Cyprus tourism is gearing up for a full rebrand of its image to better reflect the various aspects of its offering to promote special interest tourism, such as wellness, conference and rural tourism, and to tap into new markets through better connectivity.
The creation of a dedicated tourism ministry is a new development for Cyprus, what plans do you have for 2019 in your new role as Deputy Minister of Tourism?
The establishment of the Deputy Ministry is an important step to further develop Cyprus’ tourism sector and will support our goal to upgrade and promote our product in a more efficient way. A key element of this will be the launch of a new brand by March 2020, we are currently finalising the tender process and hope to unveil a new image of Cyprus tourism that will reflect a more holistic approach.
The ultimate vision for the rebranding is to reposition Cyprus in the minds of potential visitors as not only the familiar family holiday and beach package destination, but to show how much more we have to offer. Part of this new branding is to promote our special interest segments, but more importantly to showcase the softer aspects of Cyprus, such as its climate of wellness – the island is not overcrowded, we have clean air and seas, high quality local produce, and a very safe environment with low crime. We want to promote our renowned hospitality and openness towards other cultures, Cyprus was ranked by Forbes among the top 25 most hospitable countries in the world, and the fact that English is widely spoken makes communication easier. Another benefit is the small size of the island which allows you to see most of the country in a matter of days. Also our location in the eastern Mediterranean is a clear advantage. Cyprus is an ideal European holiday base from which to visit many famous ancient kingdoms and archaeological sites in the region, such as Jerusalem in Israel, Petra in Jordan and the pyramids in Egypt. There are many more facets to Cyprus and it is our job to raise awareness about all this beautiful island has to offer.
Cyprus has some intense competition from other destinations and arrivals from some key source markets saw a decrease in the last few months. How is your Ministry planning to ensure that strong interest in Cyprus as a top holiday destination continues in the years to come?
We can no longer rely on only a few key markets as we did in the past, diversification of both our markets and product is crucial to ensure the future success of the tourism sector. Better air connectivity is without a doubt a vital aspect that will allow us to diversify further. Our first step is to expand the government’s relationship with the operator of our airports, Hermes. We have discussed a joint strategy to increase air connectivity, and have come up with a six-month plan to visit various countries together to promote our shared vision. Hermes is a key stakeholder and meeting with new airlines together will allow us to discuss and respond to technical matters such as flight rights and joint marketing immediately. Having both of us at the same table will hopefully speed up the process and also underline the government’s commitment to support these initiatives.
As part of our strategy to open new connections, we will certainly not compromise our traditional markets, but there is vast potential for Cyprus in for example the Middle East and GCC regions. These countries are only a short flight away, and Dubai is less than four hours away, making Cyprus the closest European country. If we increase connectivity to these markets, we can achieve two things. We become a possible destination for the population of this region, and also open a new opportunity to attract visitors from long-haul destinations via these countries. For example, having better connections with Dubai would give Cyprus an enormous boost to attract tourism from new markets further afield, such as China and Japan.
We must also ensure Cyprus’ image is alluring and be part of travel packages to the wider region. What is fantastic for us in terms of diversification purposes is that the travel sector is very integrated. International tour operators invest in diverse ways – in many countries, various airlines and several types of tourism – which allows us to promote the full scope of our tourism product to a wider market if we collaborate with the right partners.
We cannot afford to be complacent and take for granted all the things that Cyprus can offer, we must give visitors an unforgettable and unique experience. It takes effort to promote Cyprus in new niche markets and to attract visitors from countries that know virtually nothing about the island. Our country has been blessed with great beaches and weather, the disadvantage of this was that it was easy to attract family and package holidays for the summer season, leading to this segment becoming the main type of tourism for years. The nature of tourism has changed and as a country we need to work harder to stay on the preferred list of destinations, both through opening new markets and creating experiences that today’s tourists are looking for.
With plans to attract increasing numbers of tourists to Cyprus, what is your strategy to ensure sustainable development and protection of the country’s fragile ecosystem?
This is certainly an area that we are focussing on more. First of all, from this point forward all new projects in Cyprus must undergo an environmental study. Also our own strategy for the next decade, when it comes to the medium- and long-term hard actions such as landscaping, will come under scrutiny in terms of environmental impact. In addition, we have close cooperation with the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative (CSTI) and we actively support their projects, such as reducing the use of plastics in the tourism industry. Project by project, we are moving towards a more sustainable future. Another initiative we will be working on over the next few years is reducing visual pollution, such as signs and billboards. The master plan when it comes to environmental sustainability is to also link it with general wellness, and we are commissioning a study on the wider scope of health and wellness to for example better cater to people with reduced mobility.
Health and wellness is a growing segment of tourism, how is Cyprus looking at developing this niche area and to attract visitors seeking wellness holidays?
