With the EU Presidency pending for the second half of 2012, Cyprus is gearing to take up a prime position under the international spotlight. Set to attract travellers from both corporate and leisure segments, and having enjoyed a successful 2011, Eleni Henderson investigates the Mediterranean island’s progression, and what this year will mean to Cyprus.
This year will be a historical one for Cyprus as the preparations for its six-month EU Presidency come to a head in the early summer. The small Mediterranean island will become the forefront of the European Union, which will bring about much publicity and interest internationally. It is expected that, as a result, both leisure and business travel figures will be increased significantly as the country plays host to a number of island-wide events.
Judging by last year’s statistics, the island has much to look forward to. 2011, was a good year for Cyprus tourism, as reflected in the island’s tourism revenue figures for the year. Annual revenue rose 12.9 per cent in 2011 (January to December), reaching $2.3 billion from the $2.03 billion from 2010.
This trend has continued well into 2012, with tourist arrivals rising by 7.1 per cent in January – 47,610 – compared to January 2011 which reached 44,442. Traditional feeder markets of the UK and Greece played an integral role in these figures, tallying 16,040 and 7,879 respectively. These figures are the highest the island has witnessed since 2009.
Yet the MENA region is also considered an important feeder market to Cyprus tourism, as highlighted by director, Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) – Middle East and Arabian Gulf, Vassilis Theocharides, who told TTG: “We had an increase from the MENA region in 2011, with a 17 per cent increase from Egypt, 14 per cent from Jordan, and nearly 30 per cent from Iran.
“The largest feeder markets from the MENA region are Lebanon, the UAE and Iran. Developments to further target these markets will include new charter flights this summer from Beirut to Paphos, and increased charters from Iran.”
Theocharides continued: “As the MENA market offers a three per cent share overall, our goal is to increase traffic from our key feeder markets within the region, as well as increase airline routes to the island.”
The mood amongst hoteliers in Cyprus, running in parallel to the witnessed increase in revenues, is one of positivity. This was reflected by sales and marketing manager, Crowne Plaza Limassol, Christos Roussos who spoke to TTG about the island’s uniqueness. “First and foremost, Cyprus is an all-year round destination; with sunshine and sea both coming a close second,” Roussos commented.
“The high quality of the CTO-registered hotels and tourist establishments is another vital asset to the island, with many of the hotels actually located on a beach. The ability to combine visits to the sea, mountains and villages within a short space of time and distance is another selling point.
“Special interest holidays that take in ancient sites of archaeological interest, religious routes visiting the smallest churches to the largest monasteries, nature trails with their magnificent views in the mountains, wine tasting – and much more. In other words, in one destination everyone can find something to enjoy.”
Adding to this was business development manager, Cyprotels Hotels & Resorts, Philippos Drousiotis, who told TTG: “Cyprus is a safe destination. It provides such a great diversity in such a small space. Whether you want to ski, lie on a beach, enjoy the wine routes or the hospitable local Cypriot culture, Cyprus can provide you with all of this. Our culture reaches back 10,000 years and there is much to see and explore on the island.
“Added to this are the excellent connections Cyprus offers with international destinations right at our doorstep. Travellers can easily access both our airports and catch a connecting flight to a number of destinations, whether it is for leisure or business.”
Cyprus has in turn attracted a number of experiential travellers who wish to do more than enjoy the quality accommodation on the island. Drousiotis told TTG: “In March and April 2012 we have received a number of groups from the Middle East in our hotels who wish to study and experience the Akamas peninsula and see its natural beauty at our Cyprotels portfolio.”
Drousiotis informed TTG that there have been a number of exciting additions to the group’s portfolio, both in Cyprus and Greece, where they enjoy a strong presence.
“In May last year a waterpark was introduced to Laura Beach Hotel, Paphos.
Moreover, a teenager’s club has been created at the hotel, comprising teen discos with dancing and singing competitions and a hi-tech games arcade among other activities. Also, at our Cypria Maris Hotel we have introduced 72 executive rooms offering the All-Inclusive Gold Concept.”
In addition to this, Cyprotels has added a further property to its portfolio in Cyprus – Cyprotel Elia Latchi Holiday Village.
“It is a charming complex of apartments and gardens built in a traditional Cypriot style, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and sea. We are pursuing even further growth both in Cyprus and abroad, in such places as Greece and Egypt.”
Cyprus is venturing into developing its incentives further. Due to its geographical location, Cyprus is easily accessible from most areas of the world by a short flight, providing an ideal location for corporate meetings and incentive travel.
