Cyprus is not doing enough to promote itself as a safe destination post-Covid, a leading tour operator said on Wednesday, while warning that the government’s jobs scheme appeared to be more of a disincentive to return to work in the tourism sector.
Panelists taking part in an online conference, organized by IMH as part of its series on the implications for business of Covid-19, also heard that tourist arrivals this year would be 25-30 percent of last year’s,
which numbered around four million, and that 50 percent would probably come from just three countries this year, the two main markets, UK and Russia when they open up, plus Israel.
A full recovery is not expected until at least 2022; the deputy minister told delegates for tourism Savvas Perdios.
Hermes Airports CEO Eleni Kalogirou revealed that authorities expect UK flights to open at some point next month. Still, it would be August or even September before arrivals from Russia could be expected.
At the same time on Wednesday, hoteliers, in separate statements, said a date needed to be set for flights from main markets by the end of July if possible.
During the conference, Ian Hay, the TUI group’s head of Cyprus, Malta, Egypt, and the Middle East, said that around one-quarter of people who traveled before the pandemic would be likely to visit again “but 75 percent won’t”.
Hay was one of the panelists, along with Perdios, Kalogirou, and other representatives of the industry.
The TUI representative said one positive was that the tourism season had started earlier than expected because the level of concern over Covid-19 among travelers fell to early-March levels before the virus peaked in most countries.
“That said, people are concerned about safety and health. The key things are being ill in the destination or being ill in travel,” Hay said. These were the top two concerns in significant markets and needed to be addressed.
Cyprus was probably well off in the sense of the top quality of its hotels that will make sure guests are safe, but it needed to make more of this. “It’s not promoting enough as a safe destination as it should be,” he said. “Others are doing more.”
Cyprus right now was doing well in attracting visitors who were rebooking canceled holidays in Turkey and Egypt and other countries not open yet. He warned, however, that it was not only hotels that needed to be at the forefront.
If restaurants and bars were operating in a limited capacity, those visitors who come would go home dissatisfied.
A recent TUI survey on some other destinations found 85 percent of tourists had been satisfied with their hotel experience but did not classify their stay as “an enjoyable holiday” overall.
“There was not much going on other than at the hotels,” he said. “We need to encourage people to provide normal services.”
He said what was of concern in Cyprus was the government employment scheme, which Hay suggested appeared to be constructed to keep people from not working.
“This leads to poor infrastructure, and people will not come again,” Hay said. “We have the sun and the beaches, but people want more than that.”
These were the fundamentals of any holiday and won’t change, he added.
Clients also want reassurance from their tour operator in advance as to standards and protocols at hotels. This need, he suggested, could even drive tourists away from online accommodation sites and back to using tour operators who can inspect premises for them.
“We [TUI] said we are not going where there are no standards.”
In the past, he added, people did care about hygiene, but they did not actively look for it. “Now it has to be front of the house,” he said.
Eleni Kalogirou, CEO of Hermes Airports, told participants it was difficult to predict this year’s numbers. She estimated it would take two or three years “to get where we were in 2019”.
“The sector will recover. It’s a matter of time,” she said, adding that people will always want to go on holidays or see relatives in other countries. “This has not changed.”
Kalogirou said even though there are now 34 countries on Cyprus’ A and B categories that are allowed to fly in, “we can’t ignore the fact that our two biggest markets are not in these categories.”
She thinks UK flights will probably begin in July, but Russia “we expect will be a bit after that” in August or even September “maybe.” “That is not as clear a picture like the UK,” she added.
On June 9, Hermes began with 20 airlines from the category lists, and of July 1, 40 airlines will be coming in from the same files.
“The big question is how much people will want to travel,” Kalogirou said. “We are still waiting to see what demand will be like,” she added.