists that they are open. Lost ground will be difficult to cover, as Greece has a lot to offer with its countless islands” noted Fanos Tekelas, head of the business department at the University of Central Lancashire-Cyprus.
He argued that it might already be too late to launch a marketing campaign in the UK, as other rival destinations have launched theirs from the beginning of the year, with most recently Turkey joining in.
“It’s all a matter of timing, and ours is off. However, we should not think that all is lost,” argued Tekelas.
Cyprus, he argued, is moving in the right direction, following an arrangement with Israel to allow vaccinated Israelis in without any other requirement.
“This is an example of right timing as this move has started to pay off,” argued Tekelas.
He was referring to a boom in bookings from Israel, while attracting international interest to revive cruises in the Mediterranean.
Royal Caribbean decided to include Cyprus in the maiden voyage of its newest jewel, Odyssey of the Seas.
The vessel will be docking in Limassol about 15 times from June to August, carrying only vaccinated Israeli passengers and crew. All guests over 16 and crew must be vaccinated to sail and tickets will go on sale on March 9.
Green passport for Russia as well
Tekelas said that for Cyprus to make the best of the summer season, it will need to extend its green passport deal with Russia, once the Sputnik-V vaccine gets the green light from the European Union.
“Meanwhile, we need to get started with an aggressive campaign in the UK. Authorities have said that some 150 flights a week are expected in summer. We have to get jumping so that we make sure that those flights will be full,” argued Tekelas.
Deputy Ministry of Tourism sources told the Financial Mirror that the ministry had been waiting for the green light for British tourists.
“What sense would it make if we launched a campaign, at a time when everything was up in the air? When we had no way of knowing how the pandemic would evolve and how the UK’s vaccination programme would progress,” said the source.
Cyprus said it will go big on digital campaigning, as will splash out on its biggest ever online campaign to win back lost tourists from the UK.
Meanwhile, Cyprus introduced a colour-coded safe travel COVID-19 risk assessment scheme to win-back decimated tourist arrivals by ending quarantine rules.
It is applying a new four-tier traffic light system for visitors from 56 countries allowed entry without quarantine, following restrictions in place during March.
The government decided that British tourists would be allowed into Cyprus as of April 1, provided that Britain is categorised as a ‘green’ country.
During April, British nationals without a vaccine will be allowed to travel to Cyprus if they have a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
The British government has said that international travel will be reinstated on May 17.
Cyprus has reported some 36,000 infections to date and 232 deaths, while reporting to be fairing well when it comes to its vaccination programme, ranked third among EU countries with 8% of its population receiving at least one jab of a COVID-19 vaccine.