Insights | 16 December 2023 | Deputy Ministry of Tourism

Kostas Koumis , Deputy Minister of Tourism

Amidst stiff competition from other destinations, Cyprus must leverage its inherent advantages to cement its position as a prime tourism investment hub. This includes enhancing infrastructure, providing excellent service, and promoting sustainability, as well as leveraging digital and technological advancements.

How would you assess the current state of the Cyprus tourism sector? Was 2023 a good year for the industry, and what would you say were the key milestones of the year?

Cyprus, historically known for its robust and resilient tourism sector, navigated 2023 with a focus on recovery and growth. Despite the ongoing global challenges, the industry has shown signs of progress, marking a year of gradual improvement. Throughout 2023, milestones in the tourism landscape included an uptick in tourist arrivals and receipts, signifying a positive trend of recovery from the pandemic's impact, and of course the enrichment of the country’s tourism product with the inaugural of significant projects.

The year has also seen continued marketing endeavours aimed at reinforcing Cyprus as a highly attractive destination. Emphasis on sustainable practices within the sector have been another significant focus, in line with global trends toward responsible travelling. These milestones reflect the direction in which the Cyprus tourism sector has progressed during the year, building upon its resilience and aiming for a promising trajectory of recovery and expansion. 

What initiatives are being undertaken to diversify the tourism offering of Cyprus, such as promoting niche segments like cultural, adventure, or eco-tourism? Are any particular niche segments showing strong potential or growth? 

Cyprus invests in the diversification and enrichment of its tourism product, thus promoting the development of special interests, such as sports tourism, cultural and religious tourism, oenogastronomy, conference tourism, health and wellness, and more. These initiatives aim to not only broaden the appeal of the island but also to ensure sustainable tourism practices and extend the tourist season. The potential is amazing, thanks to the variety of products and services Cyprus has to offer. The visitor can enjoy hiking and cycling routes, the Troodos Geopark, visiting wineries in rural areas, and much more, all within an hour of drive from our beaches. Quality labels have been developed, such as Taste Cyprus, Cyprus Breakfast, Wine Routes, Colourful Villages, Theme Parks of Cyprus and more. These labels serve to ensure continuous quality upgrade in these fields.  

Importantly, as a popular sun and sea destination, we invest in the protection of our beaches, and our numerous Blue Flag beaches constitute proof: 77 beaches, more than half of our beaches, and two marinas were awarded a Blue Flag for 2022, and Cyprus ranked among the first in Europe for the quality of its bathing waters. Indeed, the island has some of the most instagrammable beaches in Europe and worldwide.

How is Cyprus working to enhance its infrastructure, amenities and services to accommodate a growing number of visitors, particularly during peak tourist seasons?

Today, Cyprus has the capacity to provide accommodation for incoming tourist flows. Nevertheless, the focus is on reducing the seasonal nature of tourism and spreading out the demand throughout the year to alleviate strain on the infrastructure and physical resources. The strategic plan for continually improving the tourism industry is a multifaceted effort that requires collaboration between the public and private sectors. This endeavour primarily focuses on enhancing infrastructure, providing excellent service, and promoting sustainability. To this end, we recently announced two incentive schemes to offer the opportunity to existing hotels for renovation and modernisation. This will enable them to stay in line with contemporary trends and maintain their competitiveness. Moreover, the state invests in hospitality training programs that will enhance the service skills and language proficiency of the staff. This will ensure that guests receive a high level of service and communication. 

A central focus is also placed on creating distinctive and tailored guest experiences through the integration of local cultural activities and culinary offerings for enriching the overall visitor experience and for promoting the local culture and cuisine. In line with the goal of sustainability, hotels are encouraged to incorporate eco-friendly practices, including the implementation of energy-efficient systems, waste reduction and the sourcing of products locally. Additionally, promoting the acquisition of eco-labels and certifications is a means to underscore the industry's commitment to sustainability. Additionally, there is a strategic focus on the development of new attractions and experiences, in an attempt to diversify the tourism product.

What promotional and marketing strategies is your Ministry employing to attract a diverse range of international tourists and to highlight Cyprus as a unique destination compared to its regional competitors? What are the key markets Cyprus is targeting at the moment? 

Following international trends, the Ministry of Tourism is focusing on digital advertising in order to maximise the potential of online promotion. Travellers base their decisions on online searches, research, and reviews from other users. Therefore, our presence on popular platforms, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, is essential for keeping our destinations visible. By leveraging the role and influence of each platform, we can directly and targetedly reach various audiences from different countries. The marketing initiatives we carry out throughout the year aim to keep our destinations in the minds of travellers. Potential visitors are exposed to a variety of stimuli and information. We target more than 30 countries, and our key markets are mainly European countries.

Furthermore, in order to upgrade the tourism product, we have focused on the development of mountainous, rural and remote areas and the development of special interests, such as sports tourism, conference tourism, health and wellness and more. In order to enhance the visitor experience, the Deputy Ministry of Tourism recently launched the ‘Heartland of Legends’ project, which features Cyprus as the island of legends and stories. Almost every single village, mountain, river, monument has its magical stories. This is the dreamy world of Heartland of Legends, a vast choice of personalised experiences that visitors may explore. Moreover, thanks to the climate, beaches can be enjoyed almost throughout the year. 

