Cyprus clubbing resort shakes off wild image

AYIA NAPA – The tour rep held up his beer bottle: «Hallowed be thy drink..,» he intoned solemnly in front of a packed audience in a spoof rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. «…Lead us not into poncey wine tasting…» the 20- and 30-somethings holding up their ale nodded vigorously in agreement. «Barmen.» Homage to the humble brew is typical of Ayia Napa, a coastal resort in southeast Cyprus where the booze flows in abundance for sun-starved north Europeans. Similar to many Mediterranean resorts, its beaches are stunning, infrastructure is lacking, buildings are ugly and it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. But it caters to a fickle market. Ayia Napa, which absorbs about 35 percent of the 2.5 million people who visit Cyprus annually, is feeling the brunt of a downturn in the world tourism market. Arrivals have dropped by an estimated 12 percent this year, compressing economic growth forecasts for an island heavily reliant on tourism. Sobered up Compared to the hungover town sagging under an invasion of ecstasy-downing clubbers in pursuit of house music three years ago, Ayia Napa has sobered up. The average age of revelers has increased, drug abuse appears to be on the decline and none of the stories about all-night orgies have resurfaced. There are no more references to «Slapper Napa» for the easy sex after a night of partying. Shedding its wild party image, Ayia Napa appears to have come of age. Catapulted from the obscurity of a small fishing village in the late 1970s to become the most hip destination in this corner of the Mediterranean, the hillside resort is better known for the virility and variety of its nightlife than the azure seas lapping the pristine white beaches. Ayia Napa bears the scars of mass tourism. Building developers are king; the skyline is a gaudy clutter of neon-lit signs advertising everything from English breakfasts to male strippers and Chinese restaurants. Most people flock to the town just for the music and hit the beach. «Lots of people come to hear their favorite DJs, they can get close to them,» said Nathan Morley, a presenter on Radio Napa. «Its almost like bringing London to Cyprus,» he said. Essentially, hit acts in the British music industry hold the key to deciding which resort will be hot with clubbers. When London clubs moved their gigs to Ayia Napa from the Spanish resort island of Ibiza four years ago, tourists moved with them. When some tired of Ayia Napa last year, they moved to Faliraki, a resort on the Greek island of Rhodes. New clientele Many say that the profile of the Ayia Napa clientele has changed. «Until 1999 it was for families. Then in 2000 and 2001 people some wanted to turn it into another Ibiza with the music acts. Now that has also moved on things have calmed down,» said Lakis Avraamides, a representative of the local hotel industry. «Generally things are more decent now.» Clubbers once flocked in their thousands to the bars and nightclubs to listen to house music, a techno babble associated with mind-altering hallucinogens and all-night raves. Tastes have changed. House has moved back to Ibiza and Garage, a punchy beat with hard-hitting lyrics usually performed by collectives of at least 10 to 15 people, is big in Napa this year. It projects a tough, no-nonsense image rooted in gang mentality where people settle scores with guns or flick knives; there have been four stabbing incidents this season which police believe to be related to the garage music scene. On the other side of the coin is its consciousness about image. Cigars and champagne are cool, doing drugs is not. Drugs seizures and arrests have nosedived. R&B is rapidly gaining ground over Garage. «This is essentially an R&B resort. I came here to hear this type of music,» said a 34-year-old British tourist. Locals sniff at the differences in music. Most are more concerned that the tourists spend money. «There isn’t a lot of money going around,» grumbled a taxi driver with a fleet of new Mercedes sitting outside. «Youngsters who come might spend at clubs but nowhere else. They want everything for free.»