Friday, October 12, 2012

A new era in Managing Tourism - Cyprus should set new goals

We are heading towards the end of another summer season. Soon we will hear the voice of smug satisfaction from the mouths of those in charge of tourism in Cyprus. They will tell us: - “We have had a 3, 34% increase in arrivals, with 7.3% increase in income from last year, this means we are doing well”.

‘My goodness’, you say to yourselves-‘we are doing well, even better than expected’. –But - the $64.000 question has to be: - What exactly did our tourist experts do in order to present us with these apparently improved statistics. .

This year the circumstances have been highly favourable in that we had the Russian tourists who filled some gaps, the UK and German markets had left behind.  And more, much more than this, is in our “favour” with the Middle East under siege, our small tranquil island then became a peaceful summer oasis for travelers.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we should now be managing tourism as a natural resource, the same way Denmark for example manages their oil resources.  In order to do this the major tourism agency of Cyprus, and I mean, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (C.T.O.) will now have to swiftly evolve to become a creditable engine of sustainability and not, as it currently operates as an engine of sterile promotion.
The C.T.O. have to radically change its modus operandi away from their purely policing policy, and move into the serious role of being an effective professional consultant, offering much needed expertise for business owners. Key to this 21stCentury thinking has to be the radical and much needed break away from the political handcuffing it currently struggles under, and the entire organisation needs to run by true travel professionals.

Yes, there were the good old days, when three of four agreements with the so called large tour operators were sufficient to satisfy the short term need of filling those empty rooms. But, times have changed, marketing to the masses is dead, we will swiftly forget the term e-tourism, soon we will only talk about m-tourism (mobile tourism).  We predict the next 5 years will see more smartphone and tablet users than the combined population of France and the UK. That also means our travel products will have to become mobile and be much more engaging, but, to achieve this aim we do need to become a truly sustainable travel entity.

Becoming a world class sustainable travel destination will certainly not take us out of the recession, but it will lead us to a more equally shared travel pie the slice of which will give jobs to the young, create investment opportunities for the foreign investor, and assure state and private funding for generations to come.

Today, Cyprus is straddling the two concepts of sustainability and feasibility, the point being a feasible business is not necessary a sustainable one, but a sustainable business is definitely a feasible one.
‘And now that the end is near’-, we should learn from the example set by the third world Colombian Amazon village of Nazareth. This community do not allow tour operators and travel agents to bring tourists into the Amazon jungle, it’s the indigenous people who take care of all accommodation, guidance, information, and general hospitality, the end result is travelers appreciate much more this human user friendly approach compared to the one we have long adopted which is to “cater to meet needs “.

The Colombian Amazon, and the rainforests are no more, or less, important than the Akamas, and British tourists who visit Sumatra and Nazareth are banned from careering around in Quad bikes in their protected environments. Why then are tourists allowed to do it here?

We seem to be many miles away as far as comprehending how important tourism is as a long term natural resource, one that can and should feed us all- if handled properly, one that will allow businesses to flourish, and importantly, one that we can pass on not with regret ‘that we didn’t see it through without exemption’-but with pride, for the next generation to keep on nurturing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cuprus Tourism got lucky according to ex Finance Minister

The ex minister of Finance of Cyprus, Mr. Michael Sarris has mentioned that our economy was un-sustainable for many years. "Even in Tourism that it is our main production,we got lucky since we had the Russian market spending without looking much".

During his short speech at the Neapolis University of Pafos Mr. Sarris clarified that Cyprus has been living on debt than on production. This according to Mr. Sarris is very dangerous and it can only lead to crisis and this is were it led us.

This blog has been talking about sustainability and balance in Tourism in order to make the destination competitive. Tourism competitiveness is not only the price of the travel package but also the the sustainability and feasibility of the Travel Sector in a broader sense.

Privatization or Cyprus Airways is now a desire that cannot be fulfilled, this could be the beginning of a new era in the travel sector in Cyprus, but unfortunately Cyprus airways and the related to it services and companies are closing down or becoming another black hole for the Cypriot tax payer.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cyprus Tourism - Head in Sand Time?

On January 10th Ryan air announced it would offer 80 flights a week to 14 new destinations, investing in Cyprus nearly 110million euros to bring 600.000 passengers a year and provide jobs for 600 people.
The airline was the first to take advantage of the governments new incentives to boost tourism which included a substantial drop in landing fees.