With many travellers now choosing to spend their money on eco-friendly destinations, how is Cyprus working to promote sustainable and responsible tourism practices, and what initiatives are in place to minimise the environmental impact of tourism on the island?

The Deputy Ministry of Tourism is currently working through the implementation of Agenda 2030, aligned with the priorities set by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), which for 2023 has placed targeted investment as a key priority for the recovery and future development of tourism. It urges the international community to move towards a new investment strategy in tourism, with the aim of creating opportunities on three axes: investment in human resources, acceleration of the green transition and prosperity resulting from the exploitation of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship – ‘Investing in People, Planet and Prosperity’. 

The Deputy Ministry of Tourism pursues sustainable tourism development in various ways, such as by incorporating related criteria in its financial support schemes, including the ones financed by the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Fund. An example is setting eligible costs that include high energy efficiency machinery, special facilities, waste management systems, insulation and others.

Moreover, the creation of beaches that encourage visitors to avoid the use of single-use plastic, the holding of conferences and workshops that promote the preservation of Cyprus’ natural and cultural heritage, and the digitisation of services, are all intertwined with the green transition. Our innovative project Heartland of Legends also promotes every aspect of sustainability. Visitors are given the opportunity to get closer to the nature, learn about local traditions and participate in authentic experiences in Cyprus inland. Ultimately, we aim at the balanced distribution of the benefits of tourism in all areas of the island, the preservation of our heritage, the revitalisation of the countryside and remote areas, and the strengthening of the entrepreneurial spirit. 

In light of the growing digital trends in tourism, what digital and technological advancements is Cyprus implementing to enhance the overall tourist experience and accessibility?

Cyprus has made significant strides in leveraging digital and technological advancements to enhance the overall tourist experience and accessibility. One notable shift involves the widespread adoption of online booking platforms among hotels, restaurants, and bars, allowing travellers to conveniently reserve accommodations, dining, and entertainment options remotely. The Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Tourism actively utilises big data and analytics to gain valuable insights into traveller behaviour. This information is then shared with industry partners to improve services and streamline operations, ensuring a more tailored and optimised experience for tourists. 

To enhance accessibility, user-friendly mobile apps and websites have been developed, offering comprehensive information, virtual tours, and convenient booking options. These platforms aim to provide seamless experiences for travellers. Immersive technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are also being employed to provide tourists with engaging virtual tours and interactive guides, allowing them to explore attractions remotely.

Emphasizing the importance of safety and convenience, Cyprus is prioritising contactless technology, including contactless payments, mobile check-ins, and touchless interfaces. Furthermore, the exploration of blockchain integration within the tourism sector aims to enhance security and transparency in transactions, ticketing, and reservations, ensuring a secure environment for both tourists and service providers. Addressing language barriers, digital tools are used to provide translation services, facilitating better communication between tourists and locals, thereby enhancing the overall experience.

Lastly, Cyprus actively engages with tourists and the broader audience through social media platforms. This engagement is utilised for communication, sharing updates, promoting local attractions, and marketing tourism offerings, fostering better connectivity and engagement with travellers. These collective advancements contribute to a more seamless, personalised, and technologically enriched tourism experience in Cyprus, aligning with the evolving preferences of modern travellers. 

What would you say are the key challenges the sector is facing, and conversely what are the best opportunities in the sector for investors?

Cyprus, situated as a thriving hub in the Eastern Mediterranean, boasts a highly favourable business environment. The island's tourism and hospitality sector stand as a robust pillar of its economy, displaying resilience even through challenging times. Notably, leading investment groups and hotel chains have recognised Cyprus' potential, expanding their presence. However, maintaining this momentum and attracting further foreign direct investments (FDI) remains a pivotal challenge. 

Amidst stiff competition from other destinations, Cyprus must leverage its inherent advantages to cement its position as a prime tourism investment hub. Key to this strategy is the proactive promotion of the island's investment opportunities on a global scale. The Deputy Ministry of Tourism is dedicated to attracting investments that diversify and enhance the tourism experience. This includes strategic initiatives aligned with government policies, such as marinas and golf courses, while also appealing to special interest tourism.

The upcoming International Open Tender Competition for the Paphos Marina in 2025 presents a prime opportunity for marina investments. This project follows a Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) model, showcasing an attractive prospect for potential investors. Additionally, the Golf Policy's ambition to develop up to 14 golf courses across Cyprus, including both existing and upcoming ones, offers substantial avenues for private sector investments in various regions of the island. These initiatives align with the broader goal of fostering a diversified and enriched tourism landscape, ultimately elevating Cyprus' appeal to international investors seeking promising opportunities. 

What are your expectations for the sector for 2024?

In 2024, Cyprus seems poised for continued growth in its tourism sector, building upon its established reputation as a sought-after destination. The current trends indicate an upward trajectory, with bookings exceeding 95% and early bookings for the following year already underway. This anticipation is fuelled by rising interest from various tourist markets spanning Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Challenges remain and have always existed. However, the sector has built resilience due to the fact that stakeholders had to face multiple crises and their consequences. 

Looking ahead, the expectations for 2024 remain optimistic, projecting increased tourist arrivals and an extended tourist season. However, it is pivotal for all stakeholders to work cohesively and ensure the competitiveness of Cyprus' tourism product. By doing so, Cyprus can capitalise on its advantages and maintain its position as a premier destination while fostering sustainable growth for the benefit of the country and its visitors.

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