Despite the summer’s end, Cyprus tourism stakeholders are preparing for late passenger traffic powered by tourists arriving from non-traditional markets.

Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told state radio CyBC that traffic at Cyprus’ Larnaca and Paphos airports in the first weeks of August increased rapidly, reaching 61% of seasonal passenger inflows.

“This is most certainly a cause to rejoice, as even though it’s still far from 2019’s record figures, it is still a great achievement under the adverse conditions created by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Karousos.

The minister said that 670,000 passengers have passed through the gates of Cyprus’ two airports in August, while he expects the number to increase to 880,000 by the end of the month.

Currently, Cyprus is seeing 29,000 passengers a day, compared to the 48,000 average in pre-COVID August 2019.

“There are currently 700 flights arriving a week, which are flying in with an average capacity of 63%.”

Karousos said Cyprus’ tourism stakeholders had made the best of a bad situation brought on by lockdowns, flight restrictions, and testing demands.

“We have worked on establishing connectivity with non-traditional markets, and this has paid off.”

Karousos added that 70% of traffic from abroad was from countries other than the island’s largest markets, the UK, Russia, and Greece.

“Establishing connectivity with countries like France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and a number of new airports in Germany and Italy has worked.

“We have seen an influx of tourists from these areas, with many of them booking their holidays online, directly with the airlines and hotels on the island.”

Local travel agents feel the recent increase in tourists could keep the industry afloat but believe the Mediterranean island could have been better off if authorities had been more relaxed regarding restrictions.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, the spokesperson for the Association of Cyprus Travel Agents, Charis Papacharalambous, said they expect to see arrival numbers increase in September and October.

“We expect to close the year having welcomed just over half the tourists we saw back in 2019, which is not bad if one considers the difficulties we’ve had with restrictions, with the UK closed for more than half of the season,” said Papacharalambous.

However, Cyprus travel agents believe that the island could have performed much better if the government had given tourists some ‘slack’.

“We say we are happy with 55% of 2019’s numbers, but when we look at Greece, which is currently seeing tourists arrivals at 90% of 2019, we can’t help but think that our restrictions turned away a large number of tourists.”

He said Cyprus demands unvaccinated tourists test before taking their trip, again upon arrival and after seven days on the island when rival destinations are comfortable having them test just once before they arrive.

“Look at Greece. In August, Greece has seen the number of tourist arrivals reach 90% of the same month in pre-coronavirus 2019.

“They expect that September will be even better than that of 2019.”

He argued that from the moment authorities felt comfortable encouraging Cypriots to fill up hotels when cases were in four digits, they should have been more lenient towards tourists.

“We strongly believe it has been proven that it’s very difficult for the virus to spread through tourist activities.

“Hotels in July August were full of Cypriots, vaccinated and non-vaccinated, but we did not see cases shoot up.”

Papacharalambous said that with some effort, tourism stakeholders in September and October could push tourist arrivals to reach 70% of 2019.

“This should also be our goal in 2022. To bring tourists arrivals to at least 70 to 75% of those recorded in 2019.”

Brits not last minute

However, tour operators in the UK do not see Cyprus tourism picking up in the months to come.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Noel Josephides, former chairman of the association of independent tour operators (AITO), said Cyprus should not expect an influx of tourists from the UK, as Britons aren’t keen on travelling yet.

“Getting to tourist destinations is not an issue. There are flights.

“There is little interest. Last Sunday, some seven flights from Gatwick airport for Preveza in Greece, a preferred destination for Britons.

“The flights were empty. Passengers on those flights could easily have fitted in just two small aircraft.”

Indications show that September will be disappointing as few bookings have been made by Britons, who are not usually last-minute travellers.

“Cyprus sees a fair number of Britons travelling to the island in September, as the older generations prefer early autumn months, as they are quieter and not as hot.

“However, these people are the ones who are most afraid to travel and are less informed.”

Josephides said Britons are confused over the “complexity of things”.

He said Cyprus demanding unvaccinated travellers to test before the trip, upon arrival and seven days into their vacation is a “real headache”.

In the six months January – June 2021, arrivals of tourists totalled 340,984, a decline of 79.1% compared to pre-COVID 2019 (1.63 mln arrivals).

A mixture of national lockdowns, quarantine and travel restrictions has decimated the island’s tourism industry which generated €2.68 bln in 2019 on record 3.97 million tourist arrivals.

Tourist revenues and arrivals in 2020 plunged by 84%.

Pre-COVID, over 53% of Cyprus’ four million tourists in 2019 came from the UK (33.5%) and Russia (19.7%).

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The Mediterranean Observer is a news portal dedicated to travel tourism, and hospitality in the Mediterranean region. This portal is managed by the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation, based in the Mediterranean country of Malta.