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COVID19: Cyprus shocked as UK says ‘amber’ is no-go

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Cyprus tourism’s hopes of a revival this summer were dashed after its largest market, the UK, told Britons not to travel to countries in the ‘amber’ category.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Britons on Tuesday to avoid travelling to ‘amber’ listed destinations, unless essential.

He said it was “very important” people understood the government’s new traffic light system; amber listed countries should not be considered holiday destinations.

“It is not somewhere you should be going on holiday; let me be very clear about that.”

A UK-based travel agent said the government’s stance towards allowing Britons to travel this year could prove to be Cyprus’ downfall in another nightmare year of coronavirus restrictions.

“Cyprus tourism is in for another nasty shock after people in the UK were warned that foreign holidays this summer are ‘extremely unlikely,” said Noel Josephides of Sunvil Travel, former chairman of the association of independent tour operators (AITO).

He said the latest developments could mean that Cyprus will not be seeing many tourists from the UK this summer.

Under pre-COVID circumstances, a third of all tourist arrivals come from the UK (1.3 million).

Josephides told the Financial Mirror the UK essentially puts amber countries in the same basket as those in the red category.

Acceptable travel to an amber country includes for work purposes, protecting essential services or compassionate reasons such as a funeral or care of a family member.

“Allowing people to travel for holidays was never on their priority, as the country’s economy is not dependent on tourism and travel.

“Quite the opposite, this UK government would be delighted to see Britons stay at home and spend their cash here.

“We argued that Cyprus had to improve its game and send out clear messages to tour operators and tourists in time, but quite possibly we were beaten by decisions taken on the ground in the UK,” said Josephides.

Visitors from the UK who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are allowed unrestricted entry into Cyprus.

“When finally, Cyprus got its story straight, we had started to see bookings for the summer months come in. Before experts said that probably travel would be off this summer,” said Josephides.

He said Sunvil Travel would get 100 bookings a day for summer holidays in Cyprus during a normal year.

COVID risk

The UK adopts a traffic light system to designate the coronavirus risk of each country.

Amber means getting tested twice upon return and self-isolating for 10 days, while red category countries are essentially in a no-fly zone.

Cyprus hoteliers say they are not surprised at the UK’s decision, as they could see the UK authorities were playing it as safe as possible.

“It does, however, make our task of coping with the coronavirus crisis even harder,” said the Director-General of the Cyprus Hotel Association.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Philokypros Rousounides said hotels had not expected to see any traffic from Britain in the first six months of the year.

Cyprus is banking on entering the green category in the next evaluation.

Apart from Cyprus, other popular destinations are also on the amber list, such as Greece, France and Spain.

With the next evaluation of the UK’s safe travel list slotted in for early June, Cyprus will, at best, see Britons arrive en masse sometime in July.

“We are confident that Cyprus will make the cut, as our epidemiological data is improving with every passing day,” said Rousounides.

“Insecurity created by the pandemic means tourists booking at the last minute.

“Our surveys show that Cyprus is one of Britons’ top choices, enhancing our belief that people from the UK will be booking holidays in July and August.”

Tensions in the Middle East also impact Cyprus’ third largest tourist market, Israel, while the second-biggest source Russia has put the brakes on charter flights.

“Escalation of violence in the Middle East means that, at least for the moment, we will not be seeing tourists flying in from Israel.”

Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, tourist arrivals plunged by 84.1% in 2020 from 3.97 million tourists in 2019, marking Cyprus’ worst season.

The pandemic ended four successive record years of tourist arrivals that helped Cyprus emerge from a financial crisis in 2013.