Tourism Minister Savvas Perdios is optimistic Cyprus can prevent another disastrous year blighted by coronavirus, despite the island depending solely on the decisions of other countries.
Cyprus tourism is in crisis as its two largest markets, the UK and Russia, have designated the island a no-go holiday destination until further notice.
In comments to the Financial Mirror, Perdios acknowledged the summer season is shortening rapidly, as British tourists are told to stay away, and chartered flights from Russia are banned.
However, Perdios, returning from a tour to London and Moscow, remained upbeat, saying he hoped Russia would allow the resumption of chartered flights to destinations including Cyprus in a matter of weeks.
He also the UK will put Cyprus on its green list soon.
“We have grounds to believe this situation will be overturned in the coming weeks and see tourist inflows arriving from the UK and Russia sometime in July.”
However, as he pointed out, government efforts depend largely on decisions in other capitals.
Last week, Perdios flew to London and Moscow to convince authorities to include Cyprus on their green lists in a last-minute pitch.
“However, the situation with the spread of the virus is unpredictable, things are unstable, and despite our improved epidemiological data, we have opened up to many countries, things are not in our hands.”
He explained that London and Moscow remained reluctant to open up travel to Cyprus and other destinations.
“British officials cited concerns over the coronavirus Delta mutation, while Russian officials are still scrambling to increase vaccinations in their country.
“We remain in constant communication with the government in the United Kingdom so that Cypriot authorities can provide additional information pertaining to the Indian variant,” Perdios said.
He added that UK officials are more concerned about how many cases of the Indian variant Cyprus has detected than the overall number of coronavirus cases.
“We are updating our UK counterparts every week.”
He cited the UK’s stance toward Portugal, which is placed back on amber, just three weeks after adding them to the green list.
“I am sure Portugal would have preferred to remain in amber, rather than seeing British tourists rushing to book a return ticket at a €1000 to get back after the UK’s decision meant they would have to quarantine for ten days.
“Russia is having difficulties with its vaccination program. Russia President Vladimir Putin himself has told us that their vaccination has slowed, and they will have 60% of their population vaccinated by September.”
It is why the Russian government is hesitant to allow people to leave the country.
“That is why chartered flights are not allowed”.
Perdios said no chartered flights from Russia were conducted this year, with only scheduled flights allowed.
“These are not flights that were lost; it was programming by the Russian tour operators and air carriers that have been rescheduled for July.
“At the moment, there is a no-travel ban in place. There are only scheduled flights to a handful of countries with Cyprus being among them.”
He said good diplomatic relations with Moscow, “combined with our good epidemiological data”, has allowed Cyprus to see 7-8 flights from Russia daily.
“Greece sees 3-4 daily flights.”
“It is a privilege for Cyprus to have around 50,000 arrivals from Russia a month, with that number hopefully to increase dramatically in July.”
Perdios admitted that Nicosia had not reached the point where it has convinced the UK and Russia to put Cyprus on their green lists.
The UK will be revaluating their safe travel list on 28 June.
Perdios will be putting more efforts to convince his Russian counterparts, revealing that he plans to revisit Moscow in the coming weeks.
The foreign ministry will back his efforts.
“We are hoping that Russia will be allowing chartered flights to 3-4 countries, including Cyprus, Greece and Egypt.
“Turkey, a competitor in the region, has fewer chances as their epidemiological picture is in bad shape.”
The government has tried to cooperate with other countries to encourage tourism, but Europe’s lack of a strategy for covid-hit travel has hampered those plans.
“Cyprus did a lot during the lockdown to open up in time; an expectation was created that other countries would also want the same.”
Pre-Covid-19, over 53.2% of Cyprus’ record 3.97 million tourist arrivals in 2019 came from the UK (33.5%) and Russia (19.7%).
Last year, tourist arrivals slumped to an all-time low of 84.1%.