Cypriot tourism needs quality boost to pick up

NICOSIA – Cyprus may be enjoying an Indian summer, with higher-than-seasonal temperatures, but the holiday island is struggling to attract the level of sun-seekers it did three years ago. The state-funded Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) concedes it’s been a difficult year, but hopes that a six-year strategic plan will bring positive growth by 2006. «We expect this year will not be worse than last year, but that’s not great as we hit rock-bottom in 2003,» CTO acting Director-General Lefkos Phylactides told AFP. «It’s not as satisfactory as we hoped but we still outperform traditional competitors in Spain, Portugal and Greece,» he added. The island is trying to survive in an intensely competitive market by upgrading its product in the face of cheaper destinations in the Balkans and North Africa. «We are focusing our effort to concentrate on quality to establish value for money as we can’t compete with Croatia, Tunisia and Egypt in terms of price,» said Phylactides. The strategy is also to shift further away from the traditional sun, sea and sand package and expand sports tourism, build more golf courses, open new marinas, introduce casinos, create a network of biking trails and attract conference business. The island’s two international airports at Larnaca and Paphos are also being upgraded to handle increased passenger flow. But while the island has managed to stem falling tourism arrivals, much-needed revenue from foreign exchange is worryingly low. In 2001, Cyprus reached a peak of 2.7 million tourists, who brought with them 1.3 billion pounds (2.6 billion dollars). It has been on the slide ever since. Although arrivals were up a marginal 2.4 percent for the first eight months of 2004, income fell 4.9 percent from the same period last year. August alone saw revenue slump 10.4 percent while arrivals witnessed a 6 percent decline. Official targets at the beginning of 2004 earmarked a 5 percent increase in arrivals over the 12 months, but the industry is now hoping it won’t dip below 3 percent. «This year, we feel we’ve stopped the erosion of tourist arrivals but we need to do more about revenue,» said the CTO official. A decline in spending is blamed on a variety of factors – all-inclusive hotel stays so people are less likely to go out shopping, shorter holiday breaks and the failure of many European economies to break out of recession.