By Tasoula Manaridis
There are myriad islands in the Mediterranean, but only one does Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty, call home, and that’s Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean. It is a very historic island and we have been welcoming visitors for many years (11,000 to be exact). The location of Cyprus at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa made it vulnerable to many civilizations. As an established and mature tourist destination in a highly competitive environment, Cyprus is subjected to the influences of globalization and the maturity of the tourist market.
Competition has considerably intensified both among new tourism destinations and tourist enterprises and this has a particularly strong impact on those tourism destinations that are presently under pressure regarding pricing policies.
Demographic, social and technological changes are decisively altering the international tourist market of the future, a market that will be characterized by maturity (expertise), high levels of knowledge and information and also considerable complexity. Because of their experience and education, today’s tourists are generally more demanding, independent, active and well informed on tourist destinations. Their needs and expectations are diverse and constantly changing.
The tourist product of Cyprus is therefore encumbered by accumulated problems and weaknesses such as its one-dimensional development and standardization, the multiple stresses on the environment as well as our cultural identity, incidents of deviant behavior, high operational costs, seasonality, dependence on certain tour operators, substandard infrastructure and facilities, and other issues.
Cyprus must take advantage of the opportunities offered and protect itself in an effective and timely fashion from threatening changes that occur in the field of tourism; at the same time Cyprus must face the challenges of the industry in a new, scientific, dynamic and effective approach. the development of the tourist sector is in the hands of both the private and the public sectors; therefore their co-ordination within a long-term strategic plan is of paramount importance if Cyprus is to secure success as a tourist destination.
Cyprus possesses a vast experience of over 30 years in tourism, and now it is called upon to use its accumulated knowledge to make a fresh start within the new global tourist environment.
The vision that inspires the Cyprus Tourism Organization strategy can be epitomized in the following statement:
“Cyprus: a quality tourist destination that will satisfy the visitor with various interests and quests and ensure the continuous improvement of the quality of life of the locals.”
The achievement of this vision will be accomplished through a strategy whose central point of reference is sustainability, which is identical with the concept of quality. in this sustainability context, tourism development will safeguard and nurture the quality of the tourist experience, the beauty of the natural environment, as well as the quality of life of the inhabitants by making the best use of the resources available without over-stretching or exhausting them. The destination will thus be allowed to respond successfully to the present and future needs of both visitors and the locals.
The maximization of the socio-economic benefits will be pursued mainly, through the increase of revenues; this will be the basic index of the success of the strategic plan. The maximization of revenue from tourism will be achieved through:
• increase of the tourists’ expenditure
• improvement of seasonality
• increase in arrivals
• increase in duration of stay and
• increase in repeat tourism
The key numerical target of our strategic plan is to maximize the income from tourism in real terms. the achievement of this target will be pursued through strategic interventions and a balanced growth of the two constituent parameters – arrivals and expenditure.
As far as arrivals are concerned, 3.5 million tourists must be considered as the maximum limit, since it is acknowledged that an increase in revenues which is fueled by increased arrivals depletes available resources and undermines the sustainability of the destination.
The average length of stay must increase to 11.6 days and seasonality must be tackled through an improved distribution of arrivals, throughout the year. The strategy also aims at increasing the rate of repeated tourism.
The enhancement of the competitiveness of Cyprus is of critical importance to the achievement of these goals. Cyprus will attempt to reposition itself on the tourist map by exploiting the comparative advantage. That allows it to differentiate itself from the competition – the great diversity in the tourist experience that Cyprus offers in a relatively small geographical area.
“A mosaic of nature and culture, a whole magical world concentrated in a small, warm and hospitable island in the Mediterranean, at the crossroads of three continents, between east and west that offers a multidimensional, qualitative tourist experience”.
As an island tourist destination, Cyprus has invested mainly in the sun and sea clientele. Given the conditions prevailing in the tourist marketplace of the 1980s, it was the right choice at the time ― Cyprus was a new destination, there was a demand for sun and sea holidays, customer expectations were different and fewer destinations were available.
However, this approach resulted in the creation of a one-dimensional product, which today is no different from that of many other destinations, and it places Cyprus in a disadvantageous position as far as its competitiveness is concerned.
But Cyprus has the potential to develop a wide range of special interest products to adapt to the changing market:
Our strategy focuses on the development of products that can bring out the unique character of the destination on the basis of the pursued repositioning, and revolve mainly around the two main axes ― culture and the environment.
Special interest products are products that will function as points of attraction and at the same time they will present opportunities for different activities and recreation. The development of the proposed products is necessary in order to create and offer the multi-dimensional tourist experience on which the repositioning of Cyprus is based, and these products are mainly aimed at the targeted market segments.
Such identified special products, which are aimed at the different targeted market segments, are the: museums, nature trails, information centres , agrotourism, golf, national forest parks, marine parks, botanical gardens, exhibitions, cycling routes, conference centres, organised tours, marinas/fishing shelters, marine sport centres, coastal cruises etc.
Most of the above products also cover the basic segment of the «sea and sun plus» clientele.
