By Stelios Orphanides
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said the implementation of a comprehensive tourism strategy requires centralised executive powers bestowed on a yet to be established under-secretariat for tourism, which would unify law enforcement, controls and sector regulation and allow the rebranding of Cyprus’ product.
Petrides, who was commenting during the launch of the public consultation on the national tourism strategy at an event in Nicosia on Tuesday, said Cyprus is the only tourist destination lacking a policy maker with executive powers to implement such a strategy.
“The existing governance framework cannot provide this,” he told delegates. “A political head in charge exclusively of tourism policy, with a clear mandate to implement is required. This can be no other than the under-secretary for tourism, who with his team of staffers to promote actions, coordinate (government) departments and be accountable directly to the President of the Republic and the society for the implementation”.
Petrides, who heads the government’s unit of administrative reform, oversaw the drafting of the strategy for the tourism sector which directly or indirectly accounts for roughly a quarter of Cyprus’ economy. He is also behind the proposal to establish an under-secretariat for tourism, whose approval is pending at parliament.
The strategy paper proposes inter alia, that Cyprus should address a number of shortcomings, including visual pollution, gastronomical weaknesses, the lack of infrastructure, including internal public transport, and connectivity. On the other hand, the island should highlight its best strategic advantage, namely its climate, by conveying messages to visitors that they can enjoy “the best climate in Europe, all year-around” together with “good beaches, very clean sea water”.
Petrides said the government acknowledged that it is not happy with the tourism product’s competitiveness, ranked 20th in south and west Europe as it lacks in areas such as nautical tourism, gastronomical, sports, religious and conference tourism. As a result, continuing decline in annual revenue per visitor “is a problem affecting our tourism identity,” he added. “We acknowledged that the existence of multiple laws and authorities in policy making has to be stopped”.
Cyprus is expecting about 3.6 million tourists this year compared to last year’s all-time record of almost 3.2 million. The Cypriot economy, which emerged in 2015 from a prolonged recession, is expected to expand 3.6 per cent this year compared to an initial forecast of 2.9 per cent and a growth rate of 2.8 last year.
As a result of a successful repositioning of Cyprus on the global tourism map, the hospitality sector will be able to generate more income and jobs and cause less environmental degradation, putting an end to “the chaotic development in certain areas,” the minister said.
The new strategy should therefore highlight Cyprus’s culture and history and rely less on all-inclusive packages, introduce a seal of recognition based on best practices for attractions and services to promote a quality culture, and also “help diffuse development and revenue to the wider society” replacing linear development in coastal areas, he said. In addition, the new tourism strategy should provide for long-term planning on infrastructure and spatial planning and reduce bureaucracy and reliance on the UK and Russian markets which together account for roughly six tenths of incoming tourism by also utilising digital marketing.
“What matters is simple,” Petrides said. “We reduce bureaucracy, we increase controls and upgrade the quality of our product. We abolish inadequate and outdated regulations and change the hotel classification system so that not all hotels are built as boxes”.
To enhance controls, the use of “mystery shoppers” will be institutionalised, he added.
This will allow more flexibility in configuring hotels which in turn could ditch bidets in hotel rooms in favour of access to the internet or a specialised service and a tennis court in favour of a spa, the minister said.