By Thanasis Gavos – London
This year’s World Travel Market at east London’s ExCel centre (running until November 7th) has been acting like a magnet for tourism professionals from around the globe.
Although the almost 50 stands of the Cypriot delegation are as busy as any other country’s it’s what went on during the first two days of the week in the rooms off plain view that mattered the most. “It seems that we managed to achieve our primary aim, namely to get some reassurance that we will not see any further reduction in packages and flight capacities offered to Britons by UK tour operators and airlines,” said tourism officials, commenting on non-stopping talks with the people that bring tourists to the island.
Giorgos Lakkotrypis, Minister for Tourism, headed the Cypriot official delegation and used his presence and authority to enhance Cyprus’s message. “We are pleased with the meetings. We are leaving London cautiously optimistic,” he told IBNA.
The ministry’s and the tourism organisation’s officials arrived in London with mixed feelings following an erratic year. Events linked to the highly disruptive Eurogroup decisions on the country’s economy in March led to uncertainty over the economic stability and to a significant fall in reservations. Since all these happened at the crucial juncture of March, Cyprus had not had time to react and adjust, Orestis Rossides of CTO in London said.
But after the summer ended and things in Cyprus started getting back to normality, the picture in tourism changed. “We are now at a point where we are counting an almost 3% overall reduction in arrivals in comparison to 2012. But if you see September, arrivals shot up. They were something like 6.3% more than in 2012,” the Director General of CTO Marios Hannides told this agency. Mr Lakkotrypis said there was even a secret hope that by the end of the year the total arrivals could match last year’s.
So, for Cypriot officials there were reasons to smile in London. Add to that the fact that revenue from incoming tourism has recorded an even bigger rise (almost 12.5% according to the latest July data). But being realistic means maintaining the current influx from the UK, the main pool of tourists for Cyprus, is the priority. Anything more would be welcome, but the “real rise in arrivals”, as the minister put it, is expected from Russia, Ukraine and Scandinavia.
As for what the target is for 2014? “A 10% increase in visits. That’s why we aim for at least the same numbers from the mature markets, such as the British one, so we can build on that and draw in visitors from countries which have recorded rapid growth for us,” Mr Lakkotrypis explained.
But the bigger bet in the long run is the extension of the tourist season. “We have discussed it with tour operators. We want to start with adding a few weeks on either side of the season. In this respect we have identified some areas of thematic tourism, so we can attract more golfers for example, or more bikers, or people interested in religious tourism,” said the minister.
“It is unfair to have an average winter temperature of 15-18 degrees and to have failed in extending the tourist season,” agreed Mr Hannides. “That’s why for the first time we have carried out an extensive study and we will soon have the results regarding what needs to be done. This will determine our strategy behind the effort to make Cyprus a destination for any time of the year,” he added.