Cyprus — the island nation in the Southern Mediterranean known for its sunny skies and sandy beaches — has long been a destination for summer travelers and those with the means to splurge on a warm vacation by the sea. Lately, Cyprus’s tourism numbers have reached record highs, with more than one million visitors from January to May 2018, a 14.5 per cent increase compared to the same period last year, according to the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO). 2017 was a landmark year: Cyprus recorded 3.65 million visitors to the island for the first time. In fact, with about three visitors per inhabitant, Cyprus is now the seventh most-visited country per capita in the world, according to a new study by online magazine TravelMag.
Along with the number of arrivals, revenue from tourism also shot up this year — by nearly 28 per cent over a 12-month period. According to the Statistical Service of Cyprus, tourism generated 110 million euros in revenue in March 2018, compared to 86 million year-on-year.
So, why this increase in tourism? And where are they all coming from?
Cyprus’s Minister of Energy, Tourism and Commerce, Mr. Georgios Lakkotrypis, may have the answer. He, along with president Nicos Anastasiades, is working on diversifying the country’s tourism sector both in terms of clientele and services offered.
“We have been, [and] still are, heavily dependent on two markets, the UK and Russia; but other markets have been growing significantly over the past three, four years, such as Germany, such as Israel…Greece has been performing very, very well, Poland more recently also”, said Lakkotrypis.
As of May 2018, more than 35 per cent of tourists came from the UK, while about 22 per cent came from Russia. 4.8 per cent came from Germany, 4.5 per cent from Sweden, and 4.4 per cent from Israel.
As Lakkotrypis noted, the government in looking to increase the number of arrivals from other countries. One strategy is by offering more activities — beyond just beautiful beaches. Since 2013, when Lakkotrypis was appointed by President Anastasiades, he has encouraged the development of major tourism infrastructure projects and the creations of new hotels in all different categories.
Currently, Cyprus is building an enormous new casino resort. Earmarked at 555 million euros, the City of Dreams, as it will be called, is the largest investment project ever undertaken in Cyprus and is expected to become the largest casino resort in all of Europe.
“We didn’t want to offer just a gaming experience; we wanted to offer other kinds of experiences as well — such as spas, such as conventions, such as being able to have big spaces for concerts, entertainment, shopping”, commented Lakkotrypis, explaining the vision for the new resort, which is expected to attract an additional 300,000 visitors per year to Cyprus and create 6,500 jobs.
Hong Kong-based Melco International Resorts and Entertainment is financing and overseeing the project.
“Foreign direct investment is absolutely crucial in driving the country’s growth agenda and potential”, stated Lakkotrypis with certainty.
“Another area that we are investing pretty strongly in [for] attracting foreign direct investment is yachting tourism”, he added, noting that the number of marinas in Cyprus is expanding. The Ayia Napa Marina in the country’s southeast is under construction, the Paralimni is expected to be built soon, the Paphos is also pending, and Limassol is already fully operational — all catering to the premium tourist crowd.
Going along with this diversification, and premium-focused strategy, Cyprus is increasing its number of golf courses, creating bicycling and hiking tourism, and launching efforts to attract tourists interested in health.
Eventually, said Lakkotrypis, the idea is that this will “help us level out the seasonality that we have seen in tourism — so not as much concentration in the summer months but more spread out throughout the year”.
Indeed, it is a strategy that is working. Tourism in the winter months is growing faster than the overall season, Lakkotrypis noted. “We have grown about 55 per cent or even more so since 2014 for the past four years. So winter months are growing significantly much faster than the rest of the year, which means now we are spreading arrivals more evenly”.
This increase and spread of arrivals is having positive knock-on effects for the rest of the country’s economy. “The increase in tourist revenue and the multidimensional beneficial effects of tourism on the society are reflected in increased revenue of hotels and restaurants”, the CTO said in a recent statement.
The Statistical Service of Cyprus’s hospitality industry’s turnover index rose an annual 11 per cent in the first six months of this year, compared to the first half of last year – and the restaurant turnover rose nearly 10 per cent.
As evidenced by those figures, the tourism sector is one of the largest and most prominent in Cyprus. That is why the government is creating the National Tourism Strategy 2030 and appointing a Deputy Ministry of Tourism that is set to begin operations by January 2 of the new year.
But Lakkotrypis said the real key to Cyprus’s tourism sector success is “the hospitality of the people”. He added that the pleasant weather and the natural beauty, like the beaches and mountains, the clean waters, and the gastronomy and infrastructure in Cyprus help to attract more and more tourists to the island nation each year.