Wellness is a concept that is rapidly changing. It used to be about relaxing spa treatments and manicures, which are now expected services. However, today it has evolved into integrated wellness which is a more holistic approach examining for example what you eat, how you sleep, and how clean the air is that you breathe. Cyprus is well positioned to tap into this market. Our nature and seas are very clean compared to many destinations, we have a climate of 340 sunny days a year, the combination of our beautiful mountainous and coastal regions, as well as the locally grown produce and Mediterranean gastronomy all play a part in creating a beneficial environment for this type of tourism. And it is exactly these types of environmental elements that will be crucial over the next decade as we move more towards the integrated wellness market.
Promoting the mountain regions of Cyprus is another important part of the government’s diversification effort, what is your strategy and what kind of investment is going into these areas?
A study has been commissioned and will soon be presented on developing the rural and mountain regions of Cyprus, not only from a tourism perspective but also in terms of revitalising villages and attracting more people to move to and invest in these regions. There are many good ideas in the works and also discussion of establishing an institution or university to boost more activity, as well as introducing specific incentives for investors to consider these areas for projects.
The Tourism Ministry will be working very hard to promote our mountain regions as part of travel packages, as these villages provide a great chance for visitors to experience the renowned hospitality, heritage and authentic Cypriot culture. There are also numerous activities, such as mountain biking, hiking, skiing, wine routes and UNESCO World Heritage churches to visit in the area. The clean nature, fresh air and cooler temperatures of the mountains also fit well into the wellness segment.
With the repositioning of our tourism strategy, whether it be for our short-break or long-haul visitors, the easily accessible mountain regions will be a big part of our promotional efforts. For example, short day trips to the mountains would be an ideal alternative for cruise ship passengers arriving in Limassol port.
Cyprus is currently building its first integrated casino resort, which claims to be the first of its kind and size in Europe, what impact do you see this having overall and can it also boost other niche areas, such as conference tourism?
We have defined MICE tourism as one of our top 10 special interest tourism segments, and continue to place strong focus on this area. In fact, MICE tourism is receiving the second largest amount of funding from our budget. International business travel was one of the segments that suffered most after the global financial crisis, as when the bottom line of companies is being hit, this type of travel is the first to be cut from budgets. Another reason why we perhaps haven’t reached our potential in this niche is linked to the traditional branding of Cyprus as a ‘sun and sea’ package-holiday destination.
In order to boost this segment, we need to create more awareness and increase flight connectivity. However, on that note, I believe even more important than direct flights is to create a strong brand for Cyprus as an ideal destination for this type of travel and showcase the various activities and opportunities that are available. Cyprus has a lot to offer and due to its small size, business visitors can explore much of the island during a short stay. So, it is really more about creating better awareness internationally.
The new casino is a significant development and is bound to increase the overall attractiveness of Cyprus, and specifically for conference tourism as it will provide a big venue in an integrated luxury resort. It will be the first casino in the Republic of Cyprus and the resort, along with its smaller satellite casinos, will allow us to tap into MICE tourism especially from the Middle East. Providing the opportunity of gambling and resort entertainment will be a great new pull factor for visitors to travel to the island.
Tourism has been the backbone of the Cyprus economy for decades and has always attracted foreign investment. What do you see as prime FDI opportunities in the tourism sector?
One of the key structural changes we have implemented since the inception of the Ministry, in collaboration with CIPA, is the creation of a dedicated department for tourism investment. We now have in-house people tasked with attracting tourism investment to the island. They will be travelling around the world to specific events and trade shows to present the benefits of Cyprus as an investment destination, and to highlight mutually profitable prospects for FDI in the tourism sector. Strong emphasis will be placed on the type of investments that can operate year-round, which will not only maximise profits for the investor, but is also fully in line with our strategy to tackle issues of seasonality. As for key segments that could be lucrative opportunities, the aforementioned wellness segment is at the top of our list as it can be immediately capitalised on. Whether it be in the shape of clinics for microbiome testing or integrated resorts with a strong health and wellness concept.
What are your expectations for Cyprus and the tourism sector in 2019?
The 2019-2020 season will be a bit more challenging, due to for example Brexit, travel package price cuts and currency fluctuations in some of our source markets. We are expecting both the number of arrivals and revenue to be a bit lower than previous years, but overall, we are positive and see this as an opportunity. We have accepted it will be a difficult season, but it has also given us a push to broaden our horizons and explore new opportunities. When talking about our targets, rather than try to hit a higher number of annual visitors every year, we are more focused on achieving a higher percentage of visitors in the winter months. Currently the winter season accounts for about 25% of our arrivals, getting that figure up to 40% over the next decade would be the measure of success for Cyprus tourism in my view. The benefits of having your arrivals equally distributed between the two seasons are immense in terms of the environment, employment, and sustainability. We are confident that this is achievable, but it will take time and effort from all the stakeholders. The important thing is that we are steadily moving in the right direction by diversifying, developing our niche tourism products and opening new connections around the world. I must give credit to both the private and public sector for pulling through the difficult times of past years and creating solid foundations from which we can now finally focus on those crucial details that make all the difference – and go forward with a new vision and image.