Described by the head of the CTO as ‘the start of huge potential for Cyprus’-and as ‘a watershed for Cyprus’ -by Ryan Air deputy chief Michael Crawley.

Every thing seemed to be moving in the right direction for both parties, with an agreement which was mutually beneficial, assuring in the main a sustainable and long term relationship between the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and Ryan Air.

Eight months down the line cracks are beginning to show with threats from Ryan air to ‘pull the plug’ on Cyprus and so dissolve their partnership.

The original agreement between the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) and the airline, as explained by Mr Orountiotis President of the CTO is the same agreement they have struck with other airlines and tour operators.

Now, Ryan Air are threatening to close Larnaca flights due to high fuel costs and are claiming a 100% increase on the promotion fees the CTO is offering.

A somewhat predictable scenario given the standard operating policy of Ryan air and their prime objection of ‘route profitability’.  Ryan Air has played this card many times before and they will continue to do so, for that is their avowed strategy.

Sadly, the history of Tourism in Cyprus reads a bit like Groundhog Day with the powers that be always repeating the same mistakes, mainly in their inability to practice the art of flexibility, to be able to look ahead with regard to the countries need to diversify its source markets, all without creating a structure of total dependency on either tour operators or airlines.

A roll back in time shows us what happened - the demise of Cypriana holidays in the 1990’s followed by the inevitable bankruptcy of Libra holidays, not forgetting our national carrier- Cyprus Airlines -which now looks perilously close to flying off into the sunset never to return.

The Republic of Cyprus has long subsidised our ailing national carrier, as well as promoting an over protectionist routing policy. Cyprus has to now waken up to the fact that routes need to be substituted by an open skies policy which can then turn the country into a profitable destination for every foreign airline.
We would then experience not only healthy competition but it would also allow increased interest to develop new source markets.

The grim facts have to be faced as Cyprus Airways is now one wing tip short of bankruptcy, and an open skies policy will most certainly send it into a fatal nose dive.

This of course would then leave politicians of all political parties brutally exposed, and that’s why the powers that be will not be available for an honest and open debate on this very important if not vital change to our current tourism policy.

Friday, July 27, 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games Spirit

Tonight many millions of people will watch the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Tonight, once again the Olympic spirit will enter the houses of people from Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Ecuador, Spain, Italy, UK, the USA, Mexico, Burundi or Germany.

From this blog I would like to ask all of you to listen carefully the Hymn of the Olympic Games. Probably the only music composition in the world that unites under one tune so many nationalities for a common cause. Spyridon Samaras the composer and Kostis Palamas lyrics two universal Greeks wrote the Olympic Hymn thinking that this music will set one solid foundation for international peace and cooperation.

This blog is not political, this blog is critical with many things that happen in Greece and Cyprus. But today Tourism is All of Us declares Olympic Truce and invites all of us to do the same.

Last but not least. I invite all who cannot be in an Olympic Stadium to watch the games to come to the motherland of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Spirit, come to Greece, and watch the Games relaxing on an OlympicBeach. Enjoy !!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Death on ‘A corner of earth touched by heaven’ - Mother dies on a five star holiday to Cyprus

An online site promoting Northern Cyprus describes the area as being ‘A corner of earth touched by heaven’. In describing the locals the effusive copy tells us that the ‘Cypriot people are always cheerful, calm and hospitable’.  Sounds inviting doesn’t it? ....Of course it is, especially for those folk currently entombed in rain soaked Britain who haven’t seen the sun for months and who ache to go on holiday.

Fine.. I have no problem with that except that one has always got to counter the ‘cute copy’ used by these travel people and remind ourselves occasionally that this ‘corner of earth’ was also touched by bloodshed after the illegal invasion by the Turkish army in 1974, and one has to seriously doubt if there is to be found a genuinely ‘cheerful, calm, and hospitable Cypriot currently living in the occupied North, after they had their homes and businesses taken from them by the occupying forces.

But leaving that aside for the moment, one must stop and wonder at what tourists expect and receive from a holiday in the north, yes... they have fine hotels the majority having been taken from their rightful owners and turned over to Turkish migrants to run. No doubt the Turkish government told these migrants that they were going to go and live in a ‘corner of the earth touched by heaven’ and so they were sent over to the Occupied North to populate and run the north as part of the Turkish state.

This is where we now come to several difficulties as these probably well meaning family folk and workers did indeed work hard to make a livelihood they renovated the hotels and so set themselves up as hoteliers.

