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Redrawing the tourism map

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Once again, we put too many eggs in one basket regarding tourism and investments, relying heavily on the Russian and Ukrainian markets because these were deemed ‘lucrative’ to some, not learning from the mistakes of over-depending on British holidaymakers.

As a member of the EU, where we too moan about the lack of solidarity, perhaps it is high time we showed that we believe we are Europeans, preferring to share with our European partners instead of thinking with our pockets.

Let’s not forget the €7 bln Cyprus earned from the passports saga from 2007 to 2020.

Only a fraction of this amount ended up in state coffers and government development budgets, with the bulk going to property developers and service providers.

Arguably these funds helped keep construction jobs afloat while giving a timely injection to the banks and the services sectors.

However, with the haste with which towers keep rising mainly in Limassol, one wonders how long these will remain vacant, deforming the coastline and causing environmental problems that will show their ugly face in a few years.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Cyprus did very well with its citizenship for investment deal that created 6,700 new ‘Cypriots’ worldwide.

Hearing EP Leader Roberta Metsola’s outburst that it was wrong ‘selling passports’ to Russian oligarchs, she was generous to stop short of naming Cyprus, probably because she has a pragmatic view of what European unity should look like.

It’s not just tourism, agriculture exports and finance. The shipping sector is also affected by the sanctions due to Cyprus ship-management companies handling Russian-flagged or Russian-owned vessels, any of which, if proven to be tied to the Kremlin or pro-Putin oligarchs, will be sanctioned.

Cyprus appeals to its EU member partners to coordinate air transport, heavily impacted by the controls over Ukraine and the bans on Russian airlines and private jets.

At the same time, Turkey is allowed to roam freely, selling drones and weaponry to Ukraine while dithering on imposing sanctions on Russia for fear of the economic fallout expected from the Kremlin.

The tourism minister keeps getting the ‘national plan’ for the sector out of the drawer, which seems to be revised every time we hit a snag.

But coming from the hotel and cruise sector, he knows that we need to diversify our tourism product.

Cyprus was slow to coordinate and take bold decisions on how to contain the Covid-19 pandemic; as a result, other resorts attracted potential tourists who are gradually getting out of their home seclusion and seeking holiday destinations.

The current conflict should make us reconsider the over-reliance on the British, Russian, Ukrainian, and even Israeli markets and seek new ones to even out the losses.

But to do that, we also need to improve our tourism product, revive the ‘philoxenia’ spirit and genuine hospitality attitudes, and keep Cyprus affordable.

To paraphrase Metsola’s appeal for unity over the Ukraine crisis: “This is Europe’s whatever it takes moment”.

Perhaps this should also be Cyprus’ “whatever it takes moment.”

But we need to be more convincing.