International tour operators appear to be optimistic over the coronavirus-stricken tourism sector’s prospects to start recovering this summer, with Cyprus pledging to facilitate them as much as it can.
During an online conference on “The challenges facing the restart of Cyprus Tourism”, organised by the Cyprus Hotel Managers Association, international tour operators cooperating with Cyprus expressed their confidence that the island would be making a comeback as of this season.
Tim Bachmann, CEO of Hotelplan Suisse, said he expects that “Cyprus will have a strong comeback”.
Bachmann said travel demand will pick up in May and his company is planning to extend the season for Cyprus to November. He called for “reasonable” entry conditions for travellers, proposed antigen rapid testing on arrival, as well as flexibility from partners as bookings will come very short term.
He said he could see the season extending at least until November, but “Cyprus should position itself a ‘more than beach and sun’ destination”.
Paul Bixby, Commercial and Sourcing Director of EasyJet Holidays said that he believed restrictions will start to be lifted by mid-summer.
“We continue to plan hundreds of thousands of seats to Cyprus this summer from many departure points and will introduce a new route from London Luton to Larnaca”, said Bixby.
He talked about a very late booking trend as the summer is approaching due to the uncertainty of the situation.
Regarding testing, Bixby said it should be affordable and should be beyond PCR.
Flexibility on bookings
Helen Caron, TUI Group’s Purchasing Director talked about flexibility for customers to amend bookings and pledged that as soon as the UK can restart flights, the company will return to Cyprus.
Caron also said that there is an uncertainty over testing with people finding that additional testing incurs more cost. She said she would like to see more calls for financial contribution to testing or even offering them free.
In 2019, TUI brought to Cyprus over 500,000 passengers from across all markets and carried out 44 weekly flights to Paphos and 55 to Larnaca.
Steve Heapy, CEO of Jet2 and Jet2 Holidays said that the company will begin flights after June 24 to allow more time for people to have a clearer picture.
“We are ready to come back and we will come back in force”, he pledged.
When we start operating again, he added, capacity for summer will not be very similar to the original capacity.
“However, winter 2021-22 will be higher and the 2022 capacity will be higher than in summer 2019. Our commitment to growing in Cyprus continues”, he said.
Meanwhile, in his contribution to the conference, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Savvas Perdios assured that the participants’ countries will not be placed in any other category other than the three flying categories.
“That’s our commitment. You will always be able to fly to Cyprus”, he pledged.
Perdios explained that, while some tourists will be allowed without any restrictions if vaccinated, referring to tourists from the UK and Israel, no one will be requested to do nothing more than getting tested.
“It is not a pre-requisite to be vaccinated in order to come to Cyprus. It doesn’t matter how many variants your country has, it doesn’t matter how many cases it has. This is our way of thinking, this is the way we have gone about it because the framework we had in place last year has shown that only 0.1% of all arrivals at the airport actually tested positive”, the Minister said.
He further informed fellow participants that the EU had just approved an 8 mln euro support scheme for tour operators active in Cyprus and have deals with ailines flying to and from the Larnaca and Paphos airports.
The measure was adopted on the basis of the provisional framework for state aid. The public support, which will take the form of direct grants, will be open to travel agents operating in the Republic of Cyprus and having concluded contracts with air carriers traveling to Cyprus via Larnaca and Paphos airports.
According to the Commission, the programme aims to stimulate inbound tourism, indirectly benefiting many related businesses such as hotels, restaurants, food industry, cultural and sporting events.