The key here is no one recognises within the EU the illegal state of “Northern Cyprus”  so tourists finding themselves attracted to cheaper prices than in southern Cyprus (the legally owned part of the island) can and do find themselves in trouble. The tragic case last year of the Englishwoman who stayed with her partner at a five star hotel only to die there after drinking from a water bottle containing cleaning fluid, left there by accident on a bedside table by the maid after she had cleaned the couples room.

A terrible thing to happen in this corner of earth and her partner will now have no end of trouble if he tries to pursue for compensation against the management of the hotel.

The legitimate and mercifully professional part of this island has strict hotel training systems in place which would disallow the potential for this sort of accident occurring. The legitimate Cyprus may well be a bit more expensive than the illegally occupied North but here you do have rights and are fully covered by EU laws.

Much has been said and done about the ‘Cyprus Problem’ what we should be doing is ensuring our tourists are safe no matter where they holiday on this island, we should continue to find ways to offer inclusivity towards the Turkish Cypriots,  something we are doing from this side of the island for many years now by organising day trips for visitors to the occupied north under the legal shield the UN via the Cyprus Green Line Agreement. What we don’t want is for the northern corner ‘touched by heaven’ to become a danger death zone for foreign tourists, here-we cannot afford to have headlines in the Daily Mail newspaper that scream ‘Mother dies on a five star holiday to Cyprus’.

For many tourists Cyprus is Cyprus -whether it’s Northern or Southern, most don’t actually care about what happened 38 years ago that caused this separation of the country, they see the prices and go.yes it’s hot there and they have great beaches... book it!

Unless we can all work together under EU legality in tourism to better our products and make safe our visitors then we will continue to receive fallout from the somewhat lack lustre capabilities currently being promoted within that ‘corner of earth touched by heaven’.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A letter form a friend - "Your welcome friends to Cyprus"

A good friend of mine in London after seeing the video “Your welcome friends to Cyprus” called to ask me if the whole thing was a big joke. or if it  was ‘frighteningly serious’. Until then, I had been unaware of the content having only seen some comments online. After watching the video I called and left a message on her voice mail saying- no, the video was indeed produced in Cyprus by professionals and it was not a joke.

Some hours later I received the following email from her which I now share with you.

“ Dear Petros,

Thank you for clarifying that the video was not some hoax.

Sadly the image of Cyprus as a forward thinking cosmopolitan country, one that has produced highly creative, talented, men and women, took what can only be described as a massive body blow when, the so called ‘welcome’ video was unleashed onto the unsuspecting public.

The recipients of this ‘welcome’ will be those countries looking to Cyprus as they head the European Council, sadly the  video is so amazingly bad in every respect that it looks as if Cyprus is effectively raising a sole digit ( a middle finger) to the EU.

The music is ghastly, the singer is off key and the words are so dreadful they take ‘corny’ to an entirely new level.

We have a man in a white outfit who is first seen crouched behind a rock as if caught short after a few beers, he then rises up to face the camera - to then waggle in front of us  two gold painted olive branches, also a less than fine pair of tuned tonsils.

As he does this simultaneous ‘waggling’ he threatens via the special ‘welcome’ song that  visitors ‘will  never be alone in Cyprus’ and ‘all will find themselves ‘walking with the lady Aphrodite’

By the end of this visual and audible torture -ones head is buried in a blanket of embarrassment as the Corn level has exceeded even this not so jolly, not so green, and defiantly no giant in any regard.
Its rumoured that 60.000 euros went into the making of this aberration- and 12 key sponsors were obviously keen to see their names listed at the end of the video-

Next time sponsors- best employ  a blind shepherd, and a donkey, fit the video camera to the back end of the donkey and have the shepherd sit astride the beast to wander the roads of Cyprus whilst reciting the Pafos phone book with  Abba singing along in the background –now thats what I call a Welcome video!”

Monday, April 2, 2012

APOEL vs Real Madrid, Scoring League Points.

The European Champions league quarter final between Apoel v Real Madrid offered a classic long odds, underdog story, given the huge disparities between the two clubs, the Nicosia based Apoel barely belonged on the same field as the mighty Madrid team.

They had to face Real Madrid one of the most consistent and richest winning teams of all time, with celebrity coach Jose Mourinho, and a line up that includes three of the top eleven players in the Castrol rankings, a team that had reached the knockout round after posting the best group stage record in history. There was no question in the minds of the football pundits that: - Apoel a team listed 100 in the UEFA’S rankings of European clubs, who had never won a Champions league group game and a club that worked with a lowly budget of under 10 million Euros -a budget less than the annual take home pay of Cristiano Ronaldo: - Apoel was without doubt –going down.