The island currently has more than 300 conference venues, ranging from converted churches to international hotels. CTO is opening up the island’s archaeological sites for use in conferences and incentives, along with the Antiquities Department. Those interested are invited to contact CTO directly.
Cyprus’ Presidency of the European Union in July 2012 will offer the island the opportunity to fully utilise its facilities, especially in the corresponding months of the six-month EU Presidency.
A recent announcement came in the formation of the new Cyprus Convention Bureau, which will initially be operated as a division of CTO with an advisory committee made up from the private sector.
The Bureau will be based in the central offices of CTO in the capital, Nicosia, and will be supported by relevant departments in order to offer professional assistance to the conference and incentive market.
In addition to the Bureau, Cyprus’ conference product is currently undergoing a rebranding, with a new slogan, ‘Passion for Success’, which will be featured in advertising and promotional campaigns.
Moreover, there are further incentives for Cyprus’ MICE segment, as explained by Theocharides: “We currently have an incentive scheme for DMCs selling MICE to Cyprus with our programme for the provision of hospitality for the organisation of corporate conferences / incentive trips in Cyprus from the Middle East region, the GCC and India. The programme aims to further promote Cyprus in these markets as a destination for corporate conferences and incentives trips.”
Theocharides added: “The benefits offered by the programme will further assist the recognition of Cyprus as a destination for conference tourism and incentive travel, and will attract visitors from these markets in off-peak periods. Foreign DMCs will need to submit an application form to the CTO office in Dubai, which can be completed up to one month before the arranged trip to Cyprus.”
A wide reach
And so, the many faces of this idyllic island begin to take shape: a sun-drenched corporate haven; a vibrant entertainment hub; a sanctuary framed by turquoise waters; a land harbouring centuries of history and culture – there is little wonder that Cyprus, having historically acted as a gateway between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, is hopeful of attracting a truly international gamut of travellers.
As a result of its strategic geographical positioning, it is perhaps unsurprising then that steps have already been made to capture the lucrative Middle East market. Lying in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is just a stone’s throw away from the Middle East, and close enough to mainland Europe for those desiring a stopover or transit to European or other Middle Eastern destinations. Indeed, a number of regional airlines already fly into Cyprus, utilising both Paphos and Larnaca International Airports.
Both airports have recently been rebuilt by Hermes Airports, which have enhanced Cyprus’ tourism infrastructure. Larnaca International Airport has the capacity to serve 7.5 million passengers per year, and Paphos International 2.7 million.
Emirates Airline and Middle East Airlines both have brought significant passenger numbers into the island – the former brought in 58,471 passengers in total for 2011, and the latter 50,757.
In terms of start of year figures, both are still the highest performers in terms of inbound travel to the island, with Emirates Airline registering 4,015 in February 2012, and Middle East Airlines with 2,640.
Other MENA airlines servicing Cyprus include Royal Jordanian, Egyptair, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air and Cyprus Airways. The latter currently flies to Beirut, Lebanon, with five flights a week.
Acting as a tourism springboard, Cyprus boasts ample opportunities for travellers to continue their trips elsewhere. For example, Aegean Airlines announced in 2011 that it was to open a route from Larnaca to London and Paris. In addition, the airline offers connections to Greece, including the cities of Heraklion, Rhodes, Chania, Mykonos, Kos, Thessaloniki and Santorini.
Commenting on these flights was vice chairman, Aegean Airlines, Efthychios Vassilakis who stated: “Our decision to establish a base in Cyprus was reached mainly because of the improved facilities and quality of operations at the airport following the creation of the new Larnaca Airport.”
Cyprus recently witnessed the rise of the budget airline, enabling travellers from around the globe to experience the island from all budgets. Low-cost airline, Ryanair, recently announced that Paphos International Airport will become one of the airline’s 50 bases by permanently stationing two aircraft and adding new routes.
Starting in April, the new flight schedule is now available for booking. The airline will fly from Paphos to 14 European destinations, with 80 flights scheduled per week. The new routes will enable Cyprus to increase its international exposure to tourism.
The new routes include: Patra, Chania and Thessaloniki in Greece; Frankfurt, Memmingen in Germany; Kaunas in Lithuania; Krakow in Poland; London in the UK; Rome, Piza, Treviso and Bergamo in Italy; Oslo in Norway; and Stockholm in Sweden.
The airline also announced that it was to invest around $140 million in Paphos International Airport.
