With the tourism sector’s performance this summer having refuted even the most optimistic forecasts that were made, the question for tour operators is what more can be done over the next period to reduce the big losses. As such, everyone's attention has shifted to the winter period that begins next November and ends in March 2021.
The epidemiological picture presented by countries in the region that are competing with Cyprus’ tourism product, in combination with the positive local situation, are two factors that are maintaining the expectations of tour operators that the winter season may be this year's tourism surprise and will improve tourism performance amid the pandemic.
Taking this summer’s data into account, tourism bodies are raising the issue of the method used by European countries to evaluate their epidemiological situation, and stress that the method requires changing but without discounting any measures for the protection of public health. The matter has yet to find a willing ear in the Health Ministry.
Tour operators have shifted their focus to the 13 European countries from where due to their epidemiological ranking tourists are not permitted to fly into the Republic of Cyprus. The reasoning currently being developed and which is being discussed among the epidemiological team, is whether the method of the epidemiological evaluation of these countries can be reframed. Tourist bodies are pushing so that European countries currently on a tourism ‘black list’ are moved to category B, which would automatically allow tourism flows from these countries to resume with all the requirements that have been set to curb imported coronavirus cases.
Tour operators are also wielding data from airport controls, which, they claim, show that the restrictions applied, mainly as regards coronavirus tests, have kept imported cases low. They also stress that airlines have showed increased interest to boost flights to Cyprus during the winter period as a result of the epidemiological picture of neighbouring countries which usually enjoy high levels of winter tourism, with interested parties looking for alternative destinations.
According to Hermes Airports, airlines from the United Kingdom and Europe seem to have already moved to the side of Cyprus, in order to channel a number of tourists who in previous years travelled during the winter season to destinations in the western Mediterranean. One such case, according to the same information, is the airline Jet2 which during the winter season transported a significant number of tourists to the Spanish market. The not so good epidemiological picture of the country has brought about a search for alternative destinations.
According to initial estimates, this company can transport up to 50,000 tourists to Cyprus in the winter. Apart from Jet2, other companies such as Wizz Air, RyanAir and EasyJet are considering to increase flights to Cyprus during the winter season, if epidemiological data and various restrictions allow. This includes the launch of flights to Paris from December 3, twice a week. According to domestic aviation agents, the companies' interest in increasing flights is in some cases the result of agreements and efforts of several countries to include Cyprus in their tourism programs. Such countries are France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Other cases have to do with the difficulties associated with destinations that are under normal circumstances popular this time of year, such as the Canary Islands, which for this tourist season are not an option for airlines and travel agencies.
Behind the puzzle that seems to have been created in the field of passenger trafficking in coronavirus conditions, local tour operators are identifying opportunities with long-term benefits. As it is typically said, the tendency to turn to Cyprus cannot be considered an opportunistic choice. "It is an opportunity, they are given a choice that can continue.” The optimistic note that exists is mainly focused on the next tourist season, where the success of this year's project will largely depend on the passenger traffic of next summer.
In absolute numbers, at the moment no estimates can be made for the new seats that will enter the aviation market, if and when there are changes in the flight schedule, as requested by tour operators because this year's picture is different from the 2019 one. Therefore, as it is noted, anything more resulting from new flights, will on the one hand reduce the losses which are currently of the order of 80% and on the other hand, foundations will be laid for the continuation of these routes in the summer of 2021 with seat availability to get closer to 2019 levels. That is, if the flight routes work positively in the winter they will have an impact on the coming summer, if the epidemiological situation allows. Based on data from previous years, winter passenger traffic was equivalent to 23% of the annual total, a percentage that had increased in recent years.
Decrease in available seats
A look at the available data of Hermes Airports for available seats during the period July-December 2020 (the quarter October-December is calculated through forecasts) in relation to the corresponding period of 2019 reveals the consequences of the pandemic on air traffic. The available seats for the last half of 2020, according to official data, amount to 2.89 million compared to 7.52 million in the corresponding period of 2019. Available seats for the last half of 2020 correspond to 38% of corresponding period of 2019 with the occupancy rate having fallen to 46%. The occupancy rate in absolute numbers corresponds to 1.33 million passengers. According to the data, the largest decrease in available seats is recorded in the United Kingdom, followed by Greece and Austria. Germany and Poland are the two countries with the smallest decrease in available seats compared to 2019, a trend which is attributed to the targeted policy in both markets.