A significant increase in winter tourism coupled with targeted promotion of Cyprus’ tourism offering has led to a diversification of markets and a record year for tourist arrivals and revenue, says CTO chair Angelos Loizou.
Both 2015 and 2016 were great years for Cyprus tourism, what were some of the highlights and what has been achieved in the last two years?
The main achievement for us was to overcome the stagnation in tourist arrivals up to 2014. The last two years have seen a significant change of those trends, and 2016 was a record year as we reached almost 3.2 million visitors. We had a good year throughout, with the winter months – our off season – showing an increase of around 27%, while the whole year saw an increase of about 20%. This was the second-best performance in tourist arrivals in Europe. On the income side, we expect to close 2016 with an increase of about 12%, which is almost €2.4 billion direct income from tourism. The income from tourists has a multiplier effect on the economy, and contribution to GDP – both direct and indirect – of the tourist industry exceeded 20% in 2016. So, we are very happy with the growing tourism numbers we have achieved.
You touched upon the growth in winter months, a season which Cyprus has been trying to attract more visitors. What efforts are currently underway to extend the tourist season?
We have completely changed our advertising approach from generic advertising campaigns to targeted and more cost-effective and efficient promotional actions. By targeted, I mean we cooperate with our associates, such as airlines and tour operators, who we work hand-in-hand with to establish what kind of advertising and promotion would have the highest impact. Targeted campaigning obviously has better results than generic advertising, and we have given a big push to highlight the advantages of Cyprus.
Naturally our ‘sun and sea’ package continues to be popular and is the easy sell for tour operators, but we have so much more to offer and especially outside the summer months. The milder weather is ideal for visitors interested in more niche areas, such as history and culture, sports, nature, wedding, conference and incentive, as well as rural and religious tourism. We also have a special interest in further promoting our gastronomy and wine to visitors looking for a local culinary experience. Cyprus may be small, but has a wealth of attractions for every season, ranging from our beautiful beaches which are some of the cleanest in Europe, our forests, deserts and our pine-clad mountains, which are also becoming more popular in winter when covered with snow.
Another key attraction of Cyprus is its safety, as our crime rates are some of the lowest in Europe. People can feel secure to walk around anywhere even at night and visit places knowing that they are safe.
Speaking of niche areas, Cyprus has a thriving conference scene, but it could be further developed. How is the CTO looking to expand this area of tourism?
We host several successful conferences every year, but it must be noted that we don’t mean the large conferences of 5,000 to 10,000 people. The main challenge to host conferences of this size remains connectivity and the capacity of our hotel stock. At the moment, we excel at conferences of up to 900 people. Every city in Cyprus has excellent conference facilities that can meet these specifications, and we think this size of conference is better suited for us in any case. The beauty of smaller conferences and the compact size of Cyprus is that it gives participants the chance to organise visits also to other parts of the island and make the most of their short time here, there is such a great variety of things to see and do. Although we already have great air connectivity, we are working hard to establish more convenient direct flights with multiple regions, so that we could fully exploit this niche area of tourism.
Cyprus is currently developing its first-ever luxury casino resort in cooperation with Melco International and Hard Rock. Will this integrated resort provide more opportunities for conference tourism?
It certainly will, and in fact it was one of the conditions for the tender that the resort would provide high-end conference facilities. The decision of the consortium to locate the casino in Limassol also makes sense, as it is an established and thriving centre for international business. There is already local mass to use these types of facilities and it wouldn’t rely solely on visitors. Limassol is also undergoing major development with new and upcoming high-rise real estate and five-star hotels. The success of Limassol Marina has also boosted the city’s appeal with high-net-worth individuals buying real estate and securing mooring for their yachts.
The international investment into the casino project is substantial, exceeding €500 million, and it will not only be an attraction for players from around the world, but also for locals and tourists looking for entertainment in the form of seeing a show, relaxing or shopping. The key is to establish the resort as a mixed-use space for entertainment for all ages in order to make it a success.
Another niche area gaining popularity is sports tourism. Cyprus already has several golf courses, with more in the pipeline, but what other areas of sport are proving attractive to visitors?