Commenting on its presence in Paphos was COO, Ryanair, Michael Cawley who stated: “Ryanair is delighted to announce Paphos as our 50th base with 14 routes all over Europe.”
A number of incentives to boost Cyprus tourism were also announced, which would see a reduction in landing fees. The incentive is open to airlines which bring in over 250,000 visitors a year. Charges will be reduced to around $33 per passenger with the cost of reduction being borne by Hermes airports and the Cyprus government. The deal was signed by Hermes Airports and communications and works minister, Cyprus government, Efthymios Flourentzos.
“The incentives aim at boosting tourist numbers mainly from new markets through reduced pasenger fees,” said Flourentzos. “Passenger fees are considered too high, mainly by low-cost airlines.”
“We want to unlock the country’s potential for tourism, but we want it to be sustained tourist development,” added van der Meer.
The agreement is open to all airlines flying into Cyprus, and not just low-cost airlines.
Other schemes announced were to stimulate the island’s winter tourism, stated as the period between November and March every year, and the development of long-term passenger transportation. The latter is focused on airlines that would base their aircraft in Larnaca and Paphos International Airports, and would commit to a five-year development plan to introduce new routes or increase passenger numbers to the island.
As the country gears up for the expected influx of arrivals from incentives such as low-cost airlines, Cyprus is also readying itself through one of its most promising offerings: Limassol Marina.
Limassol Marina has been created as part of a larger government initiative for the development of marinas across the south coast of Cyprus. PR officer, Limassol Marina, Sophia Paraskeva commented: “It will firmly place Cyprus on the nautical yachting map and become a vital addition to cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean, ideally located at the crossroads of three continents.
“The development of the project will upgrade the calibre of our tourism and, in turn, improve our tourism product. Set to change the face of Limassol and attract visitors seeking a certain level of quality in the services available to them, Limassol Marina will present the motive for tourists to increase the duration of their stay and plan a return visit,” Paraskeva explained.
Recognising the importance of investing in quality tourism products and infrastructure, Paraskeva told TTG: “The strength of our economy lies in the services we supply to our tourists; therefore developing and improving on our tourism with the support and development of large scale projects such as Limassol Marina, and the many golf courses now available within its reach, is essential.”
Paraskeva added that Limassol Municipality is utilising the construction of the Marina to develop further infrastructure projects and upgrade the surrounding areas simultaneously, leading to the revival of the old part of town and anticipated investments in the area.
“Limassol Marina will be the new focal point of the city – a thriving hub with a pedestrian promenade, restaurants, shops, cafes, boutiques, a spa, parking facilities and exclusive properties, all with views of the Marina and the yachts. Captains and crews from all over the world will be sailing into Limassol, living off the town and making full use of the services on offer for the duration of their stay.
“When you calculate the number of berths, their sizes and capacity, the number of crew and guests they will bring to the island, the residential owners and daily visitors to the commercial area, you truly do get a sense of the impact the project will have on the number of visitors to the area and their spending habits.”
Speaking about the project's completion, Paraskeva added: “Limassol Marina will be fully operational at the end of the year, welcoming its first yachts in October 2012.
Soon after, the first of its luxury apartments 'Nereids Residences' will also be delivered. Its restaurants, shops and cultural centre will be open to the public in April 2013, with the rest of its residences delivered in phases.”
It is expected that the project in its entirety will be completed by the end of 2014. “With Limassol's seafront promenade extending through the integrated project, it will offer visitors access to a range of facilities, enticing restaurants and shops, with the added benefit of a spa, cultural centre and marine training school on its grounds,” explained Paraskeva.
“The exclusive waterfront development has also been designed to include luxury apartments and penthouses, with guaranteed berths in the marina, as well as unique villas with direct access to a sandy beach or their own private berths for yachts up to 60m attached to their garden.”
Speaking about the potential for the MENA market, Paraskeva explained to TTG that the region is an important target segment for the project, which has always been taken into account in their marketing and promotional efforts.
“Raising awareness of this new cruising destination is of the essence, as is the importance of portraying an accurate image both of the island and the cosmopolitan city of Limassol internationally. Cyprus is ideally located for yachts transitioning between the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Beyond its strategic position, Limassol offers a great mix of lifestyle amenities attractive to both yacht owners and crew for short term visits or long term stays. The ease of access this provides, including the good and regular flight connections, has been integral in luring visitors, tourists and investors from the MENA market to Cyprus.”