It was also said this would raise the contribution of tourism from around 7% of GDP in 2015, to 28% of GDP.
At the same time, tourists could be upgraded to medium spenders from the low spenders which we have today.
This might be great news for hotel owners and for developers. But is the prospect of doubling tourist arrivals a blessing for all of us? I would like to express doubt. This year, the total number of arrivals is likely to be about 3 million, and the results we see around us are not always pleasant.
An early French report on tourist development, commissioned soon after independence, sensitively proposed the protection of the then-incomparable beauty of Cyprus coastal landscape, and recommended a careful zoning of development, so that no building would take place along the most scenic coastal areas and villages, preserving their natural appeal and cultural character. Development, the report proposed, should take place on second-tier beaches and inland.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation promised to attract only high-income tourists, who would enhance national income without depleting natural resources. However, lack ofeffective forecasting and planning, both in the field of tourism, but also in town and country planning, brought the opposite effect.
Bad regulation led to a deterioration of the environment. Beautiful fishing villages such as Ayia Napa exist only in the memories of older people like myself. Each successive wave of tourists seems to be less demanding, and spends less, and there is therefore an increasing reliance on sheer numbers.
Visitors to Cyprus today spend an average of €78 per day, which is closer to the €60 per day of ‘low-quality tourists’ than the ‘mass tourists’ who spend €110 a day, let alone the ‘quality tourists’ who spend €250 a day and the ‘luxury tourists’ who spend €500 per day.
Mass cheap tourism has taken over all our beaches, and created cultural and environmental levelling if not degradation, and visual as well as physical pollution in many areas. This, in itself, is a serious factor limiting the arrival of ‘quality’ or ‘luxury tourists’.
So, if the effort is made to double the number of arrivals, the developers will have the opportunity to build on what is now rural land many ‘golf courses’ with towns attached, and ‘resorts’ with other small towns attached. These will only succeed in attracting the same kind of ‘low quality’ tourists as we have today, but in far greater numbers. The profit will go to the developers and the damage to the rest of us and to the coming generations.
It is true that tourism contributes to the national income, but with the growth of other sectors, tourism now only contributes 7%. And I would like to know whether the costs to the environment and the cultural character of Cyprus are factored into these calculations, and even whether water consumed is correctly priced, or whether it is calculated at the subsidised cost of water for household consumption. By the way, to contribute 28% to GDP would require quadrupling, and not merely doubling, of numbers, and for other sources of national income to stay still.
If it were up to me, I would not aim at an increase in numbers of arrivals at all. I would devote every effort to improving the infrastructure, restore the damage done to the environment, and prevent further harm, for example, to the Akamas area, and to Troodos, and in this way aim to attract more discriminating visitors who are both more demanding and more generous in their spending.
We need a vision for the economy, environment and the society of Cyprus that is subtler than profit-making at the expense of depleting natural resources. Tourism has a place in balanced and sustainable development, in which visitors come to Cyprus for the good legal, accounting and health services, to study at reputable universities, to visit well-designed museums, to dine on fine cuisine, to buy works of art, and, why not, technology, to attend performances in ancient and modern theatres, to behold sites and landscapes that appear “theoktista” (built by God), and to walk in beautiful and pristine nature, or in elegant towns imbued with history and character, all with good weather and year-round swimming in the sea.
This is also the island in which its citizens would thrive. After all, the Disneyland Cyprus we have created for visitors, with its ruined landscape and seaside slums, is the Cyprus that we will have to live in as well.