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Tourism pins hope on UK, Russia comeback

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Cyprus tourism stakeholders are upbeat over the prospects of the holiday season, with the island’s two largest markets, Britain and Russia, booking a return.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Deputy Minister of Tourism Savvas Perdios confirmed the government has received optimistic messages about heightened UK and Russia interest.

Perdios recently went to Moscow to convince airlines and tour operators to boost air connectivity to Cyprus.

He said Russian authorities have greenlighted resuming charter flights from Russia, facilitating tour operators to promote holiday packages.

“This is great news for the industry, as this means that tour operators will be sending tourists from Russia with package holidays,” said Perdios.

In 2021, most of the 500,000 Russian tourists booked seats on scheduled flights.

Allowing charter flights has a psychological effect on potential travellers, as they feel more confident going to a destination for which authorities have given a clear green light for holidays.

“Cyprus is just one out of five countries globally for which Russian authorities have permitted chartered flights.

“This is one of the reasons behind our optimism.”

Perdios said that he expected Russian arrivals to exceed the last year.

“We estimate this year there will be between half a million and 700,000.

“The highest number of tourists arriving from Russia was 750,000, recorded in our record year of 2019 when we saw a total of 3.9 million tourists.

“Of course, everything is subject to the pandemic, while any ups and downs are estimated to have their roots in geopolitical developments in Ukraine.”

The minister said the island has connectivity with 16 airports in Russia, including Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Perdios said his ministry had been overwhelmed by messages pouring in from the UK, the island’s biggest market.

Easter preference

Cyprus appears to be British tourists’ number one preference for Easter in April.

“In April, Cyprus is ahead of destinations such as Greece and Portugal, while it appears to be the second destination in demand for a large period of the year.

“We have already seen a significant number of bookings for April and the summer months, indicating that we are in for a better year than 2021”.

The government has promoted Cyprus as a holiday destination in over 25 countries, including new destinations such as France and Switzerland, with encouraging feedback.

Pre-COVID, over 53% of Cyprus’ four million tourists in 2019 came from the UK (33.5%) and Russia (19.7%).

Noel Josephides, former chairman of the association of independent tour operators (AITO), told the Financial Mirror that Cyprus should expect a larger influx of UK tourists.

“Although below traffic recorded in pre-COVID years, tour operators in the UK have been stunned by the surge of bookings so early on in the year,” said Josephides.

He said the lifting of many restrictions on travel and local mandates had encouraged ‘travel-thirsty’ Britons to start booking their holidays.

“We now know that not many things will change much within the next year, with the sense that the virus will still be with us, so people are not really concerned over the pandemic.”

He argued that with Cyprus following suit in lifting restrictions on travellers, there is a confidence that bookings will pick up as the UK has decided to lift all restrictions for vaccinated individuals.

Cyprus is introducing a new policy from 21 February, allowing vaccinated travellers to fly to the island without getting tested beforehand.

However, until 28 February, all arrivals will be obliged to undergo a PCR test upon arrival.

The tourism-reliant island will lift all entry requirements on 1 March for inbound travellers with a valid vaccination certificate.

“This has encouraged travellers to book their holidays.

“We usually see Cyprus bookings take off in September, the month preferred by our clientele.

“However, we have a significant number of bookings for the island starting from March.”

Director-General of the Cyprus Hotel Association, Philokypros Roussounides, told the Financial Mirror that hoteliers have seen bookings rise for the new season.

“We have good reason to be optimistic, even though no one can make safe predictions for the pandemic.

“However, bookings for April and the summer months have started to come in, a good sign that we are in for a better year than 2020 and 2021.

Roussounides noted that indications over Easter and summer bookings are encouraging, confirming reservations from the UK and Russia.”

“Usually, the majority of hotels open in mid-March to April, but with bookings coming in from early April and some in March, some hoteliers are considering opening up earlier.”

Staff shortages

Hotels are worried that a labour shortage could derail the summer despite increased bookings.

“It would be damning for the industry if, after so many efforts to persuade tourists to travel to Cyprus, we are not able to offer the high standard of service they are accustomed to.

“And 2022 will be a transitional year, with our competitors in the region trying to re-establish themselves as a tourist destination following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would be disastrous for the future of our tourist product if tourists get here to find our hotels understaffed.”

Roussounides said some of the vacancies are being filled by Turkish Cypriots looking for a better deal, while asylum seekers can also be employed in a restricted number of jobs.

“Cypriot hotel workers, due to the restrictive measures and lockdowns, preferred to seek employment in other services while a large number from EU countries chose to return.”

Hoteliers want rules changed to employ non-EU staff easily.