The CTO-New York offices focuses on special interest tourism to attract American visitors to Cyprus. We mainly focus on religious tourism, archaeology/history, food and wine, conferences and incentives and of course weddings/honeymoons. Let’s not forget that Cyprus is the island of Aphrodite, which was the goddess of love and beauty.
Cyprus is still a fairly unknown destination for Americans. Out of the 2.5 million visitors only 35,000 come from the US. In addition to the 35,000 the island is visited by 15,000 Americans from cruise excursions.
This year during the first 7-months of 2010 we’ve seen a 25% increase on the arrivals from the US. We noticed that there is bigger demand for our destination. today’s traveler is educated and they are looking for new and unusual destinations. They’ve been to most European countries and they want to explore further.
The attractions of Cyprus are many and varied, and the cultural and historic wealth of our island destination, is well known. Cyprus is an island of diversified natural beauty, enviable healthy climate of almost constant sunshine as well as spectacular scenery.
Our marketing efforts are targeting the large number of Americans that visit the neighboring countries such as Israel, Egypt, Greece and Jordan and we are trying to convince them to combine Cyprus with the above destinations. The CTO New York office works closely with important us based tour operators to create programs about Cyprus and in combination with other nearby destinations.
But what does Cyprus have to offer the American visitor.
First of all 11,000 years of history. a visitor can find on the island Neolithic sites, Greek temples, Greco-roman amphitheaters, roman villas with amazing mosaic floors, impressive basilicas, byzantine churches, monasteries and venetian fortresses.
Many of our sites are on the UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures. The whole town of Pafos, the Choirokitia Neolithic settlement and the 10 byzantine churches in the Troodos mountains are all UNESCO world heritage sites.
Our crystal clear beaches and warm weather attract more than 2.4 million European visitors a year. we receive over one million visitors from UK, Russia is the 2nd largest market, followed by the Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
The infrastructure of the island is modern and efficient, with state of the art communications system, excellent road network with signage in English, variety of hotel accommodations that range from modern and luxury hotels to hotel apartments, villas and agro tourism houses. Currently more than 35 villages participate in the agro tourism program.
Cyprus is a member of EU since 2004 and we adapted the euro in 2008. The population of Cyprus is 867,000. The capital of Cyprus is Nicosia with a population of 228,000. Some of the sights you can visit in Nicosia is the archaeological museum, the byzantine museum and art galleries, the folk art museum, Laiki Yeitonia which is a pedestrian area with galleries, cafes, tavernas and souvenir shops and the venetian walls.
The 2nd largest city of the island is Limassol the home to main port where most cruise ships arrive. the town is famous for its nightlife. Many festivals take place in Limassol such as the wine festival last week of august-beginning of September and the carnival parade. Also, many of the wine producing villages are near the Limassol area. Many important archaeological sites are located in the Limassol area such as the Greco roman theater of Kourion and Kolossi castle.
Larnaka is the home of the main international airport and the town of St Lazarus. St Lazarus after his resurrection from Christ came to Cyprus where he lived for 30 more years until his death and he served as the bishop of Larnaka. Today in the old part of the town you can see the tomb of St Lazarus under the homonymous church. Larnaka is also famous for its palm tree promenade with the many restaurants and cafes.
Pafos on the west coast is the town of Aphrodite, where according to mythology the goddess emerged from the sea at the Petra tou Romiou area. The town is covered with archeological treasures such as the villas with the roman mosaics, the tombs of the kings, the Pafos castle and St Paul’s pillar. Apostle Paul came to Cyprus with Apostle Barnabas to preach Christianity. And Cyprus was the first country to accept Christianity outside holy land. It was in Cyprus that the roman pro consul Sergious Paulus converted to a Christian. Later the Romans arrested Apostle Paul, they tied him to a pillar and punished him with 39 lashes. In Pafos you can see this pillar and this is on the same spot that we have one of the largest Christian basilicas on the island, the church of Agia Kyriaki. this is one of the reasons that Cyprus is such an important religious destination.
Troodos mountains are covered with picturesque villages, byzantine churches and monasteries. As I mentioned earlier 10 of the byzantine churches with the magnificent frescoes are on the UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures. also, at the foothills of the Troodos mountains we have the wine producing villages of Cyprus, where you can taste some fantastic wines including the dessert wine Commandaria.
And let’s not forget the Famagusta region for those seeking a sun and see vacation. The area has some of the best beaches on the island. The white sand crystal clear beaches in the tourist resort towns of Ayia Napa and Protaras. This is a very popular area for Europeans that choose a sun and sea vacation.
There is no direct flight from the us to Cyprus but there is excellent connection via Europe through most European gateways (London, Athens, Frankfurt and Amsterdam). Cyprus is also visited by many international cruise lines and visitors will have the opportunity for a day visit. There are also Cyprus cruises running from Cyprus to the nearby destinations such as Israel, Egypt, the Greek islands, Lebanon and Syria.
But since Aphrodite, our most attractive attribute are the people of Cyprus. Cypriots are known for their friendliness and hospitality and they welcome visitors again and again.
*** Tasoula Manaridis, Cyprus Tourist Organization Director in U.S. She spoke at the AHI Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Republic of Cyprus.