They did, losing to the Spanish team by 3 goals –Apoel didn’t score a goal on the field but they metaphorically scored-hitting their opponents  net multiple times in the eyes and minds of both supporters and even the pundits. This ‘small’ country team stood their ground against the might of Madrid for 70 action packed minutes without conceding a goal.

The game acted as a classic metaphor for the tourist industry, where small countries do have the right or, should I say the absolute prerogative, to be able to play in the tourism equivalent of the Champions league. A red card shouldn’t be waved in the faces of small countries whose tiny budgets mock the big leaguers, small countries can and do produce imaginative –creative proposals and they will invariably offer client’s higher levels of flexibility to equal even exceed that of a mass tourist destination.

Small countries will never be top of the tourist league but they will play and win points for the sheer unadulterated conviction at being able to get out there and show, like Apoel that although overpowered, outclassed, and  out of pocket, they always display verve, nerve, and pride in what they do, regardless of the outcome, small may not always rise to the top but they will always be ready to play, and unlike some of the big hitters in the tourist business, they wont be prone to hitting any own goals.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ryan Air, a Mixed Blessing?

The recent agreement between Hermes airports and Ryan Air for the opening of their 50th operational base in Europe has to be looked at as both a blessing and a curse. We can count the blessings as follows.-
1. Ryan air will be committed to invest a substantial amount of money in order for the operational base to become viable.

2. Ryan Air will set tourist targets and when met this means a significant increase in tourist traffic to Cyprus. One can look at the success of Ryan Airs partnership with Spanish airports such as Girona and Reus.

3. Ryan Air is not into just one specific market such as the bucket shop package traveller, they are for the first time targeting the free independent traveller (FIT).

Like all blessings we should receive them gratefully, but at the same time we have to managing them correctly. Ryan Air, flying in plane loads of multiple blessings to Pafos means we have to look seriously at what we, as one half of the partnership can offer in return. According to the press officer of Pafos Hoteliers Association Mr. Evripides Loizides he summed up the current dilemma that is dancing around the minds of clear minded Pafos based businesses. ‘Ryan Air has arrived, but its now time we started to get really serious as a tourist destination’.

To date the Pafos tourist scene is viewed with pessimism by those in the business and there is a genuine fear that sectors within the market are not going to be entirely responsive to the demands made by this new wave of travellers.

A complete change of attitude has to start from the top down with our elected officials now having to waken up to the fact that with the arrival of independent tourists we have to quite simply ‘clean up our act’ and instead of the usual indifference and apathy, our municipal and community leaders have to get into the mind set of sustainability rather than ‘fast attainability.

We must also address the expected increase in traffic going to and from the airport, with there being a more noticeable demand for car rentals, taxi hire, mini buses etc, modes of transport which will carry more tourists but in much smaller groups. Pessimism is rife as to the anticipated increase in accident rates as our less than civil taxi drivers continue to follow the ‘old ways’ of unbridled rudeness mixed with a good dose of road rage. Deep pessimism also abounds when it comes to those restaurants who will no doubt continue their blinkered short term thinking by offering  their usual serving of ‘customer scare’ rather than the anticipated ‘customer care’.

What’s actually needed is for us to all to be re educated into what exactly the art of tourism really is, how we must now be ready to play a new and effective role, rather than re-enact our constipated, lack lustre, short term mind set formed over the past disastrous decade.

The opportunity offered to us by claiming Pafos as a European Capital of Culture in 2017 coupled with the Ryan Air arrival are ‘good sparks’ which should be igniting the flame of a ‘healthy tourism fire’. The pessimist in me however worries that we may have the making of such a fire but sadly no –one has brought alone the matches.

The Ryan Air agreement could be compared to morphine in that this is an opiate which doubles as both a form of pain relief and as an addictive drug which, if taken to excess results in a slow death. Our sole dependency on Ryan Air can also be viewed as dangerous if we become too addicted, as we have experienced to our cost when we depend so much on tour operators.

Surely the avowed aim to the tourist sector by the state and Cyprus Airports has to be the practice of  healthy independence with no more reliance on addictive practises so we can at long last transform Pafos into an attractive sustainable tourist destination which thrives year in year out without recourse to entering into any unholy, inappropriate, or short term relationships.