Our courses and golf tourism has helped us create a good reputation as a high-end destination and there are currently applications for another 14 golf courses. But to make this niche more attractive, we should have more variety. There is room for improvement in promoting golf tourism as current estimates are that the occupancy of courses is about 50% for the summer months, and 25% in the winter months. As for other sports, cycling has proved to be very attractive and has gained a lot of ground with some famous cyclists visiting us. Especially in spring you can see big groups of cyclists in Cyprus. It is a worldwide trend and because it is so accessible to various types of visitors, I would say it will or perhaps already has surpassed golfing. Football, triathlons, marathons, beach volley, diving and aquatics are also increasing in popularity. Cyprus offers a wide choice of sports facilities overall, including gyms, training, Olympic swimming pools, mountain biking routes and many more to cater to the sporty visitor. In this respect, several international sports bodies have already recognised Cyprus as the ideal training destination. National Olympic Committees from a number of countries have chosen Cyprus as their pre-Olympic Games training destination, and top European and international football teams choose to train here every year.
Which markets is the CTO focusing on at the moment?
To give a bit of context, in 2001 we had a record year of arrivals with around 60% of visitors coming from just the UK – so the majority was from one market. In 2016, another record year, we had six countries giving us around 80% of our tourism, showing the success of our diversification efforts. However, we still have a lot of work to do to address this over-reliance on the number of tourists coming from certain countries. A positive development is that we have seen increases from countries like Israel, Greece, France, Austria, Poland, and the Baltics. We are also seeing an increase from a number of other countries, but obviously they are still small numbers, and it will take years to bring these figures up. We are also trying to promote ourselves more in our immediate neighbourhood mainly for short stay visits, and boost numbers from the wider Middle East and the Gulf region.
Paphos has been designated Europe’s capital of culture for 2017. Do you see this boosting Cyprus’ tourism numbers for this year?
It certainly helps to increase the awareness of Cyprus as a cultural destination, and not only for 2017, but for years to come. I was personally involved in gaining this title for Paphos, as it raises the profile of Cyprus as a tourism destination. There are certain countries or towns around the world that have seen increases up to 25% following their designation as a European capital of culture, so it could make a substantial difference. The irony is that due to the rising visitor numbers over the last few years, we are set to be at full capacity, and there will not be much room for many more visitors during this time, but raising awareness of Cyprus will help in the long term.
Cyprus has taken a more active role in developing itself also as a medical tourism destination. What are your thoughts on this?
Cyprus has good potential in the medical tourism area, as we have great advantages. We already have a professional private healthcare landscape, with highly trained and experienced doctors, nurses and specialists. An area of opportunity for foreign medical schools and medical companies could be rehabilitation services. Creating a rehabilitation centre for post-operative care, where patients could spend up to several months recuperating would be ideal in Cyprus, thanks to our many medical experts and great weather throughout the year. Establishing a centre like this would be a big step forward and boost Cyprus’ medical tourism offering.
To come back to the point on our good weather and 340 days of sunshine a year, Cyprus could also be ideal in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a condition that many Northern Europeans suffer from due to their long dark winter months. We have conducted studies on our climatic conditions and have discovered that they are beneficial in treating SAD, but have yet to achieve an official rubber stamp from a medical authority or reputable university.
What is your vision for Cyprus for the next two to five years?
The only way to succeed is to create sustainable tourism in Cyprus, which is based on three pillars. The first is the environment, the second is economics, and last but not least is human capital. We need to work together and cannot develop tourism if we ignore any one of these three things.
Protecting our uniquely diverse environment is absolutely crucial as it is also one of the major pull factors for tourists coming to Cyprus. We must be more diligent in preserving, maintaining and cleaning our natural spaces, our beaches, the sea, mountains, and fields. These are spaces that visitors enjoy and if we do not protect them and keep them clean, our attractiveness will be downgraded. We must also look at more sustainable ways and systems to handle waste management.
The economics are also vital, we must do more scientific studies and see are we earning money from tourists and if so where. We must look at ways to maximize our profitability and do better revenue management in our hotels, leisure facilities as well as restaurants. This will ensure we are investing in the right things and offering the right services to our visitors. There is so much competition from other destinations and we cannot afford to lag behind.
In regard to human capital, which is vital in the tourism sector, we must bring the best people into this business, people who can offer authentic hospitality and have the relevant know-how to meet the needs of today’s demanding visitor.
These three factors are crucial to take into account as we work to diversify and create sustainable development in this sector, as tourism is a driving force in our economy.