Dinah Hatch finds out how Cyprus plans to keep its UK visitor numbers up in the face of post-XL woes and an uncomfortably strong euro
A strong euro, the demise of XL Airways and the perception that Cyprus is not cheap has done the island no favours in the past 12 months.
Furthermore, according to the Statistical Service in Cyprus, more expat Brits than ever are returning home and the number of Brits who moved to the island in 2007 was almost half the amount who did in 2004.
But operators and tourism officials remain confident that this traditionally popular spot for UK holidaymakers will retain its pulling power, despite UK visitor numbers dropping from 1.28 million in 2007 to 1.24 million last year.
Cyprus has long realised that attracting more affluent travellers, who place importance on quality of product rather than price, is key to bumping up numbers and some hard work has been carried out across the island in this area.
New terminal buildings have been created and the runways extended at Paphos and Larnaca airports; many hotels have undergone renovations and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation has implemented a range of strategies to reach more discerning holidaymakers which include the Cyprus Sustainable Tourism Initiative’s self-drive routes, designed for tourists seeking authenticity.
Business travellers are also set to give the island a boost. Limassol recently got the nod from the Cypriot government for a new 2,000-seater conference centre.Many believe this is the start of the island’s push to become a big conference venue and many hotels are smartening up or building conference facilities. The Conference Incentives Meetings Association has been created to encourage this sector.
The CTO says it is working hard to ensure airline capacity is not cut this year, despite the collapse of XL.
CTO UK director Orestis Rossides said: “This year, we are making a concentrated effort to ensure the total number of air seats is similar to that of 2008.
"The CTO has increased its advertising expenditure and is in close contact with airlines that service the island. There have been route launches and there are more seats offered by independent airlines such as Cyprus Airways, British Airways, Monarch Airlines, easyJet and Jet2.”Planet Holidays commercial and aviation director Harry Kyrillou added: “The scheduled airlines and low-cost carriers such as Cyprus Airways, British Airways, Monarch Airlines and easyJet have increased their capacity to fill the gap that charter airlines have created due to vertically integrated tour operators diverting aircraft to other destinations.”
So what will this summer bring? Most agree the market will be a late one this year as Cyprus, like every other destination, feels the effect of the recession.Olympic Holidays commercial director Photis Lambrianides explained: “All indications are that it will be tough for most, if not all, destinations. Cyprus currently trails behind other destinations in terms of sales. We believe the market will be a very late one this year and we will be prepared for that.”
Planet’s Kyrillou added: “In this economic climate, Cyprus should expect a slight reduction in package holidays, we believe approximately 10% to 15% down.
"Booking patterns indicate that it will be a late market all round, so results may be better than expected especially if the rate of exchange between sterling and the euro improves.”However, a spokesman for Classic Collection Holidays was more cautiously optimistic about the coming season, and said: “Sales to Cyprus at the moment are 1.7% up year on year, which, given the current trading conditions, is fine.”
How to sell Cyprus
Olympic’s Lambrianides advised: “Agents should look to segment the market. If they are addressing their comfortable, affluent clientele then the four or five-star hotels in Cyprus offer fantastic value for money with all the facilities and high standards.
"If they are addressing the middle to lower end of the market they should shop around. Not only have we costed our programme at an exchange rate about 20% more favourable than what it actually is, we have received a large number of offers from our hoteliers enabling us to pass on price reductions.
“Agents should promote the half-board and all-inclusive hotels more. Olympic features 29 such properties to Cyprus. These holidays shelter the consumer from the uncertainties of currency fluctuations.”
Cyplon Holidays product director Sharon Yiapatou thinks Cyprus still has much to offer the UK visitor.
Responding to those who think non-euro destinations such as Turkey, Egypt and Morocco may benefit from the poor exchange rate this summer, she said: “We believe it is debatable that these destinations are cheaper since most are linked to the US dollar, which also has its problems.
"Cyprus has ‘that special something’ that draws people to return year after year. It has a safe environment, so people feel secure there. Its hotels still offer superb value for money."
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