COVID19: UK shoots down tourism hopes

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Tourism stakeholders say the summer season is dangerously closing, as the UK dashed the island’s hopes of welcoming thousands of British tourists.

The UK government updated its safe travel list on Thursday, adding just three countries and regions to its green list from where self-isolation on return is not required. The next evaluation scheduled for three weeks.

Cyprus remaining in amber requires tourists coming from the UK to catch some sun on the island’s beaches, going into 10-day self-isolation upon their return, and taking two PCR tests.

Malta, the Balearic Islands and Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal situated in the north Pacific Ocean, made the cut.

The development leaves some wiggle room for Cyprus’ tourism industry to attract tourists in August, with stakeholders not optimistic over the prospect.

Cyprus worsening epidemiological data may soon put it out of reach from tour operators.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, local and UK-based tour operators expressed their despair at the UK government’s decision.

Noel Josephides of Sunvil Travel, former chairman of the association of independent tour operators (AITO), told the Financial Mirror that UK-based travel firms do not know what to do next as Cyprus and other EU destinations such as Greece are off-limits.

“Not allowing British holidaymakers to leave the country for another three weeks effectively throws the entire month of July, crucial for the battered tourism industry, out of the window,” said Josephides.

Cyprus can save the season if the UK government allows British residents who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel to amber countries without isolating upon return.

“The most likely scenario is that in late July, the government will allow travel to destinations in amber for fully vaccinated Britons, but that would be too little too late.”

Josephides doesn’t expect Cyprus to see many UK tourists this summer, as “at best they will be coming in August”.

The British market made up one-third of the 3.97 million tourist arrivals, pre-coronavirus.

Britain has banned international travel in fear of variants of concern, such as the Indian variant, spreading across the country.

“That is what we tour operators can’t get a grip on.

“How can the authorities be so concerned about vaccinated people travelling, with 90% protection, while allowing clubs and concerts to take place within the country?

“The UK is full of variants of concern.”

If vaccinated tourists are allowed to travel to amber countries, it will be difficult for tour operators to convince hotels to keep rooms for them.

“We have lost the trust of our partners following the continuous changes in the UK policy.

“The only way is for us to prepay hoteliers for rooms, taking on the risk of cancellations, whether due to UK decisions, or a turn for the worse of epidemiological data at tourist destinations,” Josephides said.

He said tour operators would be prepaying for rooms at hotels in Cyprus and other holiday destinations.

“We will be promoting packages for holiday destinations, including Cyprus, as of 1 August.”

Local travel agents are also feeling lost at the UK’s latest decision to leave Cyprus in the amber category.

Spokesperson for the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents Charis Papacharalambous said Cyprus had played all its cards, and the only thing left to do is bring down COVID-19 cases.

“Even if the UK does allow Britons to travel to amber destinations, this will not mean a thing if we fall in the red zone,” warned Papacharalambous.

“We have to pull ourselves together as a country, start abiding by health regulations and get vaccinated.

“Cyprus does not have the luxury to ignore the British market, as, unlike other countries, the island relies heavily on British tourists.”

Pre-Covid-19, over 53% of Cyprus’ record 3.97 million tourist arrivals in 2019 came from the UK (33.5%) and Russia (19.7%).

Cyprus had three successive boom years before the pandemic struck, with British arrivals peaking at 1.4 million.

The UK green list includes the Balearic Islands, Madeira, Barbados, Bermuda, the Caymans, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Virgin Isles, Montserrat, and the Turks & Caicos and Malta.

Malta is the only European destination on the list.

Cyprus has reported over 74,000 COVID-19 cases and 378 since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past week, cases have doubled, hitting three digits for the first time since mid-May.